We got to see the Tour De France this year since it passed by very close to where we live in France. When I came to know that we can watch the Tour De France in person, I did not know what to expect and how to plan. Internet searches did not yield much information and so here is my post which might help people who are looking for this information in future.
As you know, the Tour De France is the annual endurance bike race which takes place in France and surrounding countries (understatement much?). If you want to check it out in person, the first thing to do is to check the route on the official website. Next thing is to decide if you want to see only the riders or to see the caravan also.
The caravan is a circus like atmosphere of publicity cars, trucks and bikes which come bearing interesting acts and goodies (junk?) to the waiting public. Check out the gallery above to see the pictures of what we saw. From what I noticed, they seem to give out key chains, hats, grocery bags and snacks. There was a mad rush for all the goodies being thrown at the crowd. So if you are interested in maximizing your loot intake, find a place close to the policemen who are controlling the traffic. They seem to attract the most goodies aimed directly at their faces.
The other thing to note is that the caravan passes very close to the people standing on the side walk. It can be dangerous if anyone steps in front of a passing car by mistake. The Wikipedia entry for Tour De France has a list of people who died in collisions with the caravan. We noticed that the people throwing the goodies were making sure that they landed near the crowd’s feet (unless it happened to be a policeman!). Still we noticed many things flying off and landing in the path of the fast driving cars.
These caravans arrive at least 2 to 2.5 hours before the arrival of the bikers. The timings for the caravan will be announced on the website and they kept to their time. The 2012 caravan lasted for about 45 minutes. Since we had a lot of kids in our group, these 45 minutes went by really quick since we all enjoyed watching the show.
After the caravans pass, there will be around 1-1.5 hours before the riders arrive. As estimate of this time will also be announced on the tour website. This year, the riders arrived about 30-40 minutes later than the time announced on the website.
Watching the riders is obviously a big thrill. It is a lot of fun watching the different jersey winners go by. The only sad part is that if you are in the last stage, like we were, the peloton can pass by really quickly. For us, it went by in 20 seconds!
This is why one of my friends advised me to watch the last stage at the Champs-Elysee in Paris. Here the riders have to take 8 rounds in the same route. So you get to see them well. Also, if you are into goodies, this is where it all ends and the caravans will be unloading all on the crowd.
I hope this post helped. The next goal is to figure out how to guest ride with the Tour De France to hone our fitness to their elite level!