Wow, I could write a book on why this years Tour de France is going to be one of the best ones ever. If there is any year to make the pilgrimage to France this is the year!
This years 6 country route should prove challenging and exciting
Firstly, this is going to be ‘Tour de Lance’ – whether he wins or not this will be his swan song, never has interest been so high. Firstly, there is the drug debate, which I strongly advise entering into with a Frenchman at all costs – it gets steam pouring out their ears; Secondly, will Lance Amstrong be able to win again after his time in self exiled retirement or will age catch up with him – personally I would not bet against him. Thirdly, he is not popular with the French and I am sure they will throw everything at him and his team to try and make it as difficult as possible. Then Fourthly, there is also his team – Astana team-mate Alberto Contador is supposedly the best cyclist on the planet; so will Lance be happy to cycle in support of him or will the killer instinct that has made him so brilliant in the past get the best of him (I guess it might come down to fitness).
But it does not have to be all about Amstrong. Previous winner Ivan Basso is back after two years in the drug induced wilderness and Australian Cadel Evans has something to prove after his lack of fire power when he could have clinched the win last year, and last years winner Carlos Sastre returns with a new team. My pick for a good outside bet is Andy Schleck – he was awesome at the Olympics.
The course this year will play a big part too – it missed large swathes of the north which are usually on the route as it starts for the first time since 1981 in the Cote d’Azur. In fact it starts with a time trial in the rich playground of Monaco, traverses a total of 6 countries (Monaco, France, Spain, Andorra, Switzerland, and Italy) and for the first time ever has a mountain stage on the penultimate day.
The tour as it passed through London in 2021
The mountain stages are where the Tour de France is won or lost and in 2009 the race will finish on the gruelling Mont Ventoux (a 21 km slog with an average gradient of 7.5% – at kilometre 12 is it actually 10%). Unlike other years we could be waiting until the end of the third week before we actually have an inkling of who is going to win.
For most the best place to watch the cyclists go past is on one of the great mountains where they approach in almost slow motion. The crowd becomes intoxicated with the wait, building themselves into a frenzy as the riders approach, closing in until the crowd barely leave a path a cyclist wide. As each cyclist approaches they part like the red sea revealing a road heavy with graffiti with their favourite riders names. The Dutch are some of the craziest decked out in their orange and the noise of clanging cans, cowbells, whistles and the cry of “allez allez” (go-go or come on) is deafening.
As mentioned earlier, I believe that this year the mountains could play a very special part in the outcome. My recommendations would be that you don’t miss the following stages; The Col du Tourmalet (pronounced tor|mah|LAY) on the 12th July – a relentless 19km Pyrenees climb that gets steeper they higher they go, or the Col de la Colombière on the 22nd July – which although not the highest climb by any means it is technically difficult for the cyclists reaching over 10% gradient at stages and this is after 5 other large climbs during the day! much will be decided on these days!
The other stages this year that should not be missed are the first time trial day in Monaco, the team time trial in Montepellier, and of course the legendary finishing laps around the Champs Elysee in Paris.
Watching Le Tour de France on the big screen in Parliment Park, London. Photo by The tour as it passed through London in 2021
Actually following the Tour de France is no easy task. Without transport then the best options are to stick to the main centres and Montepellier sticks out as one of the best options because of its easy rail access and also perhaps Verbier for a mountain finish that will be easier to reach by rail. For many the best option is campervan or car and tent. You will find that many spectators will scout out their vantage points the night before, many often sleeping at the side of the road – the festivities will often carry on all night. And then of course there are the nutters who try and ride ahead of the tour – don’t underestimate the seriousness of these mountains – but if you do all power to you.
If you can’t actually make it to see a stage then watching the Tour de France in a cafe/bar with loads of passionate Frenchmen is almost an equally uplifting experience. The French are mad for their cycling and there is no bigger event on the calendar than Le Tour. Share a Pastis (aniseed flavoured liquor also know as Ricard) in the south or a Kronenbourg beer elsewhere and embrace the spirit of the event.
Finally, there is one more great event associated with the Tour de France and that is the Etape du Tour Mondovélo (literally, a stage of the tour for everyone). This year on the 20th July 5 days before the real racers you can have the chance to ride the 170km stage from Montelimar to the top of Mont Ventoux. In 2021 around 9,000 entrants completed the Etape du Tour and with all the hype around this years Tour de France you can expect the same amount – it is quite a spectacle.