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Do you even cycle? Meet a real Tour de France fan!

Published July 7th, 2015

The Tour de France kicked off in Utrecht in the Netherlands over the weekend for the 102nd time in the race's history. The legendary tour will travel 3360 kilometres before a winner reaches the finish line in Paris on July 26.

The race is a major drawcard for cycling fans worldwide with thousands flocking to catch a piece of the action each year, often cycling parts of the way to catch the riders as they fly past.

We spoke to avid cycler Francois Lockwood from Escape Travel about his lifelong love of the Tour de France. He’s been to witness the race three times in person and retraced parts of the journey at cycling training camps in the French Alps where he conquered a number of the Tour de France’s most iconic mountains.

Read our interview with Francois below to learn more about the race and gain some handy tips if a journey to the race is on your future bucket list...

Francois battling through a very cold climb in the French Alps

You've been to the Tour de France three times, where specifically did you go to see the race? 

The first time I went to the race in 2007, I saw two stages: one in the French Alpes at a place called Tignes, where I stayed at a lovely hostel by the L'Isere River.  The second stage was in the Pyrenees on the Col d'Aubisque.  For that stage, I camped with a friend on top of the neighbouring mountain the night before and it was freezing.

The second time I went was in 2011 and I saw two stages. The first was on the slopes on of L'Alpe d'Huez and the second was in the valley at the base of the climb in a town called Bourg d'Oisans.

The third time was in 2013 and again I saw two stages on L'Alpe d'Huez and on the Col du Glandon.

During 2011 and 2013, I stayed in an apartment in Grenoble, 50 kilometres down the road from Alpe d'Huez and rode up to see the race.

Cheering on the riders from the sidelines

What is the atmosphere like?

I always love seeing the race in the mountains.  It's where there is the best atmosphere as people spend the whole day waiting for the race to pass by for a few minutes.  Alpe d'Huez is the most fun of all with areas such as Dutch Corner, where thousands of Dutch people dressed in orange set up camp for days, drinking and partying before the race arrives.

The winding roads of the Tour de France

I must admit that I really loved seeing the race in the Pyrenees, with all the Basque fans. They are very passionate about cycling and love to party. We were high in the mountains on a clear day, sun beaming down, sitting basically on the edge of the mountain where we could see the race 10 kilometres away in the bottom of the valley. The anticipation was fantastic and then the camera chopper rounds the corner and suddenly everyone fills the road.  The riders almost fight their way through the crowd. Awesome!

The crowds gather along the route

Did you take a bike tour with a group?

I didn't take a bike tour as I wanted to spend some time by myself training in the Alpes in 2011 and 2013, taking things at my own pace and having as long a lunch as I wished.  I had been watching the iconic climbs of de Tour since I was a little kid so I knew where I wanted to go. With each of the training camps I did, I spent four or five days out of seven climbing mountains on the bike basically.  Between 100-150kms each day which really improved my fitness very quickly.  By the end of it, I was ready for another holiday [laughs] so I had a few weeks off relaxing in France, England and Germany.

Getting close to the action!

Did you take your own bike or hire one there?

On both occasions when I was riding in the mountains, I transported my own bike from Australia. The last time, the bike was actually broken by baggage handlers on the way over and it held together through some pretty epic days in the mountains.

It's a great vibe being amongst so many cyclers and fans

What tips and advice do you have for anyone wanting to do a Tour de France trip or tour?

    • See the race in the mountains during the difficult mountain stages.  Not only will you be in amazing scenery but you will also see the riders on their limits, smashing their way up the climbs. There is more excitement in the mountains than on the flat stages and you actually get to see the riders rather than them zipping past on the flat at 50 kilometres per hour.
    • If you are trying to get into the mountains, plan to get there the day before because the police will block some of the roads of the route during the afternoon before the race comes through and once they are closed, they are closed. In the Pyrenees, we had to walk approx 10 kilometres to actually get to the end of that stage. You won't be able to simply drive up in the morning and drive down afterwards.
    • Book accommodation early! It can be very difficult to find anything if you leave it to a couple of months prior to the race as you'll find that the mountain towns will often book up with race organisers and race teams.

Want more cycling? The Giro (Tour of Italy) and La Vuelta (Tour of Spain) are also amazing races to see!

Rachel Surgeoner

A self-confessed 'food-tourist', I take hunting for the world's greatest sandwich very seriously, my quest has taken me from Berlin to Hoboken. Stopping off only for vintage shopping, craft beers and Mediterranean sunsets.