I'm considering visiting Fr during the tour and was wondering if anyone has any suggestions. The route is coming out this week I think. Is a mountain stage the best bet or the finish line of a flat stage or both? It seems like you would see more of the show on a mountain stage than just watching the peloton whoosh by on a flat stage. How much trouble is finding a room in a start/finish town? Anything that is a must do?
Lemond Maillot Jaune, Specialized Stumpjumper, Kona Jake the Snake, Single-Speed Rigid Rocky Mtn Equipe, Soon-to-be fixed Bianchi Brava
Mountain finishes are the best, but don't even bother trying to find a room at the finish line. Pick a town nearby (30 km away for example) and get a room there. From there you can ride to the finish line if you bring your bike or rent one.
Another possibility is to camp near the finish on the route, which I've done. You can pretty much put your tent up anywhere or sleep in your car. There will be plenty of people doing the same. The only problem with this is finding a place to, ahem, drop the kids off at the pool. The portajohns the put on the route fill up fast!
it all depends on how much time you have and what part of the country you would like to visit. france is big and if you don't have much time to follow the tour you should pick towns that offer other interesting experiences close to where you want to go. the mountains are beautiful and offer alpine type activities, but there is not much else to do there on the cultural tip (mueseums, architecture, shopping, nightlife, etc.). if you have your bike and are fit the mountain stages are the most fun to ride and then hang out near the tops of the climbs to cheer on the riders. you won't be able to drive up to these spots unless you go the day before, which is kind of a waste of time if you are only there for a short time. and if you do you will need to camp since the hotels in any mountain finish town will be booked up by the teams and press long before the announcement of the route. i like the finish lines the best since they have the big screen so you can watch the race unfold before it comes into town and there are all the vendors and the press circus going on. and watching sprint finishes on flat stages, although over fast, are extremely exciting. since they close the course to bikes about an hour before the advertising caravan comes through riding the last part of the course will offer you the most time for riding. i like starting my ride at the finish and going backwards for 20 or so kilometers and then turn around and head back to the finish. time trials are also fun to watch since each rider goes by with a 3 minute gap between riders so you can pick out your favorite riders a lot easier. paris for the finish is very exciting, especially since they do laps around the most beautiful part of the city (louvre, champs elyses, siene river)....but it is very crowded.
if you have the funds renting a caravan type vehicle with satelite tv is a great option, then you can camp comfortably and watch the whole race from anywhere on the course. i believe germany is the best place to rent these type of vehicles due to laws, insurance and other costs.
they start in brittany this year, i've never been to that part of france but i imagine the weather will be foul. the famous cathedral mont st michel is near there. i've heard nantes is a nice town to visit and then the first time trial is the next stage. the stages after this are all in very rural areas which are beautiful but not very interesting as far as tourist things to do. toulouse is a cool town, very modern in some places yet ancient in others. it is like france's version of silicon valley. then you have the first big mountain stages in the pyrennes...i like when they do these before the alps since it makes it more likely the alps will get good weather being later in july and its generally always nice in the pyrennes. the stage to hautocam will be the best with the tourmalet before it. this is also the stage for l'etape du tour on july 6. the next 2 stages will be beautiful, especially the stage from lavelanet to narbonne if they go through the gorge areas and quillan. then the next couple stages take you through the south of france which will be beautiful for side trips to the beaches, boating, marsielles, cannes, nice, monaco, etc. then onto the alps with the alpe d'huez, which should be experienced by any fan of cycling at least once in a lifetime...but be warned it has become a total zoo so if crowds are not your thing and you've done it before then skip it. the stage before this is likely to be mellow since most of the hardcore fans will be setting up camp on l'alpe. after this more rural france for a few stages which will also be beautiful but not much else on offer. and of course the finish in paris will be spectacular.
I would love to see a mountain stage, but for the most bang for your buck, an individual time trial is great, especially if you can be near a screen... you get to watch action all day long rather than just for 5 minutes during a flat stage, or maybe 30 minutes during the most grueling mountain stages.
During the Prologue last year, granted it was in London so a bit different, but we were there 4+ hours before it started and had to work to get a spot right on the course.
Thanks for the advice. I don't think I'll make l'Etape, I'm just a recreational cyclist. I'm pretty sure the wife will not agree to camping out (but who knows). Is there a guide to the stages that comes out after the announcement? The website is helpful but more details would help. Velonews and other pubs have one but that's in the spring before the tour. I need to start planning this winter.
You can make the camping much easier on your wife by renting a mini van and sleeping in it instead of a tent. If you bring a bike, you can make your wife comfortable in the minivan and you can ride some of the course before the race.
they don't release the specifics of the course to the public until very close to the start of the tour, just the start and finish towns. but generally they use the same roads as in year's past. if you look at the specific routes on cyclingnews.com for past tours and use google maps it is fairly easy to figure out where they will go. always small back roads and never on the highways. but as i said before if you are only planning on catching a stage or two your best bet is to view from as near the finish as you can get, since that will be the most fun and especially close to the jumbotron screen they will set up to show the entire race broadcast on france 2 tv.
I have followed the mountain stages the past two years. In 06 through the Alps and in the Pyrennes in 07. No reservations this year and it worked out fine. Saw 5 stages. Last year stayed in Valloire near Galibier and saw two stages. D'huez is fabulous. Camped one short night. Great time. Email if questions.