Posted by: Jennifer Sage | June 30, 2008

The Tour de France Mountain Stages Part 2 – viewing the stage at the summit

You’ve decided you want to try to get to the top of a category 1 or HC col. As you know, you always must plan on arriving far in advance of the riders, but even more so if you want to be in a prime location such as the summit. The publicity caravan should arrive about 90 minutes prior to the expected first riders. Beginning about an hour prior to the publicity caravan, policemen stationed in increments ranging from .5 km to 100m apart (closer together on the most popular cols and near the summits), will start making you dismount your bicycles. You’re allowed to walk, but it’s a pain in bike shoes on steep climbs. At the 2007 TDF, the man below was forced to walk as he approached the top of the Category 1 Col de la Colombiere (kudos to him for making it as far as he did – he’s been enjoying the croissants and fromage a bit too much)! You can see how mobbed the roadside is, and this was over 3 hours prior to the peleton arriving. Most people just stood, as there was very little place to sit. And the pavement was very, very hot.

Walking up the Colombiere Stage 7 2007 Tour de France

We almost didn’t make it to the top due to an over ambitious police officer at the bottom. We arrived at Le Grand Bornand in plenty of time to climb the 10.5 km, even at a slow pace (we had one pregnant woman with us who rode every col of our itinerary, albeit quite slowly with lots of rest stops). But for some reason they closed the road and told cyclists “Désolée” and shrugged their shoulders with no explanation. Even with my fluent French I couldn’t get a reason, and no amount of begging and explaining that we came from the States worked. We contemplated our options, looking for a detour on the map, but about 10 minutes later, they re-opened the road to cyclists, again no explanation, but we didn’t need one and started our climb.

So, make sure give yourself an extra buffer of time, just in case. You never know when a police officer might decide to make an executive decision that will thwart your plans…

The summits are filled with fans who have been there for days, sometimes as long as a week with their camping cars, and they aren’t about to let some cyclist who just rode up steal their little section of road! You wouldn’t either, so be respectful of this, knowing that once the caravan and the riders start arriving, it will be a free-for all. Do you really want to fight for space with hundreds/thousands of fans (especially if it’s hot, like this day on the Colombiere), or can you see just as well from a higher vantage point? My suggestion, if you have the luxury of several days of mountain stage viewing, is to watch one mountain stage part way up in the shade, and one at the top but away from the madness.

At the top of the Colombiere, all the flat space was mobbed with people, but there was a steep embankment on one side that offered great views. It was so steep that climbing up required both hands and feet, but it was actually quite comfortable (aside for some ant hills we had to avoid). The only problem was the lack of shade on such a hot day. We solved that by purchasing a yellow umbrella from the mobiles souvenir vendors who frequently drove by. [I’ll share what we did with our bikes in an upcoming post on “what to do with your bikes”!]

Viewing Stage 7 2007 Tour de France

Our view from this vantage point was exceptional, as in the photo below, only 100 feet from the summit. And when I felt daring, I could climb down for a photo or two of riders if I could squeeze in between smelly bodies.

Col de la Colombiere Stage 7 2007 Tour de France

A few days later, we rode to the top of the Col de Galibier for Stage 9. Our plan was to ride over the top, and down part way to view the riders as they climbed, but the mass of humanity and the fact that they closed the roadway at the summit made us change plans. We would have to walk our bikes through thousands of bodies and bikes on a very narrow, almost non-existent path. At the top of this HC col, a chain link fence kept the fans back, and it was already mobbed (3-hours prior). As luck would have it, just a few feet behind the barriers was an 18″ stone wall. There were a few people who had laid stake to this spot, but for some reason, they abandoned it shortly after we arrived and we obligingly grabbed it! It gave us these amazing views of the riders as they curved over the summit:

Col de Galibier Stage 9 2007

Col de la Galibier Stage 9 2007 TDF

Notice the rider above zipping up his windbreaker (and holding his coke in his mouth – the feed zone was at the base of this climb). Two days earlier we melted in the sweltering heat, and on this stage, it was very cold and windy. On another post, I’ll tell you what to bring along to be prepared.

From my vantage point on this 2 foot wide stone wall, when I turned 180 degrees and looked straight down, this was my view (no lie, I didn’t take a step to take this photo!):

view of the descent from the galibier

As this post is long enough, I’ll write one more post on choosing a vantage point on a mountain stage, because I have a few more tips to give you for these exciting stages. But if you do decide to get to the top of a col, go very early, be flexible, and be ready to stand for long periods and/or fight with the crowds!

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Responses

  1. I’m so glad I found this, great post and great site. I’m going to be watching the Tour this year at the Col de la Colombiere and hopefully the Ventoux. Unfortunately I’m not taking my bike, but I’d love to do one of your tours someday.

    Quick question: how early the night before do I need to arrive to get a spot on the hills? My travel mate is not a rider so we’re driving and planned to park on the side of the road and camp overnight.

    Thanks for any tips!

    Ben


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