Today, the Tour de France‘s cyclists are riding the ‘Circle of Death’, a linkage of four brutal climbs. Tomorrow’s stage finishes atop the 1,615 meter (5,300 feet) mountain, Peyraguedes. They’re in the mountains baby!
When choosing a mountain stage, remember these golden rules:
- The steeper the grade the slower they go (providing you with better viewing).
- The later in the stage, the more spread out the riders. This means that instead of seeing them in an enormous group, you will see them in smaller groups and be able to pick out specific riders.
- A mountaintop finish is the ultimate. Who doesn’t want to see the end of a stage?
Seeing the Tour de France from a mountain was on my bucket list. I like logistics problems, but getting there can turn into a very advanced one pretty quickly.
The easiest way to get a front row seat at a great spot on a mountain is to do a bike tour. Be prepared to bike up the mountain. If you can handle that, it’s pretty darn good. You’ll have a front row seat at a good spot with a TV (key to knowing what is happening in the tour). Plus these guys had support an a nice spread laid out for them on the mountain.
Actually, now that I think about it, there is an easier way to get on a mountain. The easiest way is to have a bunch of money and/or in with a sponsor. Although you might not be able to get in one with bikes, we saw tons of VIP’s in team cars.
If you want to drive yourself up there, you might just be able to do it if you get up and on the mountains before the road closes (less possible the larger the mountain). Getting there the night before and camping is a good option. Loads of people follow the tour with caravans. The larger the mountain (Col de la Madeleine, Col d’Ausbisque, Col du Tourmalet, Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux, Col du Galibier, Port de Pailhères, Col de la Colombière, Col des Aravis, etc.), the earlier they arrive. For large stages, they will arrive up to a week before hand (Europeans tend to have more vacation than Americans), and there won’t be any space left a couple of days beforehand.
Others drive up in cars or vans and pitch tents. We met people who camped out, but I can’t imagine that sleeping in this van was very comfortable. On the other hand, those guys were full of pep and didn’t seem worse for the wear.
Still others bike up. These guys looked like they were having a great time. Boris and Natasha liked this option because it allows you to see the mountaintop, get some exercise and still sleep in a hotel.
The police had already closed the roads when we arrived at Col de la Madeline. Apparently, police decide to close the road whenever they feel there are enough people up there. Forced to leave our car at the bottom, we hiked up…9 miles. We didn’t have much of a choice, but knew we would have to go it on foot at some point. It’s probably just as well. On our hike up, we didn’t see many places to park (or even stand) on the side of the road. As you can tell from our trip though the largest town we passed, the mountain is a little steep and even the roads of this metropolis are narrow.
The only problem with hiking 9 miles up is that what goes up, must go down. Once the tour passes through, there is a mass exodus. It took us about 2 hours to get down. One hour into it, the tour had gone over the top of the mountain and they opened the roads to vehicles. This meant that in addition to dodging bikers racing downhill, we started dodging cars and caravans too. At least we didn’t have to worry about avalanches at this time of the year.
We made it down in one piece and I love the Tour more now than ever before. Epic mountain. Epic day.