Published by Lyn on 12 July 2017
We were lucky enough to see two stages of the 2017 Tour de France in the Dordogne in south-west France. Here are our highlights.
We are really lucky to live in France for many reasons, but the Tour de France is definitely top 5 on the list. To see the Tour is the dream of a lifetime for many people, so to be able to see one or two stages every year is a really amazing thing. Being around two-and-a-half hours north of the Pyrenees, we are within relatively easy reach of the race every year but sometimes – usually at least every other year – the Tour comes a little closer to home.
This year it visited the Dordogne, and two stages were within an easy daytrip of our front door.
Stage 10 – Perigueux to Bergerac
We weren't able to make it to the Pyrenees this year, so we decided to head to our closest 'mountain'. The category 4 Côte du Buisson-de-Cadouin was the second and last climb of the day and just 40km from the finish line in Bergerac.
En route (and with the benefit of a little local knowledge) we took a magical mystery tour via some of the team hotels.
Photos done, we were back on the road.
In our experience, category 3 and 4 climbs are excellent places to watch if you have small children. They are crowded and atmospheric without being completely manic. The roads are usually always open in the mornings, allowing you time to arrive early and set up without having to camp out overnight like you do on the big cols if you can't all pedal up in the morning to beat the road closures.
Smaller climbs are also relatively accessible. There are plenty of feeder roads onto them allowing you to park up on a nearby access road or lane and walk onto the route. This makes it easier to get away if one of the kids has a meltdown and you need to leave early. We try to avoid parking on the route itself for this reason.
We always arrive super early – at least six or seven hours before the peloton.
We look to get on to a climb so the riders are going a bit slower than on the flat or on a descent. We also look for a bend in the road where you're likely to get a better view without people in front of you obscuring your vision.
We chose this spot this year at around 9am and set up camp for the next seven hours.
You need to consider the safety aspects in relation to the fast moving support vehicles as well as the caravan. You need space to catch that all-important caravan bounty without it (or the kids) falling off a ledge behind you. This spot had a ditch (always good to catch caravan bounty that overshoots you).
If you have kids, DO NOT forget things – any things – to keep them entertained. Also bring enough food and water to last all day. We were lucky to have a food/coffee van near us ths year, but it was the first time in eight years that this has happened.
All settled, we went off to explore the area – first stop was the top of the cllimb (about a 500m walk). We were early enough to see the teams of workers still setting up the 'summit' finish for the polka dot jersey points. This is a real benefit of arriving early – you get to see the Tour de France as a 'real' event, being put together piece by piece each day. It really is quite magical to see in action.
Arriving early also means you can see the artwork as it's applied to the road, and to meet and chat to other supporters. The atmosphere is also really jubilant in these early hours as you have a lot of really enthusiastic supporters who have – like you – investing hours and hours into securing the perfect spot.
There's also plenty of time to cheer on the amateur riders who take to the course ahead of the pros. Most are just regular spectators who've brought their bikes to do your section of the road. You'll also see touring cyclists or road riders ploughing the whole route ahead of the caravan. The biggest cheers are always reserved for the kids.
The caravan is a real highlight and the excitement often exceeds that of actually seeing the riders. The arrival of the Tour de France caravan also signals the start of proper festivities and makes you feel like the Tour has truly arrived.
A prized bounty is always a polka dot cap. This year a few lucky people also caught Direct Energie jerseys – the rarest bounty going on our stretch of the route.
The caravan floats come in all shapes and sizes, and throw out all kinds of free stuff (some edible, some destined straight for the bin; occasionally it's useful, like the Xtra washing machine liquid sachets, key rings, hats or pens).
Around an hour after the last of the caravan had disappeared up the hill, it was on to the main event. The first sign is always the sound of helicopters overhead (don't forget to wave for the people at home), followed by the police motorcycles and safety cars clearing the road.
Then the cheers down the hill get closer and closer. We had a breakaway of two riders and then the peloton chase group.
Then, just like that, it was all over. Less than an hour later, the riders would arrive in Bergerac for the sprint finish.
By the time we packed up, made it back to the car and waited for the traffic jams to clear, the route was all clear. The barricades were gone and the signs had been pulled down – all on the back of a truck and heading towards Eymet and Pau. The only sign of the day's excitement was bunting left in the trees and on decorative bikes in villages.
The amazing roadshow that is the Tour de France had already moved on.
Stage 11 – Eymet to Pau
Eymet put on its Sunday best for the Tour de France, even though it was only Wednesday. The bunting was out and the windows were painted in Tour de France colours. A town whose population is usually less than 3000 had opened its doors to tens of thousands.
I think with Tour de France departs and finishes like this you have to be aware that the crowds will be so much bigger and more concentrated than on an open road side. (This is particularly true in small villages, and not so pronounced in cities). We wandered along the village area before concluding that the crowds at the depart proper were too thick for the two little people I had in tow.
So we took a walk through the town and did a loop around the various car parks to see the team cars. In one we met Cannondale rider Simon Clarke's dad, who was over from Australia (hello Mike!) We also saw a couple of gendarmes launching a camera drone to keep an eye on the crowds. The kids loved watching it take to the skies. There was also the official merchandise van.
We then went to see the caravan, though the crowds were so deep we didn't luck out catching any bounty. I think you have to be pragmatic during these crowded stages. Catching caravan wares or scoring the elusive autograph is very difficult, especially as there are cordoned off VIP zones for the press and sponsors. A little luck though and it's not impossible.
As the team buses pulled up, we saw the riders disembark and riding past on their way to signing on for the race. Who you see or how close you get is again down to luck. We did OK.
Then it was back up to the start. We didn't get anywhere close to the front but with the big screens and the general excitement (including a countdown), it didn't really matter.
We'd had another big day. It was time for a juice and a coffee while we waited for the crowds to thin out and the traffic jams to subside.