Can you feel it? It’s almost here. I’m talking about the Tour de France, in many minds the high point of the cycling season. We’ve had months of anticipation, merely heightened since the end of the Giro d’Italia. We’re now eagerly awaiting the battle of the big six (Aru, Bardet, Contador, Froome, Porte and Quintana) who have plenty of pretenders young and old nipping at their heels. Speculation has been fevered, who will win what could be one of the most hotly contested and eagerly awaited Tours since………last year.
It’s true each Tour is eagerly awaited by its legion of fans while the riders are chomping at the bit, happy to see the back of the endless press conferences and presentations. I’ve witnessed countless riders patiently answer the same set of questions, some in a multitude of languages, time and time again. Pros to their cores, responding to each and every question with smiles on their faces.
Of course, I’m still a relative newcomer to the sport, my first Tour was 2004 ahead of our permanent move to France. I’ve been watching stages live since 2006 when I saw the same stage that had earlier been undertaken by my beloved on l’Etape du Tour. In truth my interest really ramped up when I was given a priviledged glimpse behind the scenes in 2012. I accompanied a friend who was reporting for Eurosport and witnessed the first British winner on the Champs Elysees. It was magnificent. But more than that it gave me an appreciation of the fantastic job done by ASO who make everything work like clockwork throughout the three-week juggernaut as it careers around France. I tried to find an analogy and the only thing I could come up with was organising 21 royal weddings in succession, but all in different locations.
This fantastic infographic, courtesy of ASO, explains why.
Dusseldorf will be my sixth Grand Depart after my first in London. Back in 2007, cycling was regarded somewhat quizzically by the British public. But it was free and everyone had been cooped up inside thanks to three weeks of rain, so why not? That was the start of Britain’s love affair with cycling which has since taken off into the stratosphere, particularly since 2012 and the Tour’s first British winner which, coincidentally, gave me bragging rites down at the cycle club.
In many ways, London set the pattern for my attendance at subsequent departs. I like to walk some or all of the prologue/opening time-trial route to understand where it would be best to watch the race. More importantly, I like to check out the facilities. Am I near to toilets, refreshments and a big screen? Yes, then that’s three big fat ticks. The greater my level of pre-race planning, the greater my enjoyment of the event on the day. In Dusseldorf, I note from the website, I will have the option of splashing out Euros 675.00 for a fully catered VIP view!
I was an insider in 2009 at le Grand Depart in Monaco where my range of linguistic skills got me a gig looking after Prince Albert’s guests, initially in his air conditioned pavilion with refreshments on tap, and then in the VIP Tribune, which afforded me a ringside view of the opening time-trial. That was special, particularly as Prince albert went round and personally thanked all of the volunteers. It isn’t every day a girl gets kissed on the cheeks by a Prince!
In 2014 I was blown away by the crowds in Yorkshire and have to commend the organisers for the facilities laid on for the thousands of people who turned out to watch. That was a tough one for Utrecht to emulate in 2015 but I think it rose to the challenge and got bonus points for a free team presentation – Yorkshire’s was ticketed. Utrecht, like Dusseldorf this year, made use of its excellent exhibition facilities.
Last year’s Le Grand Depart took place in Normandy and gave us the opportunity for a trip down memory lane, visiting an area in Brittany we hadn’t been to for 20 years. It also meant we were able to visit a few places on the way there and back, such as the Loire, which we’d not visited before. It turned out to be a wholly delightful and restful break. We’re always saying cycling takes us to places we might not otherwise visit.
But, as mentioned earlier, the key to attending any Grand Depart, is plenty of forward planning and preparation. For example, I always book my hotels well in advance, usually at least nine month’s ahead – early birds, worms and all that. I generally try to avoid hotels that might be used for accommodating teams, though am not always successful. This year we’ll be at the same hotel as Astana, Bahrain Merida and Dimension Data as we’ve elected to stay adjacent to the exhibition centre. Typically, we’ll stay midway between the first couple of stages so as not to have to change hotels too frequently.
My beloved often meets with clients in the days running up to Le Grand Depart where he’ll be primed and on duty with his camera ready to capture all the action at the start. We’ve learnt over the years that it’s easier just to go to the stage starts as it’s often well nigh impossible to get to both start and finish. Rather than stress too much, we opt for the start, locate somewhere for lunch after the peloton has departed and generally make it a fun day out. We watch the finish on the television in our hotel. I’ve oft thought in the past that it would be great to follow the Tour for the entire three weeks. With advancing age has come greater wisdom. It’s a punishing routine and it’s much better to dip in and out of the race route. that’s what we’ll be doing again this year.