A Spectator’s Guide to the Tour de France

May 16, 2017

The 2017 Tour de France is the 104th year of this most famous of cycling events, with a route planned across the east and south of the country.

Starting with the Grand Depart in Dusseldorf on the 1st July, this year’s route covers a total distance of 3,521 km (2189 miles), and will visit all of France’s major mountain ranges. The route also takes racers through Belgium and Luxembourg as they travel to France from the starting line in Germany.

Watching the Tour de France

There are some great opportunities for spectating along the route, with some stunning scenery and great local attractions, as well as the thrill of the race itself. The uphill mountain stages are some of the most popular for spectators as the riders are naturally moving slower, giving you more chance to see them.

The riders are preceded by the publicity cavalcade, which can be just as entertaining as the riders themselves. Many of the biggest brands in France adorn a long line of vehicles, throwing all sorts of freebies to the crowd. If you’re lucky you can grab a free hat, keychain, sweets, or even cheese, but you’ll need to be at the front of the crowd, or very enthusiastic, to get anything.

Getting there

If you’re heading for one of the popular mountain sections to watch the race, it’s best to arrive at least a couple of hours early, as crowds can build up fairly quickly. To do this you’ll also need your car, as many of the best spots are far away from train stations and bus routes. This makes travelling to France by ferry a good idea, so you can have your own vehicle for getting to all the best spots.

The other option is to choose a major town along the route and watch the race from there, which can make accessibility a bit easier, though you still need to arrive early to avoid ending up at the back of the crowd. If you want a better chance at grabbing some freebies, too, head to a quieter stretch of the course.

Seeing the action

Once you’ve bagged yourself a good spot on the course, you’ll likely be waiting a good while for the action to start. The ‘caravan’ of branded vehicles can take around 45 minutes to pass by, which should give you enough indication that the riders themselves are arriving imminently, but another good trick is look out for TV helicopters filming the race. They travel at the same pace as the riders, so if you can see them coming, the riders should be getting near.

It’s important to remember that there usually aren’t any barriers set up on the country road parts of the route, so there’s nothing between the crowd and the riders. People can get very enthusiastic and end up getting too close to the riders, even knocking them off their bikes, or getting injured in themselves, so always keep a safe distance, especially if you have kids with you.

Of course, if all else fails you can find a nice local bar and enjoy the Tour de France how most French people enjoy it – on TV.

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