Seeing The Tour de France

Tour de France
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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

Tour de France
Tour de France route

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!

Crowds in Nurieux France. Tour de France
Crowds in Nurieux, France waiting for “Le Tour”

La Marseillaise

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.

2016 Tour de France: La Marseillaise from JansFrance on Vimeo.

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).

2016 Tour de France (Nurieux, France) from JansFrance on Vimeo.

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!

2016 Tour de France
2016 Tour de 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).

Suggestions:

  • 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.

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20 Comments

  1. That was so cool! It was smart of you to have arranged for yourself to witness this event. I will remember next time!!!

  2. What an iconic experience! Sounds so colorful and exciting~
    Coincidentally, just before this was reading an article about narcissism in the NYT that mentioned Lance Armstrong:-)

    1. Yes, for a short 10-15 minutes with the riders zipping through it was pretty exciting; however being with the locals was just as fun.

  3. We always enjoy watching on TV – mostly for the scenery, but even I find myself getting caught up in the drama of close finishes, falls, etc.
    A few years ago we worked out all the details to watch the riders zoom through a little seaside village where we have a rental property, La Belle Cour, and the photo we snapped of the colorful bikers with the ancient black lava stone church in the background holds pride of place in our home. Worth seeing in person at least once in a lifetime!

  4. It looks like you had a lovely vantage point and that the wait for the riders was very pleasant! I loved your video clip with the singing of La Marseillaise and it was easy to see when the cycles approached that everyone was anticipating the racers. Such a fun way to spend an afternoon and another great memory from your favorite country!

  5. You did an amazing job! What great videos as well as your photos. Your vantage point was perfect. We stumbled upon the finals on the Champs Élysées when Greg Le Mond won in 1989. They pass so quickly, It is over in a second!

    1. Thank you. I was so fortunate to be in a good position and the day was lovely. You were lucky to see the finals….one day!

  6. Philadelphia used to have a major international bike race and as you described, the amount of time watching the riders whiz by was only part of the attraction. People used it as a time to eat, drink and visit with neighbors and visitors along the route. I admire your determination and willingness to drive around the French countryside dealing with detours.

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