This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.
From: Bruce Hildenbrand <Bruce.Hildenbrand@eng.sun.com>
Date: Tue, 14 Mar 2000 00:24:10 -0800 (PST)
There are two basic ways you can watch the Tour de France. First off, you can
join an organized tour group. The advantages with a tour group are that all
the logistics are taken care of for you, all you have to do is watch and ride
your bike. The disadvantages are that you must stick to the schedule of the
group and there is a potential to be staying farther away from the venues
because it is harder to find accommodations for a group. There are many tour
groups which provide this service. Surf the Internet or check out the back of
any major cycling periodical for the names of the touring companies.
This guide explains the second option, doing it by yourself, in more detail.
If you are on a very limited budget, you might try to use trains and buses to
get to the locations of the stages. This is not too difficult an option when
viewing the flatter stages, but gets more difficult as the Tour enters the
mountains. If you can afford it, a car is a definite plus, especially if you
want to bring your bike and do some cycling. Renting a car runs about $300-400
a week then you have to add in gas ($5/gallon) and tolls, so figure about
$400-500/week total expenses.
Because of the large entourage (riders, press, support personnel) who follow
the Tour, hotels can be hard to find. This is especially true, in the
mountains, but there are some tricks. Many mountain stages finish at the top
of ski resorts with the Tour entourage staying in the hotels at the resort.
You may be able to find accommodations in the large towns at the bottom of the
resorts or at the end of the valleys, such as Grenoble when the Tour comes to
l'Alpe d'Huez. Better yet, try another moutaintop ski resort near the stage
finish such as Les Arcs when the Tour finishes at Courcheval. It is best to
make accommodations as early as possible to ensure getting a room. Also,
others have reported that even if you have confirmation of a reservation,
the hotel may deny any knowledge when you arrive. If you do pre-book a
hotel, bring all the confirmation information with you on your trip to prove
that you do, indeed, have a reservation.
Another option that gives more flexibility is to camp along the route. If
you are driving by car, you can toss in a tent and a sleeping bag(s) and
camp almos t anywhere along the route. It is important that you bring a
tent since afternoo n and evening thunderstorms are common.
A number of cycling related magazines such as the French magazines Velo and
Mirroir du Cyclisme as well as the American VeloNews publish guides to the Tour
which includes some route information to help you plan where you would like to
watch the Tour. Sometimes, you can obtain a free copy of the official route
map, I have seen these in years past, but don't know how to request one.
Getting on the Route
Obviously, the actual route of each day's stage is closed to both car and
bicycle traffic at some during the day. The problem here is that the
policy fo r closure seems to vary from year to year. One year the road up
to l'Alpe d'Huez was closed at 6am the morning of the stage finish and
another year, the police were letting cars on the road 2 hours before the
riders arrived (about 3 pm)! Suffice it to say that if you absolutely need
to be somewhere at a specific time, you should give yourself lots of time.
The gendarme's seem to be more lenient towards letting bicycles on the race
route, most times they start asking riders to dismount with about 1 hour to go
before the riders arrive. However, recent incidents between spectators and
racers have caused the Gendarmes to be more stringent in enforcing the rules.
If you really want to ride a stage or portions of it, your best bet might
be to do it the day before or the day after the Tour has come by, but that
defeats th e purpose of going to see the Tour in the first place.
On the flatter stages, there are more options of roads to follow to
intersect the Tour. This helps if you want to see a lot of a particular
stage and you have a car. In the mountains, the options are much more
restrictive. One thin g you can do is to stay at the stage finish and then
on the morning of the stage, ride backwards over 1 or 2 climbs, then climb
back up to the finish in time to watch the stage on the big scree TV that
is present at most stage finishes. You then drive to the next stage finish
in the evening after all the hoopla has quieted down.
Visiting teams after stage
At the stage finishes it is difficult to actually visit the teams at their
hotels. The riders need to prepare themselves for the next day which means
getting massages, eating some food and resting are very important. While
it is not advisable to attempt to visit the riders, the team mechanics are
usually out in front, or back, of the hotel washing and adjusting the
riders bicycles. As with the riders, the mechanics have important duties
to attend to after each stage, but they usually don't mind if you watch
them work. You might even curr y their favor by offering to buy them a
Gear to bring
The weather is totally unpredictable during the Tour so you should bring
clothing for hot, cold and wet weather. If you are touring by car and will be
camping, in addition to your personal gear, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad and
tent will give you a lot of freedom.
Daily newspapers/TV coverage
The French sports newspaper l'Equipe has excellent daily coverage of the
Tour. It costs about $1 a day. Daily TV coverage of the Tour starts around
2pm giving about 3 hours of coverage as all stages are designed to finish
around 5pm in the evening. On the days of the more important stages such
as the time trials and mountains, TV coverage may follow the entire stage and
begin as early as 9am. If you have access to cable TV, you should be able to
find coverage in the major European languages.
Also, there usually is a large TV screen present at the finish of most stages
which carries the video of the normal TV coverage.
For those of you fluent in French, the radio coverage is also quite good.