After all of the doping scandals in the past few years, I think the interest in the Tour de France, the annual bicycle race primarily held in France has waned. While there are still crowds cheering on the riders, especially when they have their final ride down the Champs Elysée in Paris, I have heard comments from locals that it just doesn’t mean a lot to them.
I thought I’d feel the same way until I was in France recently. When I realized I would actually be in the same area as the Tour, I started getting excited. I knew it would be a miracle to actually catch the riders zooming by but thought I would take a chance. I downloaded the map from the Le Tour website and upon my departure from Evian-les-Bains, made my way to the Auvergne-Rhone-Alps area.
The Tour de France Route That Day
The tour was to start in Bourg-en-Bresse and wind its way through all the mountain passes (“Cols”) finally ending in Culoz. They were to leave at 1:00 and if I timed it right, they would pass by Col de Berthiand by 1:30-2:00.
As I drove to Col de Berthiand, I ran into “Deviations” (Detours), I got lost (what else is new!) and spent too long in the grocery store buying picnic provisions. But when I arrived in Nurieux, the closest town to the Col de Berthiand, I saw a blocked street and a group of people sitting on a hillside with signs. I knew I had made it on time!
I joined the crowd at 1:00 and waited, and waited, and waited. But it wasn’t a boring wait. One of the highlights was hearing the crowd sing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, which was especially moving in light of the terrorist attack and murder of 84 civilians on July 14 in Nice, France.
For Sunday’s tour, many families had come out and some brought picnics. We all waited patiently for the riders and every time a team car or caravan came by beeping their horn, we would cheer. But the real cheers and excitement certainly came when the riders sped past us, in 4 or 5 pelotons (pack of riders), not all at once. There weren’t any spills as they turned the corner at the base of the hill (although a police officer skidded earlier in the day).
The crowds grew to about 500 and there was great excitement in the air. I didn’t think I would be as excited as I actually became. But then again, it is “Le Tour”, and it is the pride of France!
How To See The Tour
If you ever want to see the Tour, it is free, at least when you see the riders in small towns. (You can buy VIP tickets for the hospitality seats in Paris). It had been suggested that I visit the tourist office first, but there wasn’t any time to do that. I just looked for blocked streets and crowds. I arrived 30-45 minutes before they were to come through and this paid off.
Just be aware that streets will be blocked. I kept seeing signs saying the D979 to Bourg-en-Bresse was closed and that was understandable as they were starting in Bourg-en- Bresse, but I realized the trick was finding a town that intersected with the D979. Look at the Tour de France route map that is on their website. It lists the date, route (including all the start, finish and towns in between).
- Bring a picnic and get there early to enjoy the whole event
- Wear sunscreen
- Be prepared to move fast (to take pictures). Sadly it’s over in less than 10 minutes
Best Piece Of Advice
Either position yourself looking down on the riders as they approach a bend (like I did) or at the top of a hill as they approach. They will be slower and you’ll have time to get lots of pictures. I put my camera on sports mode so I could take many pictures one after another.