Tour de France tips for watching in person
Watching a live stage of the Tour de France in person from the roadside is a bucket list experience for many keen road cyclists. Our love of cycling means we have been fortunate to see a few stages live. But, like anything, if you have not been before you will not be quite sure how it all works and what you need to do. In this article, we take you through how to watch the Tour de France in person based on our own experience of watching stages over the years. We highly recommend watching a stage or multiple stages of this great sporting event and have lots of information on our site to help you plan your holiday.
This list of 12 tips for watching the Tour de France in person is based on our own experience of watching the race and includes some of the advice we were given when we went to our first Tour de France stage in 2013.
1. Plan accommodation and travel well ahead
The Tour de France route is announced in October each year and accommodation at the start and finish towns soon disappears as teams, organizers, journalists, TV crew and many others working in the race find somewhere to stay. Our tip would be to look for locations a short distance away from the start and finish lines to find somewhere to stay. But make sure you do this as early as possible.
2. Be aware of road closures on the day of the stage
There will be road closures to allow the Tour de France to pass safely through the stage each day. Some roads, such as mountain passes, may be closed for many hours while others will only be closed for a short period as the race actually passes. Plan how you will get to and from the stage in advance and make sure you will not be impacted by road closures associated with the event. This will obviously include the roads for the actual course, but can also include some roads near the course as well.
3. Expect a lot of people and crowds
The Tour de France is the largest annual sporting event in the world and with that comes a lot of people who line the roadside each year. Make sure you allow plenty of time for travel and to access the part of the stage where you plan to watch the race. It is said that up to 1 million spectators have lined the roads of some of the famous mountain passes in years gone by. Getting to and from the stage can take time and traffic will be heavy, especially if you are near a popular viewing location. Campervans start lining the roads in the mountains for days leading up to the stage. Consider this also when it comes to getting food and drinks for the day as local supermarkets can get low on some supplies.
4. Cycle to and from the stage
One of the best pieces of advice we were given when we first watched a stage was to park 15km – 20km away and ride your bike to where you want to watch the stage. It generally keeps you well away from the road closures and makes it much easier to find parking. We also found it meant getting home at the end of the day was much quicker and we did not have to sit in traffic for very long at all
5. Arrive early to mountain stages
The mountains are the most popular stages and if you want to get a great position to watch the stage you will need to get there early. The year we watched the riders on Alpe d’Huez we arrived on the mountain at 9:30 am and easily found a good location lower down on the mountain. The riders did not come through until about 4 pm. A lot of people want to get as close to the top as possible, especially when the stage finishes at the top. Campervans start taking up positions on the roadside 3 to 4 days in advance, especially on the most popular stages.
6. Be prepared for cold weather in the mountains
The mountains can be cold so make sure you have warm clothes available. It is not uncommon to have cold snaps or summer storms in the high mountains of the Pyrenees and French Alps. Some of the mountain passes can be over 2,000 m in elevation and can get quite cold very quickly. This does not happen every year but is something to consider and be prepared for.
7. Bring your own food and drink
You will see lots of people arriving at a stage well stocked with baguettes and lots of other food for the day. We recommend heading to a local supermarket and getting everything you need for the day, especially if you are planning to head onto a mountain where you will be spending many hours.
8. Stage starts are the best opportunity to interact with riders
If you would like to try and get an autograph from your favourite rider or wish them luck, a stage start is your best opportunity. Each rider deals with fans in their own way, some will be happy to come and say hi and sign autographs, whereas others will be focused on the day ahead and will be nowhere to be seen. It is pure luck but definitely worth trying and it is a great atmosphere as well. There has been more distance put in place between the public and riders in 2020 and 2021 with the pandemic and we will see how 2022 pans out.
9. Roadside Etiquette
One of the greatest things about cycling is how close you are to the action when watching a stage live. Often the riders are but only a few metres away from you. Cheering on your favourite riders and teams is definitely encouraged, but remember rider safety is paramount. It is very important to be giving the riders their due space whilst cheering them on. Running alongside the pros as they race by is fraught with danger and a definite no-no. Causing a crash due to being an overenthusiastic supporter is just not on. I am sure we are all aware of the incident in the 2021 Tour de France which ended some of the riders’ hopes of doing well in the race.
10. Ride a climb the day before the stage
If you are planning on tackling some of the big mountains we suggest doing so the day before the Tour de France arrives for a great atmosphere and experience. As mentioned earlier, campervans start arriving a few days before the stage and as it gets closer the atmosphere increases as well. We rode Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux the day before the race and loved the atmosphere and fans cheering you on as you climbed. You could also consider climbing it early on the day of the race but the road gets busier and busier as more spectators arrive.
11. Consider a flat stage
If you are someone who just wants to see the peloton and experience the Tour de France without having the commitment of a full day out, then consider a viewpoint away from the mountains. The busiest parts of the stage are always going to be the high mountains. Away from them, it is much easier to go and have a quick look and not run into crowds and heavy traffic.
12. Get ready for the Tour Caravan
About an hour before the riders arrive, the Tour Caravan rolls past. It is a large convoy made up of all the sponsors of the Tour de France. It is great fun and there are lots of goodies thrown out to the crowds. We have got everything from t-shirts and caps to detergent for clothes. Competition for the items thrown can be fierce but it is all a great bit of fun.
Other considerations about watching the Tour de France in person
1. Dates for the 2022 Tour de France?
The 2022 edition of the Tour de France starts in Denmark on Friday 1 July and finishes in Paris on Sunday 24 July. Monday 4 July will be an early rest day to allow the teams to move from Denmark to France. Monday 11 July and Monday 18 July will also be rest days with no racing taking place.
We have two other articles about the 2022 Tour de France.
- Overview of the 2022 Tour de France – this has lots of information about the 2022 edition of the race including stage details, French cycling terms and lots more
- Climbs of the 2022 Tour de France – this article focuses on the mountains of the 2022 race and includes details such as climb length, elevation gain and average gradients.
2. What are the best type of Tour de France stages to watch?
So you have made the decision, booked your holiday and are excited to be able to go to the Tour de France. Now is the time to do some planning. You need to work out exactly which stages to watch and where to be. Head over to our 2022 Tour de France route summary to help you work out which stages you want to watch.
The Tour de France is held over three weeks with 21 stages. The stage start is hosted somewhere different each year, and it traditionally always ends in Paris on the Champs Elysees. The route also always visits high mountain passes in both the Alps and the Pyrenees and there are at least one, if not two, time trial stages. Below are some considerations about the different stage types as well as some thoughts about different times within the stage.
The Time Trial /Prologue stages
Watching a time trial or a prologue stage is a fantastic option, allowing you to see the pros over the course of a few hours. This likely includes seeing them warming up and perhaps even doing a reccy of the route. Are you into photography? If so these types of stages will allow you to really get that shot dialled in. We both have great memories of our first live Tour de France stage viewing which was of the Prologue in London in 2007.
Watching the pros duke it out on the slopes of the famous mountain climbs is really like nothing else. It comes as no surprise then, that these are often the most popular stages to watch roadside. The mountain stages bring with them a special kind of party atmosphere. Spectators are often camping out in their camper vans and tents for up to a week before the stage arrives in order to get the most advantageous viewing spot.
As a cycling fan, there is something extra special about riding up the climb on race day. You will be joined along the way by many thousands of other fans. The other advantage of a mountain stage is that the pros won’t be going quite as fast as they do on the flatter roads. As the peloton can often be quite strung out, you will be able to see the riders whizzing past over the course of perhaps a few minutes.
The Stage Start
Getting to the starting town of the stage can be a great way to see the riders up and close and personal as they leave the team buses and get warmed up. Often the atmosphere can be quite relaxed at the stage start. You’ll be surprised at just how close you can get to the pros. If you are hoping to take photos with a pro or perhaps even get some autographs, the stage start is definitely a good option.
Positioning yourself just before or after the designated stage feed zones gives you an opportunity to score yourself a souvenir. Often the pros are discarding their empty bidons (water bottles) just prior to the feed zone. If you are lucky you may come away from the stage viewing with your own piece of Tour de France memorabilia.
Much like the stage start, the finish of a stage also has the benefit of being able to see the riders for that little bit longer. You can get quite close to the team bus areas where all the riders will congregate at the end. Being situated closer to the finish line also means you may be able to view the finish on larger screens televising the race live.
3. The crowd atmosphere
The atmosphere roadside for the Tour de France is something to behold in itself. We have both commented that watching a stage live is more about the entertainment being provided by the crowds than the race. It really feels like a festival – especially if you are on the road on Bastille day – the French National day.
As stated earlier, it can be extremely crowded, more so on the famous mountain climbs. Adding to the atmosphere it’s something to factor into in relation to making your way back home. Even when you have ridden to the stage, getting off the mountain on a bike can be a very slow-going affair. You will be picking your way through literally thousands of people all around.
4. It costs nothing to watch the Tour de France
Watching the Tour de France in person by the side of the road does not cost anything. There are no tickets to book or purchase and it is simply a matter of arriving at the spot you choose and enjoying the day. It is one of the truly unique aspects of the sport of cycling in that the roadside is the stadium. Public access at the start and finish areas is partially restricted for the safety of the riders and teams but you can still find great viewing places open to everyone.