Posted by: Jennifer Sage | June 13, 2008

Viewing the Tour de France – Food Zones

The Tour de France is less than a month away. It is one of my most favorite events in the world to attend as a cyclist. The excitement, the fanfare, the color and the anticipation combine with what I believe to be one of the most amazing displays of athleticism and fitness of any sport out there.

There are many different ways to enjoy and to view the various types of stages of the Tour de France, and I thought I’d describe some of them over the next several weeks and include some interesting stories to go along with some exciting photos. Without a doubt, viewing an Hors Catégorie climb is at the top of the list, and that is what I’ve experienced the most. Check back in a few days for photos and descriptions of some of the best climbs and the best places to view them. But there are some other very interesting viewpoints, including watching a feedzone where the riders gather their foodbags.

As you know, Tour riders burn an incredible number of calories over the course of a stage, from 5,900 on up to 9,000 calories depending on the severity of the route. And these calories must be replaced! Eating correctly is one of the more difficult things for riders to handle. They need high calorie foods that won’t sit in their stomachs and interfere with their efforts. And they need to eat fairly consistently over the course of the stage.

Viewing a food zone can be very interesting. The pace is pretty mild so you get a good view of the rider’s faces, and there’s a lot of activity going on. Also, you won’t see any sprints, breakaways or strategic moments.

How do you know where to go for the feedzones?  On each of the profiles on the official website for the Tour, there is a fork and knife icon to indicate the location of each food zone. Team cars have specific locations where they will set up (they are always in the same order, about 100 feet apart from other team cars), and riders know exactly where to find their team cars. Two soigneurs (team staff who do everything for the riders) stand about 20 feet apart, each on different sides of the road, and hang the musettes over their shoulders, waiting for the peleton to come through. The musettes are the bags containing the riders food. (It was a musette waved by a crazed fan in 2003 that snagged Lance Armstrong’s handlebar on Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees, throwing him to the ground on the final climb of an important stage).

You want to position yourself near your favorite team to get the special photos of riders grabbing their musettes. However, you don’t want to be at the first team or two, as your chances of snagging some schwag thrown by the riders will be slim. Once riders dig out their food and stuff it into their faces and pockets, they’ll toss their musettes as well as their water bottles, replacing them with fresh ones from their bags. Both water bottles and musettes are the best memorabilia to take home!

In 2007, we watched the food zone of Stage 8, just prior to a big climb up the Cormet de Roselend. I told my group, “All I want is a photo of George Hincapie grabbing his musette!” [George is one of my favorite riders!]  There was a breakaway group of a dozen or so riders, and the radio announced that George was in this first group. So I positioned myself across from Discovery Team, got down on one knee, and when the riders came through, I just pushed the button and let the motor drive do it’s job. Dozens of pictures clicked off, and looking through the viewfinder at the colorful bicycles and bodies whizzing by, I had no idea of what I was taking a picture of.

Watch out what you wish for! Here is George at the precise moment where he grabs his musette! How cool is that? I call this photo “George at the drive-through window”!

George Hincapie at the Drive Through window

There was a gap of about 12 minutes before the main peleton came through, and then it was truly a mass of bodies and bikes. If you plan on going to a food zone and want exciting photos, having a camera with rapid-fire mode to shoot multiple shots per second is a great advantage.

I imagine that they don’t always like what’s in their bags. Judging from the look on his face, I bet the rider on the right is asking his teammate, “Yech! Dude! Whattaya got to exchange for this?”

Whattaya got to exchange for this?

This next shot is KOM Sylvan Chavanel inspecting his loot. This was only the second day into the Alpes, and it was this stage that Rasmussen took over the KOM jersey for the rest of the Tour (that is, until he was ejected for suspicion of avoiding doping controls in the off-season)!

KOM Rassmussen in the Feed Zone inspecting his loot

American Freddy Rodriguez (with the bandages) stuffs his face.
Notice the other rider stuffing his pockets for later.

American Freddy Rodriguez (with the bandages) stuffs his face.

In 2005, we viewed a feedzone towards the end of the Tour as they were leaving the Pyrenées en route to Paris. I snapped a few photos before my camera malfunctioned. As I was looking at my camera to figure out what was wrong, a rider threw a water bottle that actually hit my feet. But because I was not paying attention, another fan dove at my feet and grabbed it before I even realized what it was. It turned out to be a dead battery in my camera – needless to say, I learned a lesson that day about being prepared!

I did manage to snap a picture of Lance Armstrong as he threw his musette over his head!

Lance Armstrong grabs his musette at the 2005 Tour de France

And finally, compare this photo of Rasmussen at the feedzone in 2005 with Sylvan Chavanel in 2007 above. Rasmussen, never one of my favorites (but always one you could chuckle at), dons not only his polk-a-dot jersey, but the polk-a-dot socks, gloves, glasses and even helmet! Someone give this guy a fashion lesson! I’m surprised he didn’t demand that his team put red dots on his bike!

Rasmussen in polk-a-dots

Remember, I specialize in putting together dream self-guided cycling vacations, including to the Tour de France! I give you everything you need to know to do it on your own in total confidence! Let me know if I can help design a tour for you and your friends.

Ride on,

Jennifer Sage


  1. great post and what a great company – wish i had a musette being handed out when im on the road…

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