Camper vans

Tour de France: Travel tips

Bradley Wiggins - cool shades

Bradley Wiggins – cool shades

Tammy has become very excited about the Tour de France again this year – with the potential prospect of a British winner.

Bradley Wiggins has been wearing the yellow jersey in the General Classification for four days now and today’s race saw him retaining the maillot jaune for a 5th.

But the big surprise is how brilliantly Chris Froome, his British team mate, has been performing. He almost forgot that he was Wiggo’s assistant yesterday when he sped up the Col du Grand Colombier and had to be reminded to wait for Bradley, the team’s star rider.

So could we finish with a British one and two in the final run-up to Paris?

And then today’s race was won by the great British rider David Millar who played a game of cycling chess with his rivals to win the stage.

This set me wondering if I should get on a boat or plane and head to the Champs Elysees next weekend for the climax of the Tour.

Tour tourism is great fun and I’ve now had the pleasure of watching four Tours in France.

My last Tour trip was two years ago when Wiggo (then riding for Garmin) came in the top five. We had the privilege of watching and talking to Wiggo and his team mates by the Garmin coach as they came out to warm up for the start of a stage in central France.

Christian Vande Velde, Tyler Farrar and Dave Zabriskie emerged from the bus first and happily chatted to the crowd.

Then, we heard a rumpus of punk music and the sound of pogoing feet coming from inside the bus – and shortly after, Wiggo and David Millar exploded from the bus into public view.

Tour bus - Britain's David Millar

Tour bus – Britain’s David Millar

Brad, who once had a reputation for being a bit prickly with the press, came over to the fans and couldn’t have been nicer.

Earlier in the same tour, we were also lucky enough to see the brilliant ‘flying Manx Man’ Mark Cavendish win a sprint stage at Issoudun on Bastille Day.

Needless to say, the French weren’t too impressed that a Brit had spoiled their big day and we were amongst only a handful of fans cheering him on.

Following the winning presentation, we walked up to the fence by the press area and glimpsed Cav being interviewed by ITV Tour presenter, Ned Boulding.

After hovering a while, we saw Cav on his own and shouted a supportive message.

“Oi, Cav. Nice one, mate” or some such random inanity!

The great sprinter turned around and waved, looking somewhat bemused!

A lovely moment – pictured below.

Cav - from TV star to best mate

Cav – from TV star to best mate

Meeting the master

It wasn’t my first close-up tour moment and nor would it be my last.

A few years earlier on a family trip to Paris we’d been watching the final stages of Lance Armstrong’s 6th Tour victory.

The kids were bored after a while so they headed back to the hotel leaving Tammy to cheer on the Texan master.

After the race, I headed back to the hotel but the whole area around the race had been sealed off and people were being channelled in one direction which was the opposite way to which I wanted to go.

Then, I spotted a hole in a large hedge and dived through it in the direction of the hotel. I was puzzled to see lots of the big tour riders and their team buses pluses loads of people with VIP and media badges.

I had inadvertently avoided all security and was slap bang in the middle of the VIP and riders area.

Tour de Lance

Tour de Lance

It was quite exciting seeing all the riders chatting away and I stood on the German champion, Jan Ullrich’s foot in my excitement. Oops!

As I walked away from the main trawl (in case I was discovered as an interloper) I saw a lone rider with a bright yellow top cycling towards me.

No, it couldn’t be.

Sure enough, Lance Armstrong, who had been on his victory lap, was wheeling in right in front of me – and there was nobody else around.

Lance slowed down and I came from a few inches of me.

“Amazing ride. Well done,” I burbled. “Oh gee, thanks,” said Lance in his Texan drawl.

And then he was gone and a melee of about 100 people descended on us to mob the great rider.

A few minutes later, I joined the group outside Lance’s tour bus and he exchanged a few more words with the fans and signed autographs.

It was proof that you can get really close to the even the top riders at the Tour de France.

Tammy’s top tips

Do your research. Buy one of the many publications with the Tour route and stages – and plan your trip.

If you’re travelling by camper van or RV, this is an ideal way of getting up close and personal with the Tour on a mountain stage. But the best spots are highly sought-after so you may need to hunker down 24 hours ahead of time. Some regulars also ‘fence off’ their pitch so others can’t invade their territory!

On flatter stages there are generally plenty of great spots along the Tour route although competition for the best places at the start and finish points is fiercer.

We advise getting to the race start or finish a little early to grab a good spot… obviously Paris is the toughest in this respect but smaller towns are a little easier.

Tour de France - bike it!

Tour de France – bike it!

If you’re in a motorhome, park on the edge of town and cycle in to the centre as roads may be closed off to cars and vans.

For sprint finishes, you really need to pick your spot and defend it! Periscopes are useful if all else fails but I’ve never found a shop selling them in any Tour towns so not sure where the locals get them from.

Another prime spot will be next to the awards podium but make sure you can get a clear view before going for this option.

Don’t forget to take plenty of water and food with you if you’re standing around for ages and don’t want to faint in the heat.

The Tour ‘Caravan’ or procession comes through about an hour before the riders and it’s a fun sight to watch if you’re feeling bored waiting for the action. There’s plenty of competition to catch the various freebies being hurled from the floats too.

Tour de France - the crazy 'Caravan'

Tour de France – the crazy ‘Caravan’

Mountain stages can be the most exciting but try to pick a section with a major upward battle – otherwise the riders will whizz past you really fast and you’ll not see the best of the action.

On race starts, it’s a good early to work out where the team coaches are parking to drop riders off. Although this is cordoned off, you can generally get quite close to the roped areas – so pick a good spot and you may be lucky.

For the race start itself, position yourself close to the starting line – riders often exchange banter on the line-up and the mass of coloured jerseys is a sight to behold.

Battling the Tour crowds

Battling the Tour crowds

Paris tour tips

If you’re heading for Paris slightly different rules apply. Do a recce of good places to see the riders from. If you’re planning on watching the circuits on the main Champs Elysees get there as early as possible. Later on it may be almost impossible to move or grab a slot – and this is the most popular watching area.

One year, I went down to the Champs Elysees and got my slot at 10:00 – but I later found that this wasn’t necessarily the best place. Quite a few punters with children arrived just before the race and pushed their kids in front of me and others – very annoying.

Tour de France

Tour de France

Also, watch out for people bringing soap boxes to stand on and periscopes – and parents with kids on their shoulders. Better still, get your own box. I also witnessed a few people with step ladders which is pretty crazy but true.

Find out how to make your own periscope to beat those tall guys in the crowd.

At the near end of the Champs Elysees there is generally a big screen which is great if you can’t see too well but expect this are to be very busy. It is usually located quite close to the bank of VIP seats. Best of all, get invited as a VIP and cosy up with the beautiful people!

One of the best places to watch the Tour is from the raised pedestrian walkways looking down on the race. If you can get some height and a little space, this isn’t a bad option.

A few travel operators run Tour de France promotions including a rail or air ticket with a hotel. I did this with Eurostar once and it wasn’t a bad option although the hotel was a little average (but in a great central location).

Good luck on your Tour!

Tour bikes

Tour bikes

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