Sunday, March 25, 2007

Stage Viewing Tips

Mountain stages are most complicated type of stage to plan for in the sense that the crowds are typically thickest and the roads getting you there are sparse. Often this means one road in and one road out for millions of people. The timelines I’ll give you below are based on my experience, but have been padded a bit to err on the side of caution. I’ve tried to keep the next few paragraphs simple, but even that is a challenge. If I gave you every time scenario you’re head would swim with confusion.

First things first, never count on driving up a major finishing climb (finishing climb=last climb in which the stage finishes on top) in your car on race day. I’m not saying it’s 100% impossible but very unlikely at best. The fans lining the roads get there days in advance. The good news is the roads leading to the climb should be open long enough in the morning to get you to the base so you can park and then walk up.

For riding a bike, my basic guideline is to plan on arriving to a major mountain stage finish no later than 11 a.m. Being there earlier won’t cause you problems in case you’re wondering. If driving, I would aim for an 8 a.m. arrival to avoid road closures and give you time to walk up. It may sound early but viewing a crowded tour mountain stage is an all day affair.

On days with multiple mountain passes you can count on larger crowds on the mountain passes falling later in the stage. The earlier your mountain falls in the stage the earlier you have to arrive. This is the very reason why the published timetables are a must have. The upside to the earlier passes is that they typically are much less crowded than the last climb of the day.

Think about is using a lightweight daypack as you will have hours between when you arrive and the racers do. I try to carry the bare minimum in a small pack so that I have some dry clothing to wear, and some flip-flops. I then hang my clothes in the sun to dry, or drape them over my bike along the roadside.

Often the French Authorities will post signs stating approximate road closure times—these signs are just that, an approximation. Things like traffic flow and crowds often dictate that roads are closed sooner so don’t take the signs posted in advance as gospel. LEAVE EARLY!

Flat Stages/Stage Starts

For flat finishes or viewing stage starts you’ll usually have a much easier time. Stage starts offer a nice alternative to the all day commitment you’ll have for mountain stages. They are a great chance to get up close to the teams and riders. For the autograph seekers and photographers it is easy to get some nice shots.

Seeing a sprint stage finish is a nice day as well. Typically you should plan on arriving 3-4 hours before the race and you can enjoy watching unfolding race action on the big screen. Within 2-3 hours the barricades will start to fill so if you have to be on the front row plan on camping at your spot and don’t step away or the spot will be gone. Sometimes the stages will start and finish is towns so large that you’ll need some extra help finding what part of town the riders are leaving from. In these cases I recommend emailing the Office of Tourism a few months before leaving to inquire about the location of the Depart Village (where riders sign in and the race will leave from) for the race.

Viewing on the Champs-Elysées

Get started early as the barricades will fill up by 10-10:30 and if you want to inhabit a large amount of space for a group I suggest getting there earlier. (Like 8-9 am) It will be a long day, so plan accordingly. If you can get your hands on items like small folding chairs or seats your feet will love you. Though Sunday is typically a quiet day in Paris, many shops will be open along the Champs-Elysées.

Vendors are also selling food and drinks. If you are alone or in a small group don’t leave a choice barrier spot unguarded or it will be gone the second you go away. Bony elbows help. Be prepared to carry an umbrella (for sun and rain) and once the race ends don’t go home—the best part of the event occurs when all of the riders take a parade lap around the Champs-Elysee.

Remember the Sun moves throughout the day so shade early doesn’t mean shade all day. The link sbelow should help you get an idea of the metro stops on the Champs-Elysées. Be sure to get off the Metro before these stops as they are closed on race Sunday.

George V, Franklin D Roosevelt, and Champs-Elysees Clemenceau

I need to note that the stops listed above are available to use to cross from one side of the Champs-Elysées to the other. You can’t cross the Champs-Elysees at street level once the barricades are up so plan on going underground if you need to get to the other side. You will have to have a Metro ticket to get through so be prepared. If you get off the metro at the Charles de Gaulle Etoile exit, you can pick either side of the Champs-Elysées as this stop is near the course turnaround at the Arc de Triomphe. (A great English language site with Metro maps)

Seeing the Stars

Because you are so close to the racers seeing the race along the road is a thing of beauty. After the stage and before the stage is another matter. Fans often like to stake out the team hotels and with enormous team buses it’s not hard to figure out where most are staying. The racers don’t loiter around as they have much to do. You’re more likely to get to see the race support mechanisms in action like mechanics, soignuers etc. Still if you’re patient you can get autographs and such. Security around the race starts and finishes is pretty tight. The crowd is thick so you have to arrive ahead of time or get lucky.

1 comment:

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