Summer in France simply wouldn’t be the same without the crème de la crème of bike races.
Covering more than 3,000 miles, from mountain roads of the Pyrenees to the glamorous streets of Paris, the Tour de France is arguably the greatest spectacle in the competitive cycling calendar.
For cycling enthusiasts wishing to follow the race, the journey across the Channel is quicker than you think with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, lasting just 35 minutes. There's no need to fret about getting your bike there either; we run a cycle service with a standard return cost of just £32. The pick-up and drop-off points are the Holiday Inn Express Folkestone and the car park of the Centre d'Affaires in Calais respectively.
If you're not overly familiar with France, but are keen to be a part of the action, please read on for Tour de France facts, tips on where to stay, must-see attractions and ultimate "must-dos" if it is your first time at "la Grande Boucle".
New for 2014!
This year, the North of England welcomes the world's greatest cycling race for the very first time. Tour de France 2014 riders will begin the race in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Whether you're a fan or a first-timer, this is an event not to be missed. On the 5th of July, millions of fans will line Yorkshire's streets and wave off the champion cyclists from Headrow in the city centre. Set to inspire a generation, cyclists will ride down from Yorkshire to London, circling several key London landmarks along the way.
The inspiring 190km route will see cyclists climb through the Dales, and on to the spa town of Harrogate. The second stage of the tour begins in York, where competitors will ascend the moors at Holme Moss and roll down into the valleys before eventually reaching Sheffield's urban sprawl. On the third part of the UK leg, riders will head from Cambridge to London.
If you're heading up north to watch the event, there'll be plenty of opportunity for you and your whole family to get on your bikes and follow safe, peaceful trails through forest, along disused railways and canal paths. For more details visit Yorkshire Grand Depart.
A brief Tour de France history
A journalist with a dream was the initial driving force behind the idea of the Tour de France back in 1903. Géo Lefèvre, as part of a group of sixty fellow cyclists, set out onto the streets of Montgeron, attracting much attention and gathering a significant crowd of spectators. From this point on, the Tour de France was born and France was set under a global sporting spotlight.
Miguel Indurain, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx currently hold the record for the highest number of Tour de France wins, having won five times each. This comes after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven consecutive titles due to allegations of doping in 2012.
An integral part of the event, taking place an hour before the race starts, is known as the Tour de France publicity caravan. This parade features sponsors of the Tour de France, who throw candy and souvenirs out into the crowd below. More recently sponsors have introduced dancing girls to further increase the popularity of this event. If you are attending for the first time, be sure to get involved.
In order to keep track of the progress of the riders, you need only to look up into the sky for helicopters. Being a highly publicised sporting event, the helicopters, with camera crew in tow, are a good indication of where all the action is happening.
The Decisive Stages – The Mountains
It is never easy to predict the "decisive" stage in the Tour de France when the eventual winner "breaks" the rest of the peloton and establishes himself as the leader. Although the General Classification (GC or Overall Competition) for the Yellow Jersey tends to be won by a number of small victories (a matter of seconds over stages lasting for 100+ miles) the days in which the favourites look to establish themselves tend to be on the "mountain stages".
The nice thing about the mountain stages is that it slows down the riders a bit as well. Rather than seeing a blur as the peloton passes through a small village, the mountain stages usually split the riders apart and if you stand in the right place you may be able to get a great photo of your favourite rider, hand them a water bottle, and cheer the riders on as individuals.
In order to watch the mountain stages it is important to arrive on the mountain-side well before the publicity caravans come by as these treacherous roads tend to close in plenty of time to allow the riders and the spectators' safety.
If you have brought your bicycle along and fancy a ride up some of the most gruelling stages of the Tour de France, be our guest, though for many finding a stage that is accessible by car may make more sense. Please be aware that generally you must stop riding your bike an hour or so before the publicity caravan arrives, so please allow plenty of time to get to your viewing spot (or bring a tent and camp out for the full experience).
As a general rule we would advise arriving to the mountain-top or the part of the climb from where you wish to view the stage at least 3-4 hours before the peloton is due to arrive. This is to ensure you have a view of the road but also will allow you to take in the atmosphere before the race. Some people arrive days or even weeks in advance so depending on what the aim of your holiday is, please be sure to plan accordingly.
Rest Days and the Individual Time Trial
The "rest days" for the riders and the spectators as well are often not rest days at all but rather transit days from one stage to the next – most years anyhow.
As the individual time trial is the end of the official competition – and it is another great chance for the spectators to cheer along each of the riders.
Although it is a great opportunity to watch the individuals, some of the newer visitors will want to be in Paris to see the eventual winner pull on the winner's jersey (the "Golden Fleece") and lift the winner's trophy high into the air.
It is tradition that no-one try to pass the leader of the GC on the final day so that they and their team may enjoy the parade into Paris as a celebration for their hard work – and the riders on the winning team have been known to enjoy a glass of champagne or two on the ride in. Once in Paris, however, the sprinters are back on form and fighting for the final few points in the Green Jersey competition.
A Trip to Paris for the Final Stage
Although the route of the Tour de France varies each year, the final stage has always been hosted by the country's capital, Paris. Climaxing along the Champs-Élysées, the finale has become a long standing French tradition, attracting a magnificent crowd each year without fail. If you wish to be a part of this extraordinary experience, be sure to plan ahead in order to secure a good viewing spot – seats along the finish line can be very pricey, though you are certain to rub shoulders with some cycling royalty.
If you haven't yet visited one of the world's most recognisable monuments, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, then it's well worth visiting while in the capital. The Arc de Triomphe, a devotion to Napoleon Bonaparte, is also a good place to visit while in town. The beautiful Arc with its fabulous view is the perfect location for an impressive Tour photo. For those with a strong appreciation for art, a must-do is the Louvre Museum. The glass pyramid houses the world famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci.
As a break from sightseeing, shopping in one of the world's fashion capitals is an exciting alternative. For some hot tips on where to go, why not try our guide to shopping in Paris?
In terms of places to eat, Cafe Delmas in Place Contrescarpe is a relaxed, stylish and child-friendly café to try. You can rest assured that the food is of a high-quality as the café is a trusted hotspot for locals wanting a tasty Sunday brunch.
If you're looking to spoil yourself with the ultimate 5-star experience during your stay in Paris, you might like to try the Hôtel Royal Saint-Honoré or the Hôtel Pont Royal.