Thursday, January 26, 2012


Hello everyone. It has been a while since I updated but I am working to clean up any dead links and update the site. If you look to your right you'll see a drop down list of posts from 2007, these web articles are all from a travel guide I self-published and chose to post here instead.

It all started in 2000 when I had the rare chance to make a Tour with a friend and co-worker from, a now defunct web business.

My very first stage was the mighty Ventoux on a day where Marco Pantani was gifted a stage. The wind howled and we found a few friends from the States to huddle up and picnic with on the rocky moonscape on a patch blocked from the wind.

Over the next few years I had friend after friend ask for travel help and I took jobs writing and guiding for my friend Brian Rounds of Velo Echappe International Travel. I am forever grateful that he took a leap and hired me. The experience I gained with him is translated HERE for sure.

In addition to Brian's trips I got some fantastic chances to travel with friends staying in Gite's and budget lodging in the French countryside. We'd plan trips, ride in the morning, come home cook, relax at night and do it all again the next day. No luxury on these trips, ample use of public transportation, immersion in the culture and great riding camps in the Vercors, Alps, Pyrenees, Provence and so many more. I hope these words help plan an adventure where you find the joy and passion for travel that I have found. Bonne journée....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stage 20 Mont Ventoux

This year the ASO saved the best for the end, or the day before the end, as riders will tackle the stage to the top of Mont Ventoux. The climb has many names like the Giant of Provence, or the Bald Giant, but I like to call it brutal.

In 2000 the famous Armstrong-Pantani duel the swirling winds were cold and relentless, a common occurrence on Ventoux. In fact, the word Ventoux is made of two words Vent, which means wind, and tout, which is any or all, literally Ventoux itself is named for the swirling winds. A group of friends and I huddled away from the wind on the moonscape white rocks awaiting the racers that day.

In 2002 the riders returned only to deal with heat, I recall standing on the blacktop and it was sticking to my shoes. With no shade for the last 6k it was a severe test for the riders.

For fans this stage could serve as one of the most epic in tour history because cracking on the Ventoux is something no rider wants to imagine. ANY G.C. contender in the 2009 Tour won’t feel safe with a lead until they complete this stage.

If you plan on seeing the stage there are several ways to get here. Avignon is close by and has both TGV and airport. It would be possible to see the stage here and catch a TGV Train Sunday morning arriving in Paris in plenty of time to see the riders on the Champs-Elysees.

Provence is such a beautiful region that there are a number of places to stay that within riding distance of the Ventoux. Places like Carpentras and Vaison-la-Romine as well as Sault, Bedoin, or Malaucene

There are 3 ways UP the Ventoux and it is important to know on race day that riders will climb from Bedoin on the D974. The good news is for that those with no bike and only a car you can at least drive partially up and walk the rest. In 2000 I drove up the back way from Malaucene, arriving at 8-9 ish up the D974 I was able to park about 6k from the summit and walk up near a bar/restaurant named Chalet Liotard (link below) . The D164 from Sault will also offer you the chance to park close to the famous Chalet Reynard (link below).

It is where the tree’s end and the moonscape white rocks begin, or about 6k from the summit. Chalet Reynard has a bar/restaurant and a rock formation on the hillside forms a natural amphitheatre of sorts.

If you wanted to get an unforgettable ride before, after, OR on the way to the stage I’d suggest parking a car in Villes-sur-Auzon (link below) and riding through the Gorges De la Nesque on the D942 towards Sault. The route is as beautiful as rides get in the Provence.

Once in Sault you can fuel up for the day and the climb to Ventoux. The ride through the Gorge is about 22k but uphill. I’d start early to get a chance to enjoy and not rush to get to the stage. In case your wondering the route UP Ventoux from Sault on the D164 is the easiest as it gains 1220 meteres over 26k. Riding the D974 is more challenging.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

2009 TdF Stage 9 Viewing Information

Stage 9 is that of legends. Though it won’t finish on a climb it will go over the mythic Tourmalet after coming off the Aspin. There are a bevy of towns to use as a base such as Lourdes, and the surrounding area. From personal experience I would suggest finding a spot closer to towns such as Argeles-Gazost, Bagneres-de-Bigorre or Luz-st-Saveur.

Without a doubt the best viewing spot on this stage will be ON the Tourmalet. The riders will make their way up the slopes from the crossroads at St Marie de Campan, where the road comes off of the Aspin.

The Tourmalet is very viewing friendly as you have the ski village of La Mongie near the top. Plenty of bars, restaurants and shops to keep you entertained. At the top of the Tourmalet is the Bar/Restaurant Tourmalet and having eaten there no less than 6 times I can say the garbure (hearty soup) is worth the wait.

Getting up the Tourmalet won’t be easy, it is an HC climb after all, but logistically speaking getting here in time for the stage is easily do-able for a first time tour fan. If you are staying in Argeles-Gazost or Lourdes you can easily climb the direction the race will travel OR come up the backside of the climb on the D918 from Luz-st-Sauveur.

If coming from Bagneres-de-Bigorre expect the road to be shut down several kilometers from the base off the climb so you’ll have a good walk if you have no bike. Riding from the direction of Bagneres-de-Bigorre would be MY personal recommendation as the crowd on the Tourmalet is something not to miss. It makes the ascent more pleasant than climbing up the backside from Luz.

Even for those staying in Lourdes, Argeles etc it is easy to ride the back roads to Bagneres-de-Bigorre and then onto the slopes of the Tourmalet. If you already know where you’ll be and would like some advice on route for race day feel free to mail. I’ve spent lots of time in the area and have lots of suggestions.

Most of all if you’re staying near Argeles and if you’d like a nice dinner check out Le Boiuc, it is at the base of the Hautacam on the D100 where it intersects with the D13. They have a great patio to watch the sunset over the Pyrenees. Try the grilled goat cheese salad with orange honey vinaigrette dressing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Welcome to the Tour de France Travel Blog

Getting to the Tour de France can be both a challenge and a thrill if you are trying to go it alone/without a Tour provider. In 2000 I made my first Tour and didn't miss one until 2008. Most of those years I split time working as professional tour guide, or traveling with friends. 

For 2009 I will again be at Le Tour and have published this blog as a way for helping people looking for travel advice. For a few years during my travels I published a small book on how to do self-guided trips. This information comes directly from that book. 

I have split the different chapters into posts that are located on the right hand column of this page  (blog archive). Hopefully you'll find just the bit of info you're looking for. If not feel free to mail me. I will also be posting from the tour and leading up to the Tour on Twitter. 

Over the next few weeks we be adding posts on key stages with tips on where to stay, where to watch and how to get there. Most of the info will be focused on the stages in Alps, Pyrenees, Mont Ventoux and the time trial in Annecy. 

email tourjohnnys AT gmail DOT com 

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Best Cities to Fly Into

Best Arrival Cities

A question that I regularly get is where to start your journey. For most you’ll start and stop in Paris but know that you have many other options. I haven’t been to every airport in France I have been to most of the key regional airports that you can use as a starting point. In general if you are planning on starting a trip in the Alps Lyon, France, Geneva, Switzerland, and Grenoble, France are all logical choices. For the Pyrenees you can use Toulouse, France or perhaps Pau, France.

I must warn you that traveling to smaller French airports is can add some extra travel anxiety if you don’t plan ahead. The more often you change planes the more likelihood you may have delays so don’t plan too tight of a timeline so you don’t miss a special stage you’d really like to see for example.


With so much to do and see, along with two airports, Paris is a natural choice. Because so many flights come here directly from U.S. hubs so you can eliminate connections and know that your luggage has less of a chance of disappearing. Taking the train from Paris is a consideration as there are so many trains leaving daily

If you are renting a car, driving out of Paris can test your mettle and you may have a long transfer to say the Alps or Pyrenees. Part of the upside of Paris is that if you have bike boxes often you can make arrangements with hotels to keep your empty bike case while you travel. The Hilton at Charles de Gaulle has been helpful to me with this matter in the past but isn’t the cheapest lodging around.


Because it is a major population center and close to the Alps, the airport at Lyon is a logical choice to start a trip. Lyon will be able to support you if you’re renting a car or taking the train. Traveling from Lyon to the popular destination of Bourg d’ Oisans, (bottom of Alpe d’ Huez) is about 150 Kilometers or 2 hours depending on traffic. A quick check showed 16 arrivals daily from Charles de Gaulle.


Grenoble has a new, modern, regional airport that can be used as a destination but it is a relatively sleepy airport. Having visited there on two occasions you can find rentals and such but your choices will be limited to a degree. Compared to Lyon or Geneva you could hit more snags by flying here but all in it’s all a nice airport. One example is a 2003 plane bound for Grenoble had to be rerouted to Lyon and occupants driven by bus to Grenoble. The reason was that with 12 cyclists aboard the smaller plane used for Grenoble could not take their bicycles and luggage. They were put on bigger plane headed for Lyon instead. If you’re traveling as part of a large group maybe try Lyon instead.


Just across the French border in Switzerland Geneva serves as larger destination and a good choice as a starting point for an Alps TdF trip. By train or via rental car you will have numerous choices here. If driving in Switzerland be aware that the Swiss require a permit/sticker that allows you to drive on their Autoroute—it costs about $27-30 USD and if you rent in Switzerland the car should have the sticker already. If you’re driving into Switzerland in a vehicle without the sticker you’ll need to plan on paying the charge. Geneva to Bourg d’ Oisans is just over 210 Kilometers and should take about 3 hours. Geneva is a good choice if you chose to stay somewhere like Albertville or Annecy instead of Bourg d’ Oisans or Les Deux Alpes.


If you plan on starting your trip in the Pyrenees and don’t want the 8-hour drive from Paris, then Toulouse is your airport. About 2 hours from most of the towns you’ll use base for the Pyrenees, the Toulouse airport is large enough to accommodate bigger planes and has plenty of amenities like car rentals and such. On checking I found about 23 arrivals in Toulouse daily from Paris de Gaulle and Orly.

Having some experience in Toulouse I can say that within 10k of the Airport are unspoiled country roads and some incredible riding. I spent two days here in 2004 and wished I had more as during July rolling hills are combined with summer wheat and beautiful sunflower fields. One idea for those with some time would be to fly in and spend a few days acclimating to the time change and enjoying magnificent rides in the area.


Located in the Pyrenees, Pau would be the closest airport to most of the big climbs of region and therefore the race action. Unlike Toulouse though the airport is smaller and has only shows 4 flights arriving daily from Paris currently.

Bike Shops

Bike Shops

Making a trip to the French bike shop is a little different than the states but if I know my audience well I know you’ll enjoy. Depending on the exchange the prices aren’t always cheap. The fun part is you’ll always find one or two things you like to take back for friends.
One cool thing about France is that you may find European models and colors you can’t buy in the states. Some shops have their own kits and these seem to be the best sellers among the tourists.

Paris—Cycles Laurent. With 3 visits under my belt Cycles Laurent qualifies as one of my “worth a visit” shops. It’s small and won’t blow you away but is run by the 3 generations of cyclists. They know in July to have kits available. Also be aware they always try to give you one size too big (laughs). As for complete bikes I seem to recall Scott, Cyfac, and some limited Assos clothing in stock.

9 Boulevard Voltaire - à 100 mètres de la Place de la République – Metro Stop use Republique or Obekampt.

Paris—Velo et Oxygen. With a chain store atmosphere this shop isn’t on my favorites list but if you need something they have a good selection and the staff seemed nice. This shop is not far from the Arc de Triomphe on the Avenue of the Grande Armee. If you’re into motorcycles the area around the shop will be heaven as it seems every brand of Moto is sold on shops on this street.

72 ave de la Grande Armée, 75016, PARIS, 01 45 74 27 38

Paris—Cycles La Gazelle-Etoile. I probably would not send anyone out of their way to visit but it is just down the street from the Velo et Oxygen so maybe you’d like to stop. The shop was very small with only 2 frames and 3 complete bikes in stock. You will find Bianchi, Colnago, and Stephan Roche brands here and a tiny selection of accessories.

13 ave de la Grande Armée, 75116

Lourdes – Cycles Arbes. I have visited this shop on 3 occasions and have been more than satisfied every time. The owner is very helpful and it is worth the visit. The shop is not directly in town but more on the outskirts. Walking will take 20 minutes each way from town. Cycles Arbes has had a nice selection of high-end Pinarello and Look bicycles as well as a good selection of nice clothing including Castelli.
Tél. 05 62 94 05 51, 51 Bis, Avenue Alexandre Marquis, Lourdes

Bourg D'Oisans—Cycles et Sports. Another worth spot to visit--If you like team kits this is your place as they have them from floor to ceiling and they also have several versions of their own kits. They don’t have too many bikes for sale—more accessories but they do have large service area so if you’re having mechanical issues perhaps they could help. Located in the heart of Bourg d’ Oisans the store is busy in July and best of all is right next door to an artisan chocolate shop.
Place du Doctuer FAURE 38529 Bourg d’ Oisans 0033 04 76 79 16 79

Decathlon—Chain With locations all over France you’ll see plenty of Decathlons during your travels. They are a sporting goods chain that has a bike department so don’t count on them for all items. If you need a tire, tubes, sports drinks, then they are your place. Think of them more of a back-up spot than a primary destination on the “must see” list. If you plan on camping than Decathlon can be a helpful place as well.

Packing, money, internet, calling home, shopping


Duality is the key to packing. Anything that can be used for riding and daily travel is a plus. Also think dark colors that mix and match. With a broad range of weather and lots of outdoor exposure packing for Le Tour can be a challenge. Factor in that you often won’t have lots of extra room in rentals and the drudgery of toting heavy luggage. When I pack there are a few things I have learned that help immensely.

In one large hard side case I pack my clothes and one empty riding pack along with another empty soft tote bag. The extra bags allow me to separate out riding clothes and dirty clothes from clean once I arrive. It also helps my organization and transfers knowing all my bike clothes are in one space. On early mornings where I’ll drive and ride to the course I can quickly grab the day bags and go. I pack dryer sheets in my luggage to keep the clothes smelling nice.
I try and pack a lot of performance style fabric shirts and shorts that are available at most outdoor stores. They pack well and can be washed and dried overnight in your hotel rooms. I also go for cargo style pockets in shorts as it makes the job of thieves/pickpockets harder.
Clothes List (what I carry for a month!)

3 Wickable Tee’s (breathable, wickable shirts)
3 Pairs of Nylon or cotton Cargo shorts
1 Pair of cotton cargo pants or jeans
1 Dress shirt
1 Fleece pullover
1 Nylon/gore-tex waterproof jacket
3 cotton undershirts
1 pair sandals/flip-flops
1 pair dress shoes
1 pair running shoes
7 Days worth of socks/undergarments

Don’t carry too many things like detergent on your flight over. I typically purchase soap/detergent and things like baby wipes once I arrive as they tend to bust open and make a huge mess—baby wipes can serve poor mans bath on long transfer days. Some of my bike items could be helpful on colder non-cycling days so make sure and look at what items could double up.

Bike Clothes List

3 Jerseys
3 Bib shorts
2 Thin undertshirt/baselayers
1 Pair arm warmers
1 Pair Leg warmers
1 Inexpensive clear rain cape (good for cold descents, rain, windstopper)
1 Pair short finger gloves
1 Pair long finger gloves for cold days on and off bike
1 Cloth cap
1 Pair neoprene toe warmers
1 Helmet

The list is looks long but can be shortened if you know you won’t be riding in the mountains/colder weather or if you won’t ride in rain. Because I guide, I have to be prepared for the worst.

Along with the above I try and carry along extras like a few empty plastic grocery sacks for carry items that can’t get wet in my daypack. Also carry along any necessary Pepto/Ammodium/Tagament style medicines and ibuprofen. European food preparation techniques can differ from those you use in your own kitchen. Also, think about carrying clothespins ands a string that can serve as your clothesline.

Getting News and Calling Home

Because you’ll be on the road getting the news can be tough. Keep an eye out for Tabac’s and Presse shops. They are places that you will see in every big town and small village. The Tabac’s will sell the Telecarte Phone cards that you use in the French Phones to call back home—EVEN IF you bought a calling card at home or use a calling card you still need a Telecarte to place your call.

They come in units and have a metal “Smart” chip on the front. The phones will have a credit card slot for the Telecarte’s and the phone gives you instructions on an LCD screen on how to place the call. Before getting started look for a button on the phone with a flag. This button will allow you to change the language of the calling instructions. JJust be aware that not every phone has the capability, as some older phones don’t offer the language assistance.

A Presse is a newsstand and will serve to keep you up on race and world goings on. In most Presse shops you can find at least one English language newspaper. This is important as if you need weather information or GC status, or just want to know what happens back home. The International Herald Tribune is the most common though USA Today can sometimes be found in bigger cities. Also be ready for the race action with a copy of L’Equipe—the official newspaper of Le Tour and even if you don’t read French you can pick up the vitals of the race.

Internet and getting connected

If you want to connect occasionally I suggest internet cafes. Just be ready for the unique keyboard as it will often frustrate first time users. Ask your hotel if any are nearby or know that sometimes a nicer hotel will have business centers or computers that you can use.

Be aware that you will need a bevy of adapters and such to use the laptop. Your power cord won’t plug in so you will need a power adapter/converter for that as well—I always carry two of these to be safe. Carry an extra network cable some hotels have network connection in rooms or in spots you can plug-in. .

WI-FI it is becoming more common and on more recent visits I was able to use pay WI-FI in several newer hotels—just beware it isn’t free. Paris had great WI-FI Access but as you can imagine the smaller, more rural spots didn’t. Most of the time my access through Orange a French cell company.  They offered WI-FI access to the tune of $10 Euros for 2 hours of use. I was able to use the 2 hours during a 24 hour period that started from the time I signed up. If you need to connect daily you can also purchase extended plans through Orange for the length of your stay. 

Make sure to have a back-up plan if you can’t connect. I always carry extra floppies/cd’s to burn in case I lose my modem/Network card. That way I can use the net café’s to transmit. There are several online resources for the adapters and cafe's

Money and Documents

When I travel Le Tour I live via Credit Cards and cash via ATM’s. It can be a common misconception that Travelers Checks are the best. I have found that they can be a hassle. When you arrive you may find it difficult to spend them and then find it necessary to have them converted to cash so you can spend. I use my ATM/Visa debit instead to withdraw money a once or twice a week.

ATM’s are everywhere and regulated enough that the exchange you get will be based on true bank exchange rates. Many of the currency changing spots will gouge and are not regulated as closely. They also take a transaction fees etc that will add up. The more touristy the area the more you’ll give up in fees. When trading cash or travelers checks try to find a walk-in bank as they are safer and honest to deal with. Though it’s widely publicized French Post Office is place to change money, it has been my experience that only the larger ones offer the service. Larger hotels sometimes offer changing services too.

Before I leave I make copies of important documents and keep them in several places just in case. Remember that a passport copy can save you if you lose your passport as the Embassy can assist you in replacing the passport much quicker. Also leave copies at with someone you trust that will be able to fax them to you/authorities if necessary. In the section below I’ll list some common bank names in France. Just like many French businesses they aren’t always open during times you’d expect, so try to anticipate/plan bank trips ahead of time. There are many banks in France but below are a few names to look for if you need to trade money. All of these banks have walk-in and ATM capabilities. I have no distinct fondness for any specific bank as I have only had to use the walk-in services a few times.

Credit Agricole—To cycling fans this name is tied to the name of the French team they sponsor.
Credit Lyonnais—Another name tied to the Tour de France as an official partner of the Tour de France and the sponsor of the yellow jersey
Banques Populaires—Another bank you’ll see along the way.


Inevitably you’ll find that you’ve forgotten something or you just want to go shopping. The following list is of some places that could be beneficial. To some degree some of these stores destroy the spirit the local artisans that make France so special. Everyone should take time to visit local markets and stores in the small villages when possible just for the experience. You should know that many of the stores (especially the small ones) will have shorter hours than at home. For instance, making a trip to the bike shop requires some pre-planning as they’ll close for lunch, which is common in France.

Hardware and Tools

Mr. Bricolage and Castorama are chain stores throughout France much like Lowe’s or Home Depot. They are great if you need tools or small hardware. I’ve bought everything from spare allen wrenches to cheap plastic organizing bins for food here.

Food Stores and Super Centers

All over France you’ll see chains of Super Markets (Supermarche) like Champion, Casino and many more. For those on a budget and just about everyone else these stores are a staple of travel. What I like best about them is that most have an entire dedicated section of healthy grab and go foods that are prepared. Unlike the bad fried chicken at the local grocery deli in the States you’ll find foods that will fuel you for riding, save time when on a tight schedule, and most of all save money.

Just like Walmart Supercenter or Super Kmart the French will have enormous super stores called Hypermarches. My favorite is called Carrefour and they serve as a one-stop shop. One trend is for this type of store is to have a mall built around it—typically called a Centre Commercial. Auchon is another name you’ll se along with Hyper U.