Viewing the Tour de France

Viewing the Tour de France is a thrilling experience, regardless of whether you are a cyclist. The Tour is a moving spectacle, from the “Grands Departs” (the race’s grand departure from the initial start town) to the finish in Paris on the Champs-Élysées three weeks later.  

Cycling is not an optimal spectator sport, so unless the riders are on a circuit where you can see them several times (like the finishing circuit on the Champs-Élysées) my experience has been that the best viewing takes place where they are ascending steep mountains, ideally when the stage finishes on that same mountain. These are often the most crowded roads of the Tour, and it’s fascinating to visit with fans from around the globe who are there for the same reason as you – to see the world’s biggest bike race. I’ve met people from dozens of countries, some cyclists and others simply fans, and the atmosphere is electric.

The roads that they use are generally closed approx. 2-3 hours before the riders come through, longer for mountain-top finishes (where the roads are sometimes closed the day before). The official Tour de France website, letour.com (in English) provides detailed information as to the times the riders should appear at particular locations along the route, so you can plan accordingly.

Also, about an hour before the riders there is a caravan of sponsor vehicles that is nearly as entertaining as the race itself. Many of these sponsors give out swag so it’s definitely worthwhile to be there early and upfront, if possible.

How to know where to view the Tour?

Every year the tour route is officially unveiled the last week in October – you can find it on the Tour’s official website (in English) at  www.letour.com.  (They change the route every year, although they generally rotate between a clockwise and counterclockwise journey around the country. The Tour contains 21 stages, with 2 rest days, and typically covers 2,200-2,300 miles in these 21 stages.)

My suggestion for the best viewing of the Tour is to select one of the mountain-top finishes, ideally close to the finish line.  If possible, pick a place near the large screen TVs of one of the sponsors so you can watch the race on TV up to the point where you can view it live. Alternatively, consider the top of a steep mountain in the middle of a stage, or even a steep section lower down the mountain. With shorter mountains you can hike up and down relatively easily with food and drinks, a chair, warm clothing, etc., so you can enjoy the race no matter what the conditions. And a steep section will slow the race enough so that you can see the suffering in the riders faces – it also generally means that the riders are not all bunched together, so you can view them for longer.

Another common spot to view the Tour de France is the finish on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Because they do 8 circuits around the Champs-Élysées you will have the opportunity to see them up to 8 times. The ride into Paris is typically ceremonial, but the finish on the Champs-Élysées is typically a contested sprint exceeding 45 miles per hour!

** Travel Gem ** :

Note that the best spots to view the Tour are typically the most crowded, so be prepared to spend several hours at your “perfect spot” before the race comes through. This means you should bring adequate food and water, a jacket for rain or inclement weather, etc.  Note that particularly at higher elevations, the weather can change very quickly and often does, so be prepared!

Specific viewing locations, as well as suggested accommodations, routes, travel information, etc. are covered in detail in the Guides to the Northern Alps, Southern Alps, Pyrenees and Mt. Ventoux.