Posted by: Jennifer Sage | June 17, 2008

Viewing the Tour de France – the arrival city

Large Screen TV at Tour de France stage finishWhat can be more exciting than the finish line! Well, lots of things at the Tour de France if you aren’t right in the last 200-300 feet or right on the fence. Being at the finish but not being able to see much more than the fans heads in front of you (and the green hands they are waving in front of your face) would be a real bummer. The final 100 feet or so are reserved for sponsors, guests, family and press, usually including a grandstand. If you want to claim some real estate in the next 100 or so yards at the fence, you better plan on spending the entire day there to stake your spot! But the good news is that there is an enormous screen placed strategically at the finish line so many fans can view the stage throughout the day as it’s going on. So unlike many other places to view a stage, you can stay on top of what’s going on in the race. If you’re watching somewhere in the middle of a 180km stage, you will probably have no idea what’s going on until the peleton goes by. And unless you speak fluent French, it’s likely that you won’t be able to understand the radio. Heck, I am fluent in French and don’t understand them on the radio, except for exciting moments like crashes (“Un chute! Un chute! Il y a un chute!) or breakaways. I have been next to British fans with satellite radio who picked up the BBC, so you’re in luck if you can find the Brits! 

Like the departure city, there are likely to be events and a festival atmosphere all day leading up to the arrival. Stages are timed to end approximately 5:00 – 6:00 pm. La Ville Arrivée is very popular, so parking will be a tremendous hassle; make sure to arrive many hours in advance. Better yet, ride your bike along the Tour route, arrive about noon, have lunch at a nice café (though you may wait for hours for a table) or bring a picnic, and then stake your spot.

Tour de France sprint finishDepending on the type of stage you’re viewing, where you stand can make a big difference. If it’s a flat stage with an expected bunch sprint finish, and you want to watch the actual sprint up close and personal, you’ll need to be within the final 100-200 meters.  You better plan on getting there 8 hours in advance and not moving! Bring a book and food and water and a good-sized group so you can take turns walking around while the others guard your spot. If you don’t mind being further down, where you might miss the actual sprint but get to watch the riders toying with each other and jockeying for position, you probably don’t have to be there quite as early. (photo:

Mountaintop finishes are extremely popular for Tour fans.  Many fans camp out for 3-7 days to claim their spot along the route, but since the finish lines are in the villages at the top, that is not really practical (and town officials would frown upon tents inside the village)! These prime spots will be grabbed early that morning. Having the screen within your view is a wonderful benefit because so much can happen on the final approach of these stages.  Just make sure to position yourself where you can see the screen, so that when the sun moves across the sky, it won’t make the screen impossible to see later on.

A mountaintop finish can end in many ways. It can be a solo rider who is far ahead of his closest opponent and just casually cruises across the finish line, or it can be a sprint finish (if you can call the exhausted surge after many hours of climbing a “sprint”) in the last 100 meters. It is a special photo opportunity to catch that rider with his hands up, or making the sign of the cross (the Catholic Spaniards or Italians) as they cross the finish line. Race fans were treated to an exciting finish in 2005 at Pla d’Adet, when George Hincapie beat Oscar Pereiro by only 6 seconds in his first stage win. But since an attack can occur anywhere along the final climb, it’s really the luck of the draw on where you end up and what you see on that mountainside. Even though having the video to watch while you wait several hours is a very nice treat, my personal preference is not to be at the very top of a mountaintop finish, but rather somewhere along a steep grade to watch the riders suffer (a morbid satisfaction…because I know it’s not me who’s suffering. I may have ridden up several hours earlier, but I didn’t do it while racing)! I’ll talk more about where to view mountain stages on another post.

This year has three mountaintop finishes, two of which are famous, Alpe d’Huez and Hautacam, and the other which is new, Prato Nevoso in Italy. All could could produce exciting moments, both along the way and/or at the very top. If you plan on being at the top of any of these locations, and aren’t staying right in town, leave very early! Enjoy the climb to the top, and plan on staying all day

I find that time trial finishes can be a bit anti-climactic because the riders just roll across the line every two minutes or so. At least the activity is spread out over a longer period of time, unlike many other stages. Having the video screen nearby allows you to know much more about who’s ahead, split times and more, so it has its advantages to be right at the finish rather than somewhere along the course. Personally I’d rather watch a time trial on television at a bar or at our hotel, so we can really watch and understand what’s going on. I’ll have more on time trials later.

Your chances of getting autographs after a stage, especially a grueling day in the Alpes, are pretty slim. Riders are whisked away by their soigneurs to their team buses. However, one of the exciting aspects of watching a stage finish is viewing the awards presentation. Obviously the closer you can get, the better photographs you will have of the podium girls kissing the riders, but make sure you’re not the least bit claustrophobic, because thousands of guys out there will be vying for those same photos (the ladies will be taking pictures of the rider’s legs). 😉 

Podium Girls


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