As I sit waiting to board my plane home from Paris, I am left reflecting on what has been a stellar month following the greatest bike race on earth, the Tour de France. I have met some fantastic people and made many memories of the past few weeks to take home. From the bike, to the French cuisine and enjoying a wine or two at a days end with new found friends, le Tour was a great experience!
Now for some of the racing purists who solely look at the battle for the yellow jersey the race may have seemed a touch dull. Chris Froome and Team Sky seemed unchallenged and destined to win the race as early as stage one when their key rival, Alberto Contador of Team Tinkoff, crashed heavily. However, following the race you look at the race stage by stage and the many battles that emerged and made the spectacle: –
Mark Cavendish fighting (successfully) to reclaim his place as the premier sprinter in the peloton. The fight for the white and polka dot jerseys. Peter Sagan again showing his class and race instinct – undoubtedly refreshing in a data lead era of power metres and cycling computers
All that being said, credit where credit is due, Chris Froome showed us he is more than a one-dimensional stage racer. He made a daring attack on the decent into Bagneres-de-Luchon and then a few days later when following Peter Sagans acceleration in the windy finish to Montpellier.
Many consider themselves lucky to have witnessed le Tour for a day… potentially saving for years for a once in a lifetime experience on the Champs Elysees for the final stage or perhaps see a mountain top finish atop the Alps or Pyrenees. I am incredibly grateful that following this race is my job. Not only witnessing the race itself, but also to see the reaction of guests when they see the imposing sight of the peloton pass, or witnessing them conquer some of the hors category climbs that test even the best cyclists in the world.
As a child I fell in love with travelling whilst watching stages of the Tour de France. Late at night (and early in the mornings) in Brisbane, I was in awe of the scenery and countryside. Now you could argue that you will see more of the race on the television, but nothing is quite like seeing the race live. As an official operator you not only see the race itself but there are other highlights you are lucky enough to witness:-
The race is one gigantic logistical road show!
Being an official tour operator you see firsthand the logistical beast the Tour de France is. The best way to describe it is a moving circus. Barriers, signs etc are up in no time and if you blink after the race has past they’re gone – more than likely already on their way to a point for the following stage.
Thousands of people work on the race each day, from A.S.O. employees, Gendarmerie, local authorities, countless volunteers and of course the small village of people across each pro tour team. Catering must be a nightmare!!!
Viva le tour
The Tour de France is the biggest bike race in the world because everyone in France follows the race like it’s a religion! They will sit on the side of the road for hours for their 30 seconds to see the peloton pass – some more prepared than others. Groups are well prepared with picnic tables, a deck of cards, perhaps even a TV set up to watch rest of the race. They will cheer anyone and everyone who passes, regardless if you are a professional cyclist or not.
As the race is right in the middle of the European summer and major holiday period, everyone is outside enjoying the (mostly) great weather. Be it sharing a picnic, drink or conversation with friends and strangers alike. Local towns and farmers will dress up their streets or fields to showcase their support for the race.
Experiencing the Tour live is enriched by seeing the spirit and goodwill of the French people following this race!!
Everyday cyclists can achieve great things
Throughout the three weeks we saw some amazing feats from the professional cyclists….. Steve Cummings attacking prior to the Col de Aspin. ORICA-BikeExchange breaking the stage to Revel open on the first climb of the day over the Port d’Envilira. Roman Bardet attacking to the summit of Mont Blanc to name a few. We know they have the strength and endurance to attack these mountains with such speed….. but seeing our guests achieve life long dreams, bucket list items was just as rewarding.
Paul from our Pyrenees Peaks trip for example had spent the past 15 years watching the Tour de France. Over the course of his trip he climbed to two of the most famous summits of the tour in the Col du Tourmalet and Mont Ventoux. Also Nick who joined our Pyrenees trip for his 50th birthday was barely riding a bike in January and come the 10th of July he climbed to the top of the Col du Tormalet. No he didn’t break any climbing records but pedal stroke by pedal stroke he slowly chipped away, all 17km. The joy and elation on his face! He sat below the summit sign with his good friend Peter as if he were 12 again.
It is these moments that make guiding truly special – where you can play a small part and witness ordinary people do extraordinary things!
For those of you reading this who are on the fence about travelling to see this great race, I hope this has convinced you to lock in that holiday for July next year. If you are still not sure my highlights from the past 3 weeks may help: –
- As official operator I was amazed at how close to the race we could get, and the enhanced experience our guests got as a result
- The riding through France is stunning – be in in the flatter region of Normandy, the wine regions in Provence or the majestic climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees
- There is no race like the Tour de France. The local enthusiasm, the caravan that follows the race day by day or the riders who each day out battle at their absolute limit to win a stage/help a teammate or even just survive.
- The food is first class! Following the race you have the opportunity to sample the best food each region offered. The seafood in the Manche, a taste of the Mediterranean diet in Montpellier, Saucisson in Lyon or the hearty potato and meat based foods of the Swiss Alps.