The circus that is le Tour…the perils of getting to the circus

Posted: July 23, 2014 in Personal, Travel
Tags: , , , , ,

Ever since my husband came home with a VHS (dating myself here) of the entire Tour de France for that year, announcing that we could all watch it together, I’ve been hooked, although at the time, the girls and I rolled our eyes and thought, “How boring!”  Once I began to learn about the strategies and saw what actually had to be accomplished to win an event that covered three weeks and thousands of kilometers, I loved it, scandal and doping aside. It’s also the only sport where a rider might not win a single stage yet win the entire race and a sport where the winner can’t win without his teammates taking him to the top of the podium.

So, much as I dislike the term “bucket list” (I prefer “Christmas list”, though not to use interchangeably), le Tour pushed its way into the top of that list and this year we had the chance to check the square in front of it.  We had planned a trip to France to visit my s-i-l and b-i-l and once we discovered that one stage would be very near where they lived, we bought our plane tickets accordingly.

We had only the smallest idea what awaited us.  How can you imagine being a part of something that consumes not only an entire country but many countries and millions of people?  True, the World Cup, which we watched as much as possible, does something similar…but only once every four years!  Le Tour has happened every single year since the initial 1903 race, except for the years of World Wars I and II.

With the help of my s-i-l, we did lots of enjoyable pre-race prep.  We drove over the area of the stage twice, part of the time on the actual course.  We saw the decorations and preparations, growing in number from one trip to the next. We marveled that what the riders would have to do to win the stage, or even finish.  But we hadn’t seen anything yet.

How the day appeared as we drove

How the day appeared as we drove

Between the navi (GPS) and our pre-race trips, we figured the trip to the parking area in Planche Bas was easy.  Wrong!  Dressed in many layers, wearing our hiking boots, prepared with food and water, phones (i.e. cameras), rain hat (in my case ) and cap (in Bill’s) and other necessities, we made it about 3/4 of the way before finding ourselves in a line with other cars, being turned back by gendarmes.  The road was closed…due to le Tour!

The problem with a navi is that it has decided the best way to get from where you are to where you want to go and doesn’t want to know you can’t get there that way.  A gendarme with a bit of English, told us we’d have to go back to Melisey, where we’d started, and then go a different route.  He named off three towns, but there remained the problem of us not having a map.

So off we went, with the navi telling us to “Make a U-turn as soon as possible” and trying to turn us around via roads that appeared to have been shrunk in width due to too much rain.  Then I found that I could bring up a map on the navi, found the towns the gendarme had named and saw how to get to them.  Of course, once we got back to Melisey and started along a different road, Ms. Navi pretended she’d know all along where we should be headed!

We managed to get there not long after our anticipated arrival time, as we’d left early, and were shunted into one of the fields-turned-parking-lots all around the town.  Ours was close to where the buses were that were taking people to the top of La Planche des Belles Filles…or so we thought.  We’d checked out the area before and found that the last 7 or so kilometers of the stage and the last ones to the top of LPBF were quite steep, ranging anywhere from 6% – 22% grade.  My b-i-l said later that the 22% grade is the steepest of the entire Tour, which includes stages in the  Pyrenees and Alps!  But with the bus taking us up, it wouldn’t matter.

Unfortunately, the information about the buses’ ultimate destination were wrong.  The road over that last 7 km as blocked at the bottom. The bus made a turn, stopped and let all of us and our gear out.  We were going to have to climb to the top in abysmal weather.

What?  We have to walk where?

What? We have to walk where?

Will we survive the climb and live to see the end of the Tour stage? Will we make it to the top or plop down somewhere on the route up?  Will the rain ever stop and the sun come out, as was predicted in the weather forecast for the day (rain/clouds in the morning, clearing after noon, with a high of about 70?)  Tune in tomorrow to learn the conclusion of Janet’s and Bill’s Excellent (we hope) Adventure!


  1. M-R says:

    LOVE it ! I can experience it vicariously – lousy weather and all ! 🙂

  2. ksbeth says:

    i love it too. my oldest daughter and her aussie husband got me hooked. they plan to do a family trip to the tour in the future, and i have no doubt they will. )

  3. Have you caught some gifts the sponsor cars throw between the people?

  4. Kim says:

    I loved the Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault years!

    • Watching the ESPN show last night, I realized what Lance actually did for biking. He built it way up and then walked all over it, just the way he ruined people’s lives. What a shame as it’s a great sport!


  5. Wow, what a great story! I’m looking forward to your next post. 🙂

  6. says:

    Beautiful Janet.

  7. […] down day after our day at le Tour de France, (if you missed the Tour posts, they can be found here, here, and here), and our first day of sunshine since we’d arrived in […]

  8. […] more about our Tour de France experience, you might enjoy the pre-Tour post, our adventures just getting to the stage, and our rainy day experience at the […]