Cowbells & Caravans: Touring with the Tour de France
August 29th, 2020
After yesterday’s introduction, the first day of the 2020 Tour de France did not disappoint. From the grand vistas around Nice to the confetti colors of the peloton, it was spectacular seeing the event get back on the road after a two-month delay.
The riders looked a little rusty and it showed in the many unfortunate crashes throughout the course. Riding with mere inches between handlebars is treacherous, especially with slick roads from intermittent rain.
Last year’s winner, Egan Bernal, is from Colombia. Professional cyclists who grow up riding in mountainous countries like Colombia and Spain tend to do very well in the Tour de France, and often ride the mountain stages as specialists (climbers; going for the polka dot jersey) within the race. There are also sprinters (fast at the daily finish line; going for the green jersey) and domestiques (supportive throughout the race; happy to wear a team jersey). All three types of cyclists ride in support of the team leader (going for the yellow jersey) who has the best chance of winning for the team with the lowest cumulative time over the three-week event. The maillot jaune, or yellow jersey, is worn by the leader of the race as of the start of the race each day. The last man in yellow in Paris wins the Tour de France.
Today, I’m sharing an old post that I just refreshed with some new thoughts, new photos and additional information for anyone following the Tour de France for the first time. The race may look like just a bunch of guys riding bikes but I assure you there is deep strategy behind every turn of the wheel. There’s also a women’s race — shorter and not televised at this time but likely developing into equal length in the next two years.
Hope you enjoy this post about traveling along with the
party race, which J and I did in 2006 and 2009 for a week each time through the mountain stages in the Alps. The Tour de France ranks top among the best sports experiences we’ve ever had and loving France already made it even more enjoyable.
We won’t follow the race every day here on the blog. I just wanted to kick it off and share it with you so you can travel along virtually through the telly, if you like. We’re back on the magic carpet tomorrow, making another stop or two in France since we’re in the neighborhood, then on to our next destination.
Repost of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.
During the Tour de France, all of France is crazed and excited about cycling — a fact understood and accepted nationwide. This goes a long way in how you’ll be received as a spectator of the race and participant in The Greatest Annual Party in the History of World Sports (side note: World Cup soccer happens every four years). French people look forward to meeting you and welcoming you to their country. They let you camp on the roadside, they do their best to keep the traffic moving, they expect that you’ll respect their terrain and the riders who are cycling past you and, most importantly, they don’t try to control an event that has a life and spirit of its own.
That’s really the best thing about this race and this party: the freedom. You go because you love it, you don’t have to follow a strict schedule or spend a lot of money (it’s a free event from start to finish), there are few rules or regulations about where you can or can’t spectate, and in the process of touring with The Tour you get to see the charming towns and stunning scenery of France, like this stop on our route in 2009:
So how do you tour with The Tour? Get a good map, review the race route, focus on one week if you have limited time (we picked the mountain stages in the Alps in 2006 and 2009), rent a car or camper van (satellite TV optional), fly into Geneva with your camping gear, pick up the vehicle, arrive at the first stage on your itinerary the night before it happens, find a place to park, make your campsite and let the party begin. You’ll be surrounded by joyful, like-minded enthusiasts and the rest of the adventure will unfold in front of you as you watch the race and then pack up and follow the caravan to the next stage of The Tour. It’s that simple.
You can also reserve a campsite like we did in Annecy in 2009. “Camping” was more like glamping with a tent, kitchen and beds to sleep in.
On the day of the race at your chosen location, there will be good shwag, great food, daily opportunities to ride the stages if you bring your bike, an amusing caravan of race sponsors before every stage and the daily chance to be within reaching distance of the world’s elite cyclists.
Listen for the helicopters and you’ll know they’re approaching. Ring your cowbells as they cruise past you or display your enthusiasm as you run alongside — participation is up to you, just try not to spill your beer!
As you probably know, Lance Armstrong is cycling’s most notorious doper — an athlete who vehemently denied using performance-enhancing drugs for more than a decade. These days, cyclists are subject to drug testing as well as constant review of their personal health profile as a way to measure irregularities that could be caused by doping. With today’s technology, doping probably hasn’t been eradicated but it has been significantly reduced. Regardless, it has hurt the sport of cycling which has lost a portion of its fan base.
But with views like this these, it’s hard to stay away for long:
When the High Alps are over and it’s time for The Tour to end in Paris, return to Geneva, hop a quick train to the city center and check into your hotel a night or two before the race arrives on the Champs Elysées. Eat and drink copious amounts of wine, cheese and French food at the adorable sidewalk cafes as you wait for The Tour to arrive. On the final day of the race, get out early to enjoy breakfast and walk around central Paris on one of the few days when its main thoroughfares are closed to traffic, and The Greatest Annual Party in the History of World Sports culminates after seven laps around Paris on paved and cobblestone streets.
Touring with The Tour is like taking a great novel with you on vacation … heroes and villains, egos and underdogs, triumphs and tragedies. The Tour is a living, breathing, dramatic story of strategy that unfolds across hundreds of kilometers during which weather, illness, doping, crashes, climbs, descents, ethics, controversy, exhaustion and plain old bad luck can and will affect all of the riders in the race. The Tour is life, on two wheels, for three weeks, during which you will party, eat, sleep and repeat amidst some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love touring with The Tour.
So next year, when the pandemic is behind us, treat yourself to a different kind of vacation! Book your ticket, plan your route, pack your bike and GO. It really is that much fun, and there’s even this big yellow icon to look forward to at the very end: