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le Tour 3: the Great Day arrives

Tour de France route 2015
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Tour de France 2021

official website for le Tour de France
[also official website in French]


the cycling zone

la Vuelta a España, 2016 - let's climb!

La Vuelta 2016

giro d'italia 2018
il Giro d'Italia 2018 : Middle East meets West, climbing all the way

Giro d'Italia


TDF current and previous years, as seen by abelard.org:

Following the race

The French television stations, particularly France2, broadcast over five hours of Le Tour every stage day. Most cafés have a gaggle of fans watching the TV. Watching the Tour de France on TV is a brilliant way to assimilate the beautiful and varied French countryside, towns and villages. This will be over 100 hours of French travelogue!

Each day, various newspapers publish a plethora of statistics: who’s leading in half a dozen categories, the previous day’s results, photos, incidents. The Tour is serious business in France. The real fact-wonks buy L’Equipe, where every day there is page after page of information, interviews, analysis. If you really want to keep up, make sure that you grab a copy before it sells out.

Above all, L’Equipe will give you the next day’s detailed route with times for the fastest to slowest arrival at each way-point along the route. [This information is also in the Official Tour Guide.]

A checklist

You’re seriously going to do this!?
• You’ve chosen your spot? • You know how long it will take to reach there? • Your picnic (including plenty of water) is prepared? • You haven’t forgotten your camera, charged batteries and spares? [And film, if you still use it.] • Remember your shade, this is going to be a long, hard day (and sun cream, hat, sunglasses). • You have some rugs for the ground and to stake out your territory? • You know when the Tour is going to arrive near your roadside camp? But that is not the half of it!

the schedule

Remember the streak? That is only the end of the show – the denouement. First, there is les Caravane, up to an hour of moving advertising from the team and other sponsors that will process past you. So really, the Tour starts an hour earlier than you thought – check the ‘Horaire’ columns to set your schedule.

But there is more still. If you arrive in time for the circus, your place will be already gone. You need to be there at least further hour before, and to start chattering to or smiling at neighbours, to make friends with les flics [cops] so they adjust to the fact that you are not a lunatic who will dash in front of the Tour as it comes up the hill, and so they will not be jobsworths if you want to wander around. Mind you, three or four years back, a flic toppled the peleton. He tried to jump out to take a photo as they passed.

peleton crash

Do you know what a peleton crash is like? No fun at all. It means, at best, scraped elbows and knees; at worst, broken bones or more. Remember, the peleton is often moving at 30 mph or more in tight formation. If one rider goes down, dozens will go down, like dominoes. These riders have serious guts.

the wait

Right, you have arrived on station. You have staked out your pitch, which now you have to defend. It helps to have several of you! Picnic stuff has been arrayed and now comes Le Wait, sitting or standing on the verge next to the dusty French road, or trying to keep your stability on a grassy bank. My it’s hot out there, unless of course it’s pouring with rain. What d’you mean? You forgot an umbrella or waterproofs? But this is about survival.

I hope you are not bored easily. Did you bring a book or a set of boules, if you can find a space for them (the road is off-limits). Are the young ones fractious yet? What do you mean, the young ones? Well, you wait and see.

Glorianna, here comes an official Tour car along the road, perhaps something is about to happen. Go back to sleep. Look, there is a bunch of lycra-piloted bicycles coming up the hill? No, this is not the Tour, this is the local cycle club or other spectators moving into position.

There are now several groups of people hanging about along the roadside. Then two more cars rush past, followed by flics on motorbikes. And so it continues as the tension builds up, but . still . no . Tour.

la caravane

Ah, here comes a van, hooting and flashing lights, stopping and starting. Soon it will be near you, selling newspapers, cheap cycle caps with cardboard peaks that melt at the first washing, parasols, bum bags. This is big business, there are a lot of tourists here with euros burning their pockets; and they are bored.

5:06 minutes of the Caravane going through France in 2009,
from Monaco to the Champs d’Elysée in Paris

Gradually, the traffic builds on the road, then ....
suddenly around the corner comes the parade.

A giant coffee cup, a huge watch, an enormous vacuum cleaner, a communications satellite, a motorised mineral water bottle; all on wheels, mounted on cars and vans. Mineral water vendors spray the crowd with a cooling mist. Yes, it is a crowd now, even on this backwater that you chose.

Then come the free goodies and mayhem ensues as the young ones – remember them – start diving down ditches, into hedges, on to the road, scrabbling after free samples and gewgaws. Little packets of sausage or cheese, sweets or coffee, key rings, model cyclists and more cycle caps.

If you want some official Tour souvenirs but are not going be at the roadside, or if you have failed to have thrown to you the item you wanted, there is the Tour de France web boutique which has quite a large selection, from t-shirts to umbrellas, cycle helmets, and mugs.

anti-litter gifts

Why all this bounty? Well, the government will not allow the distribution of mere advertising hand-outs as those would just be abandoned, strewn over the road and verges.

So the advertising has to be disguised and attractive. From the vans and floats, pretty young things dispense their largesse to the crowds. But remember, they are working for a wage, for thousands of kilometres, for three weeks. They are bored, their arms ache. All along the Tour route, are smiling, encouraging faces trying to catch their attention, leaning into the road, in the hope that a shower of packets will land close enough to grab. This is competitive sport!

And then, just as swiftly as a cloud going across the sun, it all peters out and the road returns to the steady trickle of flics and team cars. Where’s the bally Tour? Come on, it’s still not here. Perhaps they’ve lost their way? Another lone rider comes up the hill. Is this the leader? No, just another amateur.

le tour comes

When you really cannot believe in this game any more, the first serious signal is heard in the distance – the thrashing rotor of an approaching helicopter. This will be one of the airborne camera teams, hovering over the leaders. On the Tour, there are cameras everywhere: on motor bikes, amongst the spectators and on the whirring helicopters.

So now you know that They are closing in. A few minutes later come cars covered in spare bicycles, frames and wheels. Is it a breakaway group, or is it the main peleton? You will know already if you are following on a ghetto-blaster or car radio, or even on a TV.

If it is a breakaway whizzing through, there may be another fifteen minute wait before the cycling army bores up the hill at you, thighs pumping to drive their bikes along. Very probably, little groups will follow, depending on how spread out the heroes have become. As the last one passes, to the cheering, clapping and support of the appreciative audience, the spectators start drifting off, with bagged-up belongings, to return to their cars and bikes. And I will start to ask myself – was it worth it? Never again, but can you believe me? I can’t. This is ridiculous.

(And before you leave, don’t forget to thank that local flic!)

glossary – how to become a serious nut

lanterne rouge
the competitor who actually finished the Tour last, named after the red lamp at the back of a train (no lantern for dropping out).
the sweep car (or sweeper van)
right at the back of each stage, you will see an anonymous car of shame who picks up the fallen soldiers who could ride no more
the yellow jersey [le maillot jaune]
worn by the overall leader
the spotty jersey [le maillot blanc à pois rouges]
worn by the climber ahead on points ( there are sprints during the day to reach the top of rises and the first three get the points)
the green jersey [le maillot vert]
similar to the spotty jersey, but for sprints
the white jersey [le maillot blanc]
the under-25 yo currently leading. This is no teenager’s game. It takes a long time to build up the strength and stamina to become a top rider. Armstrong is now 33.
The prizes to be won.
ordinary team members supporting their star rider. Their job is to put him into the best position to win, and to protect him from being worn down. (The teams also vie for a category win).

The peleton is regularly moving at about 30 mph/48 kmph, which sets up considerable wind resistance, even on a still day. It is the job of the domestiques to lead out and protect their leader. In among the peleton, various teams are jockeying to make opposing teams do the hard work up front.

If your leader has already built up an individual lead in the Tour, then why go to the front? Let the others do the work. On the other hand, your leader has a chance of taking some of the stuffing out of the recent leaders, and maybe you can break away and carry him over the line, so altering the situation. Naturally, domestiques are not also rans, but are vital to the success of the leader and the team so, of course, they share in the prize money. If your leader is fortunate enough to win an extra lion or two, he may give you one as a valued souvenir.
Credit Agricole peluche lion

For more on the tactics of racing in the Tour de France.

le Tour de France 4: in the Pyrenées
(advice also applicable for the Alps)


cycle club

'devil' and crowd

giant cyclist on le Tour de France

mineral bottle on wheels at the Tour de France

gifi float and crowd

the peloton on the Tour de France

petelon, including the spotty jersey


new! Cathedrale Saint-Gatien at Tours  Cathedrale Saint-Gatien at Tours

Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France updated: Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France

 the perpendicular or English style of cathedral  Manchester cathedral

the fire at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris
the fire at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris
cathedral giants - Amiens and Beauvais

Stone tracery in church and cathedral construction illustrated
stone in church and cathedral construction

stained glass and cathedrals in Normandy illustrated graph

fortified churches, mostly in Les Landes

cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France
using metal in gothic cathedral construction

Germans in France
cathedral destruction during the French revolution, subsidiary page to Germans in France

Click for an introduction to cathedrals and stained glass in France.

on first arriving in France - driving
France is not England
paying at the péage (toll station)

Click for motorways and motorway aires in France.

Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago, Rochefort-Martrou
Gustave Eiffel’s first work: the Eiffel passerelle, Bordeaux
a fifth bridge coming to Bordeaux: pont Chaban-Delmas, a new vertical lift bridge

France’s western isles: Ile de Ré
France’s western iles: Ile d’Oleron

Ile de France, Paris: in the context of Abelard and of French cathedrals
short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard

Marianne - a French national symbol, with French definitive stamps

la Belle Epoque
Grand Palais, Paris

Click to go to pages about Art Deco at abelard.org

Click to go to 'the highest, longest: the viaduct de Millau'

Pic du Midi - observing stars clearly, A64
Carcassonne, A61: world heritage fortified city

Space City, Toulouse

the French umbrella & Aurillac

50 years old: Citroën DS
the Citroën 2CV: a French motoring icon

the forest as seen by Francois Mauriac, and today
Les Landes, places and playtime
roundabout art of Les Landes

Hermès scarves

Hèrmes logo

bastide towns
mardi gras! carnival in Basque country
country life in France: the poultry fair

what a hair cut! m & french pop/rock

Tour de France 2021

Le Tour de France: cycling tactics illustrated

New translation, the Magna Carta

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