Yesterday my wife and I returned from two weeks in France, along with one day in Amsterdam, where we had several interactions with the Tour de France. This entire scheme started when the 2021 route was announced and I noticed that Stage 13 went right by the front gate of a vacation property where my sister and her husband own an apartment. They booked up the first three weeks of July, and we all made plans to be there for sure on July 8 and 9.
I have to tell you, it’s an amazing show. On the 8th we rode along 5 or 6 miles of the stage route running from Neffies, through Pouzolles and toward Magalas. That, in itself with all the directional signage up and official Tour vans out doing advance work, was pretty cool. There was a stretch through Neffies where they would come downhill on a skinny street (ok, they’re almost all skinny), make a hard left onto another skinny street, have it straighten out only to have a permanent chicane thing in the road about 200 meters into the straight before heading out on a beautiful section of road that runs between rows of trees. We scoped out a spot at the crest of a modest climb (3 to 5% over maybe 1500 meters) to watch from the next day. By early afternoon people following the tour in campers were already staking out territory, so I took our rental car up there loaded with blankets, chairs, and other bulky stuff and parked in our spot next to a nice, older couple from the Netherlands. The next day about noon we loaded stuff into backpacks, got on our bikes, and rode the mile up to our spot.
The events really start two to two and a half hours prior to the actual racers arriving. We really were out in the sticks of the Languedoc, but people were gradually coming to line the road all day. About two hours before the racers the Caravan arrives. It’s lots of sponsors’ floats, vans, officials’ cars, team support vans, etc. Loud music is playing and announcers were pumping up the crowd along the way. Then there’s about an hour break. Given that we’d had a lunch featuring nice cheese and a rose from Domain La Sarabande (a small, local winery owned by a truly nice couple that my sister and BIL have befriended over the years of going there), it was a good time for a short nap.
The energy level picks up about 15 to 20 minutes before the riders arrive. Now there are more law enforcement and support vehicles on the road. Then you see the TV coverage helicopters appear over the horizon. We could see a piece of the route about 2 miles out, so we could see when the breakaway of 3 riders was first in view. Three minutes back was the peloton. Watching these athletes come up that climb to where we were was stunning. They made cranking up that climb at what I estimated was about 25 mph look easy. They’re not even breathing hard. (For comparison, when I rode it the day before, and I wasn’t pushing hard by any means, I was probably 12 to 13 mph and my heart rate per my Fitbit got up to around 140.). You are amazingly close to the road (side note: nobody was dumb enough to to have a cardboard sign to hold out any more) as they go by. Three feet maybe. There are TV coverage motorcycles, TdF vehicles, team cars, and at this point about 160 riders packed on these little country roads. The photo I’ve posted includes who I think is Julien Alaphilippe, the current world champion, in the white jersey with a stripe toward the right side. The peloton passed by us over about a 14 second span. All the remaining support vehicles go by, the road reopens in the direction away from the race, and it’s over. A fast, colorful, stunning display.
Without a lot more detail, we had some other interactions that were TdF related throughout our two weeks. Stage 20 ends in Saint-Emilion, and we visited there. Some of you may have heard what former Tour of Utah rider Lachlan Morton just completed riding the entire TdF route plus all the transfers unsupported and camping every night. My BIL met up with him when he rode by on the 7th and rode along with him and talked about what he was doing for 15 to 20 miles. He seems to like to have the company. We also just happened to be staying at the Marriott Courtyard near the Toulouse airport on our way back, and three teams were staying there the second night we were there. That included UAE and GC leader Tadej Pogacar, although we had to turn in real early due to a 4am wake up call to come home and they didn’t arrive until after we went to bed. Oh, well.
This turned out to be an amazing experience. It’s the biggest event in bike racing, and it’s a real spectacle. I hope to be able to do it again sometime.