Posted by: Jennifer Sage | July 16, 2008

Dealing with traffic at the Tour de France

Anyone who’s ever gone to a stage of the Tour will tell you the traffic afterwards is horrendous. Prior to the stage you can deal with the traffic, especially if you’re on a bike, because you’ve planned around it and left very early to find your spot along the way, and also because many of the routes (and sometimes even access roads) are closed that morning. But afterwards, everyone wants to leave at once and it can be a mad dash!

If you have the ability to hang out for a few hours, you can avoid some of the congestion, but since you’ve already been hanging out for several hours for the peleton, this is unlikely with most of the cyclists I know! And I don’t condone sitting in a bar downing a few beers to wait for the crowds to thin out, and then jumping on your bike! Make it a coca or orangina…

If you’re at the top of a col, it becomes a human obstacle course on the descent. Thankfully, it will clear out fairly soon as you get past the walkers. 

Tip: most of the cars and campers are parked on the ascent of the stage to watch the riders climb, and they won’t go very far trying to get over the top of the col through the mass of humanity and bikes that overcomes the summit. They’re forced to either wait or descend back down the way they came. In other words, if you can descend the same way the Tour riders did, then immediately after the stage, you’ll have very few cars along the way. But if your hotel or car is back along the Tour route, well, then you’ll be right there along with the cars, bikes and walkers. 

Descending the Galibier after Stage 9 2007 TDF

Descending the Galibier after Stage 9 2007 TDF

 Call out “A votre gauche” (“on your left) if you must pass anyone. This is also one of those instances where a bell on your bike can be of service. (We promise not to tell your friends at home you had a BELL on your bike! But you may be quite happy if you did…)

Descending the Galibier after the stage

Descending the Galibier after the stage

If you want to beat some of the crowds, I suggest leaving immediately after the riders pass and they open the roads. When descending on your bike, you must relax and not let yourself get freaked out by the crowds. Cyclists will normally stay left, walkers stay right (though it took about a kilometer before people figured this out on the Galibier). Do not ride fast through this mass of cyclists and pedestrians, even if you have the skills – you never know when a less experienced cyclist will stop suddenly out of nervousness (this happened to a client of mine) or when a pedestrian will jump in front of you. It’s very frustrating when some macho cyclists try to sprint out of the group. 

Descending the Galibier with La Meije glacier as a backdrop

Descending the Galibier with La Meije glacier as a backdrop

Have patience, and very soon the crowds should open up as in the photo above, (that is, if you’re descending the same direction as the peleton went, and there aren’t a huge line of cars or campers the entire way). Keep in mind that this HC col was as packed as any of the entire Tour, so to clear up this quickly (within 2-3 km) shows you that you should be able to get in front of the crowds without too much difficulty. Note the stunning La Meije glacier as a backdrop on this descent from the Galibier.

Descending into La Clusaz after 2004 Tour

Descending into La Clusaz after 2004 Tour

Where it gets a little tricky is when you’re descending a col directly into an arrivée village at the bottom of the descent, such as we experienced at Col de la Colombiere in 2007, and in 2004 from the Col de la Croix Fry into Le Grand Bornand. In this case, there will be cars and the traffic will only increase as you descend, and you will have to just grin and bear it!  The above photo was off the Croix Fry in 2004, with bumper to bumper cars into La Clusaz. Fortunately we were able to detour over the Col des Aravis and miss the biggest crowds on the main thoroughfare towards Le Grand Bornand.

In 2007, leaving Le Grand Bornand on the only main road back to our parked van, we also had to deal with the monstrous Team busses and trucks of the organizers trying to get out of there at the same time as all the fans. Exhaust fumes, heat, traffic in both directions – it was about 4 miles of pure hell on our bikes. But hey, it was the Tour de France and that’s not the part that sticks out when I, or my clients, look back fondly on the whole experience!

Look at your map very carefully. Especially if you are in a valley, you may be able to find an alternate route on smaller roads. Even if it adds mileage or additional climbs, the clear roads will make a huge difference. We did this in 2005 in the Pyrenées, cycling up a steep hill to a side road paralleling the main artery below. In fact, we could peer down on the bumper-to-bumper traffic far in the valley below while enjoying our unobstructed view.

One of the things I do for my clients when assembling a Tour de France adventure is plan well in advance of each stage, anticipating when and where the traffic flows will be, and suggesting the alternate routes, both for driving and riding, as well as suggesting the best place to park to avoid crowds if you must drive to access the route. Sometimes there’s no way around it, but if there is, I will find it for you! I also find out from the police stations when the access roads will be closed to cars before this information is made available to the public. In this way I can help plan how early you must access the routes and tell you how to work around the road closures.

Thinking about a self-guided tour to next year’s Tour de France? Or perhaps you want to join a guided tour with someone who really knows the ins and outs of the Tour? Contact me to get on my mailing list!

Ride on,

Jennifer Sage


  1. Great advise! My husband and I are planning to go over to the Tour next year! I have bookmarked your site!

  2. Awesome Groover, I’d love to put together a tour to the Tour for you next year! Looks like you Aussies will have a big reason to be there! (If you couldn’t make it there THIS year that is!). I love your blog – any strong female rider that passionate about riding is someone I’d like to know! I’ve ridden in NZ, but not Australia.


    Jennifer Sage

  3. Fascinating pics, You only ever usually see riders go up. It’s quite a traffic jam coming down!

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