See the Tour de France – Stage 17
I actually touched a random guy’s ass! Is that allowed? Should I be disappointed with myself? Or am I happy enough with my sexuality? Nobody will mind surely, especially him. Maybe he even enjoyed it and I was only trying to help a needy individual. It was one of those things that just popped into my head as I sprinted alongside the rider. It didn’t even pop, I just did it. Maybe it was the boredom of the previous 3 hours watching the Tour de France that was released in one push. Well the watching is 5minutes and the waiting 2hrs 55minutes. Monsieur Koren from Cannondale was really struggling so a 2 second push on his sweaty ass will bother no-one. Despite our shouting of ‘Allez, Allez, Allez’ and sprinting beside him he didn’t even blink. He is either very used to it or else he was in serious pain. The Tour de France waits for no-one and it certainly wasn’t waiting for Mr. Koren.
See the Tour de France – That Morning
As I explained in how to watch the Tour de France on Stage-16 on the manic summit of Port de Bales, a mountaintop finish (well almost a finish) is crazy. Packed to the rafters and the roads are really narrow. A day later on Stage-17 we decided not to go through that hassle and to see the tour from a different point of view. Stage-16 was really long with a massive climb at the end but this stage was 100km shorter but involved 4 big climbs (not massive) and we would camp out in the middle. I would highly recommend going out in a town that a stage finishes in. The place is packed. There is street music, a good atmosphere and everybody goes around with baguettes. They really do. It’s like a Charlie Chaplin film taking the mickey out of the French! You also will probably get to see a team getting on their bus. We saw the FDJ.fr team who’s rider Pinot finished third overall.
See the Tour de France – Beers and Key-rings
As none of us has been to the Tour de France before except for the previous day we didn’t know what to expect. Firstly we set off too early as we took the day before on the summit as precedent when that time wasn’t necessary at all. 5-6hr are needed before the riders to be at a summit but only 2 or 3hrs required if you are just on an incline. The second climb we decided on was actually very near to the town of Luchon which was handy but the road was closed so a walk was required. We happened to pass Pierre’s pub on the way which was actually just a temporary bar for a family but anybody could buy a beer. €2 a beer can’t be passed up and so we tried to get rid of our hangovers through the only sure way! As we were early we had lots of time to pick a good spot. We sat down about half way up Col de Peyresourde, the second climb (half way through the stage) but the best part was that it wasn’t packed. People every 30mtrs or so and this was a main road so it was much wider than the mountain track we were on yesterday.
After much sh!te talking between us the caravan (Tour de France speak for free stuff) eventually came and we got loads of stuff. Absolutely loads. Yesterday we had to fight for every scrap, every hat, every key ring. But today because there was lots of space around, the guys on the vans had time to see us and throw stuff at us. And yes they hit us in the face. Almost every van gave us something. Even when there were 4 vans from the same company in a row we got 4 packets of washing powder or 4 little bracelets. By half way we weren’t shouting for stuff anymore as we knew we would throw out most of it but they gave it to us anyway. We had one heavy bag going home.
See the Tour de France – Nicholas Who?
Then it finally arrived. The helicopters overhead, the yellow bike telling us the race time difference and straight away the first cyclist. A sky rider on his own and then 30seconds back 2 riders. Now just to tell you that the only Irish rider in the race this year was Nicholas Roche and for those not Irish they wouldn’t know that he is the son of a legendary Irish cyclist called Stephan Roche who actually won the Tour de France back in 1987. Needless to say that Stephen Roche rolls off the tongue very easily for anybody old enough to remember. So as these riders approached we realised that one was from the Tinkoff-Saxo team, Roche’s team. And then we realised it was him. We had even bought an Irish flag for the occasion so we were very excited. Within seconds they were upon us and we roared ‘Allez, Allez’ as they went past and then ‘Go on Roche’ in big thick Irish accents. As I sprinted beside them (the joys of no people and a wide road) I shouted to him ‘Go on Stephen’ three times as encouragement. And three times I called him the wrong name. As soon as I stopped I remembered that his name is actually Nicholas. Oops. He didn’t reply to my apologetic tweet. I’m sure he gets it all the time!!
The peloton then arrived followed by dozens of team cars and then some of the backmarkers. These guys were really struggling because as soon as you lose the shelter of the peloton you then have to work twice as hard on your own. As the end of the excitement was nigh we spotted Koren coming up the hill. He needed encouragement and that is when I gave him. Encouragement in a physical form by pushing his ass for a while on the steep and very long incline. He didn’t mind. I think he secretly enjoyed it. He actually didn’t even blink or look back. Maybe he didn’t even notice. Either way we got much more up close and personal than the day before.
I was glad that we got to see the summit race the day before and the super atmosphere but it was also great to run alongside the riders like you see on TV. Those guys that I always called eejits on TV. Now granted not everybody does this but after waiting for a few hours you feel a bit madder than normal. The other advantage of not going to the summit of a climb on the Tour de France is that you can arrive much later, only an hour or two before the race is needed rather than 5hours before a summit. Overall I would thoroughly recommend going to the Tour de France if even for a few days.
Information on seeing the Tour de France – Practicalities
What is it?: The biggest, most prestigious and toughest bike race in the world. The route changes every year but approximately 3,500km (2,200miles) over 3weeks in July always finishing in Paris, France.
Aren’t they all on drugs?: The answer is no but it is a good question. In the nineties and up to the Lance Armstrong era yes they were but these days there is much stricter testing. All riders now have a ‘blood passport’ and any deviation from what you gave originally can get you banned which is better than just testing for one specific drug. But of course you can never say never. After watching them and taking an interest in it I am not surprised they want drugs with the speed and length of the race.
Where is the best place to see a stage?: The best place to get a close up of the riders is on an incline so whether that is in the mountains or on an incline on a flat stage. They are going much slower so you get a good view and can even run beside them. The downside of this is waiting around in the sun (if that is a downside) and not seeing the rest of the race on TV. If you wait at the finish which is usually in a town you can watch the razzamataz on TV but it will almost be impossible to see any of the riders as they will be going so fast. If you want to read how I got on on Stage-17 at the summit see How to watch the Tour de France.
What is a good length of time to see the Tour de France?: For me 3 days would be enough. As there is a lot of waiting around which is great but I wouldn’t be able to do nothing for a week. If sitting in the sun, reading a book and drinking wine is your thing you could see the whole 3 weeks!
When do road closures start before a race?: I found this information very difficult to come by in advance. On main roads the road closures are rolling and are only for 2-3hrs but on mountain stages and on the mountain roads it is much longer. In my experience the road is closed up to 6hrs before the arrival of the riders if going over a peak. The road will be open to cyclists for much longer closing approximately 2.5hrs before the race.
How do I find out the route and where to be?: The route of the Tour de France is announced months in advance and the route, stage profile etc are all on www.letour.fr/le-tour/2014/us/