By Robbie Broughton
Reaction to the announcement of the 2018 Tour de France route has generally been positive. With both a cobbled and a gravelled section, Alpe d’Huez, the Tourmalet, a super short 65km mountain stage in the Pyrenees and a lumpy time trial on the penultimate day, it’s an inventive and exciting parcours.
With so many iconic stages that refer back to the Tour’s heritage, the question is, where’s the best place to head to if you want to watch the riders in the flesh? Is it the Vendee and the beautiful west coast, the cobbles on the road to Roubaix? Or should you head to head to the Alps or Pyrenees?
Watching a stage of the Tour de France is on every cyclist’s bucket list. The trouble is that the riders will pass by in a flash so you want to ensure one of at least two things. Firstly, that you find a good spot with plenty of atmosphere so that you can enjoy the build up as much as the actual event and, secondly, that you don’t have far to go if you want to catch more of the action over a few days.
Last year I had a four hour drive from Bergerac to the Pyrenees in a flimsy hire car that struggled both on the motorway and the narrow steep roads of the mountains. I also found myself standing around on an industrial estate in the spitting rain. It was a depressing part of town with few spectators and the preceding caravan were more intent in getting to a more populated area than throwing out free haribo, mini salamis and key rings. Poor choice.
The 2018 Grand Depart is in the Vendee region on the west coast and it looks pretty enticing. If you based yourself around Nantes or La Rochelle you’d have good access to catch part of Stage 1 and 2 as well as the Team Time Trial in Cholet.
After that it heads north along the west coast for some spectacular scenery. The double dose of the punchy Mur de Bretagne could rock the balance and be a good stage finish to watch. Look out for the puncheurs like De Gendt, Sagan and Gilbert here.
A rather dull pair of flat sprint stages from Fougeres to Chartres then Dreux to Amiens are to be avoided. But a couple of days later sees them tackle the road to Roubaix with its 22 km of cobbles. It’s sure to be hugely popular and could skitter the chances of many a GC contender, especially if it’s wet. The cobbled sections will be rammed and the atmosphere will be electric.
But you couldn’t do better than to head out to Annecy for the rest day, or earlier, on 16th July. This is a great place to base yourself for the next three days with three mountain stages all starting within 100km of each other, not to mention the classic finish on Alpe d’Huez, 170km away.
Known as the “Venice of the Alps” Annecy is a beautiful town with a spectacular lake surrounded by mountains. There’s camping on the lake shores, great restaurants, swimming and, most importantly, some great bike riding to be done in the area.
We plan to tootle down there on our touring bikes which should take us seven days or so. Basing ourselves in a campsite near Annecy from 16th allows us a bit of time to recover, take in an easy, flat recovery ride around the shores of the lake before we head up to Le Grand Bornand to watch the pros career down the Colombiere for the finish on Stage 10.
This is the same route for next year’s Etape du Tour and, having completed the circular 2013 route in Annecy, this would have me licking my lips if I wasn’t on a heavy touring bike.
We plan to watch the stage from the ski village of Chinaillon which is just after the top of the Col. Then it’s a pleasant downhill freewheel back for another night in the beautiful town of Annecy with all its restaurants, canals and lakeside beaches.
The 18th July sees the peloton leave from Albertville to La Rosiere. We’ll pack up our tent early and head up to one of the mountain passes, possibly Montee de Bisanne. Then it’s a ridiculous choice of where to watch the following day: the Madeleine, Croix de Fer or Alpe d’Huez itself. We have a few months to decide which, but if we base ourselves at a campsite near Bourg d’Oissans we can also catch the start of Stage 13 which goes to Valence.
Stage 14 and 15 both look like interesting stages to watch if you’re just after a one off and happen to be in that part of France for your holidays. The uphill finish to the aerodrome at Mende proved to be a classic when Steve Cummings stole a victory here in 2015. Then the following day, the finish at Carcassonne looks perfect for a Sagan attack if he’s brought his climbing legs with him. This ancient walled city is a great place to visit.
We then have five stages that are either finishing or starting in the Pyrenees so, again, like the Alps section of the Tour, you can probably catch a lot of the action if you base yourself here for the final week of the Tour. Bagneres de Luchon is a good spot as it’s both the finish for Stage 16 and the start of Stage 17.
This is the super short 65km mountain stage which is sure to produce some really aggressive out and out bike racing and includes the Peyragudes where Froome struggled last year and lost time. The final climb is a brutal 16km up to the Col de Portet.
I’d be tempted to skip the next day’s flat stage from Trie sur Baise to Pau and use the time to find a great spot for Stage 19 from Lourdes to Laruns which includes the Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aubisque. Three absolutely iconic mountain passes of the Tour de France. Take your pick. Wow!
It’s a couple of hours drive from Laruns to Espelette where there’s the hilly time trial that could possibly decide the GC on the penultimate day. Definitely doable and you could combine it with a visit to Biarritz which should be on everyone’s wish list of places to visit.
For the spectator, the 2018 Tour de France has it all. And the race itself could well be exciting. As one commentator noted, whoever wins it will have to be incredibly lucky. There are so many pitfalls on the way. Added to that the diminished size of the peloton with only eight riders per team, we could see some less controlled stages and more open bike racing.
Whatever the case, you can be sure that the Ride Velo team will be on the roadside drinking in the atmosphere of this truly wonderful sporting event. Vive Le Tour!