The Tour de France bicycle race is the largest and most well-known bike race in the world. This year was the 106th year. The race started with 176 participants and covered 2,162 miles over the course of three weeks.
My family has been interested in the Tour de France for several years. We try to watch at least some of the stages on television. Last year, my daughter and son-in-law and I were able to go to France to actually watch some of the race in person. Watching it on TV this year was even more fun and interesting, since we were there last year.
Traveling in July
We traveled to France near the beginning of the Tour. We flew home the day after the final stage was complete. We watched parts of three stages of the tour, but traveled throughout France during the rest of the time. You can read more about our complete trip itinerary here.
One negative about visiting France in July is that the weather can be a problem. During our entire two-week trip, the temperature only dipped below 90ºF a couple of times. This year, the temperature during some of the stages was even warmer. Although we didn’t experience any rain while watching the Tour, the participants often get rained on once or twice during the Tour.
When you go, be sure to check if the lodging you book has air conditioning. It’s a good idea to have the host or hostess clarify what they mean by air conditioning. The apartment we rented in Paris had an air purifier that the hostess called an air conditioner. Consequently, the apartment was very warm.
The Tour de France is always held for three weeks during July. It starts on the first Saturday of the month and continues for three weeks, ending on the last Sunday of the month. There are two rest days during the tour – usually on Mondays.
The route varies each year, although many times the stage route may repeat one held previously. The exact route for each stage is announced in October of the year before. Sometimes, possible highlights are leaked ahead of time.
When we went, we had heard that one of the stages would be cycling up Alpe d’Huez. We were able to guess an approximate date. We used this information to help us choose lodging in advance. We booked two different cancel-able hotel rooms for around the time the racers would be near Alpe d’Huez. We were concerned that if we waited until the official announcement, we might have trouble finding a room. When the schedule was released we cancelled the least convenient room.
The Stages we Watched in 2018
Stage 12 – The Alpe d’Huez stage was the first one that we watched. We stayed in the town of Grenoble, France. We had rented a car a couple days before, so we were able to get closer to the viewing area.
We drove to the station section of the town of Oz en Osians and rode the cable car to the town of Alpe d’Huez. We found a spot near the “2 km to go” banner and waited for the cyclists to arrive. There were amateur bikers and a caravan of advertisers to keep us entertained as we ate our picnic lunch and waited. Around 5 in the afternoon, the Tour contestants started coming through – so exciting! It took nearly an hour for all the riders to come through.
Stage 13 – The following day, we watched the start of the stage as the cyclists rode through the city of Grenoble. We bought another picnic lunch and found a spot along the route. Since we were near the beginning of the stage this time, the riders were not spread out and it only took five minutes for them all to pass by.
Stage 21 – The grand finale of our trip was our last day and the grand finale of the Tour. In the morning we participated in a bicycle tour through the Fat Tire Tour Company. Our guide led us through Paris as we biked on many of the roads that the Tour de France participants would be riding on several hours later. We “raced” to the Arc de Triomphe, then celebrated with a glass of champagne. After the celebration, we continued on our tour, riding past the Eiffel Tower and back to the Fat Tire office.
After our tour, the three of us went to the Place de la Concorde to stake out a place to watch the real Tour. We found a surprisingly good spot, although it got smaller with other people crowding in. The cyclists came through for the first time between 5:30 and 6. During the race, the contestants ride the circuit in Paris eight times before they finish, so we saw them go by eight times – faster each time. The day was a great finale to our trip!
Watching this Year’s Tour
In 2018, we traveled throughout France in between the Tour stages that we watched. Next year, the tour will start in Nice, the city where we spent the first few days of our trip. This year, though, the Tour rode through several cities that we had visited on our trip. As we watched the tour on TV, we were reminded of the special places we had been
Reims – The most famous site in Reims is the huge Notre Dame Cathedral in the center of the city. The coverage showed the cathedral several times, most notably as the participants rode past the front of it.
Colmar – The tour participants rode through the Alsatian region of France, most known for the wine produced there. When we were in the area we participated in a wine tour which we thought was very interesting. The many vineyards along the Tour route looked very familiar.
At one point the coverage showed the nest of a stork. We saw storks nesting in the region – an amazing bird and interesting sight! We recognized the cathedral and a few other buildings as the cyclists arrived in the town of Colmar.
Pont du Gard – On Stage 16, the participants rode in a circle from Nimes to Nimes, crossing the stunning Pont du Gard during the race. My daughter and son-in-law and I had spent an afternoon and evening at the aqueduct – hiking, touting, and picnicking. We watched a laser light show on the Pont when it got dark.
Avignon – The next day the Tour started alongside the Pont du Gard. The participants rode through the country passing near Avignon. The TV coverage showed the famous bridge in that city.
Paris – As always, the Tour de France ended in Paris. We watched as the cyclists rode from Rambouillet to the capital city. They rode near the Chateau de Versailles and finally onto the Champs Elysees. I watched to see the place we stood to watch last year.
Watching the Tour
Nothing compares to watching the Tour de France in person, but watching it on TV is pretty great, too. In addition to watching the cyclists, the coverage includes many shots of the nearby mountains, chateaus, rivers, and countryside. It was just beautiful! I can’t wait for next year.