My partner and I have just finished our third trip to the Tour de France so I thought I would share a few tips for following the mighty race. I know it’s not strictly a women’s cycling topic but I know many female (and male) cyclists who would like to undertake a similar trip.
Choose your transport wisely
Lots of people follow the Tour in campervans but it can also be tackled by car and either camping of staying in hotels. We hired a campervan so I can’t really tell you about the other options and in my opinion a camper is the ideal way to see it. You can park at the side of the road in just about any location making it completely flexible.
If you go with the camper option make sure you book early. A lot of companies are booked out in October the year before because that’s when the full route for the following year is announced. Also make sure you check inclusions on the hire like bed linen/towels, kitchen equipment and outdoor furniture. A lot of hire companies charge extra for just about everything.
Plan a bit but not too much
Get a detailed map of the course, either on the Internet or the official magazine and start choosing your ideal position for each stage. We usually did this just a few days out rather than plotting our whole trip before it even started.
Use detailed maps, don’t slavishly follow your GPS
I would recommend a detailed book of maps of France that show a lot of the smaller roads because the Tour follows mostly smaller regional roads. Additionally use a GPS navigator that is pre-loaded with up-to-date French maps but don’t follow is slavishly. If your instincts tell you that it’s taking you up some strange shortcut it probably is so go another way even if it’s the long way around.
Be prepared to compromise and enjoy the surprises
If you choose a spot on the map and you get there are it’s full, you’ll have to compromise and find another location. In most cases we found great spots along the roadside but they weren’t always where we first identified. In one case we decided to find a spot on a descent and we expected it to be wooded forest. Instead we found an awesome outlook where you could see the switchbacks/corners for about another 10 km as the riders descended. If you want to park you van right on top of an iconic climb then go in a few days or even a week ahead but be prepared to sit around and wait.
Show your true colours
Before you leave home stock up on your favourite flag and appropriate patriotic souvenirs. We had three flags – two Australian and one boxing Kangaroo plus an inflatable kangaroo that we named Daisy. At each location we displayed them prominently to show the riders that we were cheering them on and to show our own pride in being Aussies.
Pack your road bike
This was the first time we’d taken our road bikes and it really made a difference. Once you’ve found your ideal roadside location in your camper (or car) you are stuck there until the riders whoosh past. Having our own bikes meant we could ride into the nearest town and buy a baguette and also enjoy part of the ride for ourselves.
Cheer on your favourite riders
In this year’s Tour de France there were 10 Aussie riders on the start line. I made a point of cheering each of them on whenever I identified them racing by. For the lesser known ones I memorised their race numbers so I could easily pick them out of the bunch. I also have a few other favourites who aren’t Aussies like Cancellara who is very popular with the crowd including of course his own Swiss countrymen.
Stock up at the Supermarche
French supermarkets are much more interesting than Australian ones or so it seems when you’re on holidays. The camper has a fairly small fridge so you can’t buy too much but you can buy enough for a few evening meals at a time plus whatever you fancy for breakfast and lunch. By following the Tour you will find yourself in some isolated locations so you can’t rely on being able to buy food daily or find a handy restaurant for dinner.
Learn a little French
If you learnt French at school like me you’ll be surprised at how much you can remember in the recesses of your mind. I’ve also done a few brush up courses and I enjoy the challenge of speaking to locals. Many French people don’t speak English so be ready to use at least basic French. I also find that if I attempt to speak French first they are much more likely to volunteer that they speak a little English.
Keep up with news/results via the Internet/social media
Internet coverage throughout France is pretty good except perhaps in the high mountains. I bought a European SIM card for my Ipad before I left home and although it’s more expensive that I’d pay at home it has been very handy to have the access. When you’re following the Tour de France it’s great to have access to the results each day because otherwise you’re left wondering. It’s also good to catch up on any news stories, rider withdrawals, etc. via websites and social media. Twitter is a particularly good way to hear directly from the riders, many of whom use Twitter on a regular basis.