Planning 2017 Bike Trips

It’s that time of year. Tomorrow the ISO will announce the official 2017 Tour de France route. Rumors are flying on Twitter and Facebook about some of the stages being more than 400 kilometers. Ugh. When will they learn from the Vuelta and the Giro that shorter stages are more competitive? The race is already an endurance test. As a fan, the main reason you should tune in to the route announcement is to begin planning your own adventure–especially booking your hotel.

You can cycle or spectate with an official tour, such as Trek Travel or Thomson Bike Tours. Or you can plan your own adventure. I recommend looking for places where there are starts and finishes close together. The Pyrenees are also terrific: beautiful, many viewing spots within reach, lots of hotels to accommodate teams and fans.

The catalogs for bicycle trips are also arriving. Trek Travel’s beautiful brochure arrived and I spent several happy hours looking at the possibilities. With Trek you know your hotel will be fabulous, the food fantastic and the guides/support reliable, and you pay dearly for this top of the line experience. The Adventure Cycling Association tour catalog also landed in my mailbox this month. These trips are less expensive, generally a bigger time commitment and a bigger physical challenge than your typical bike tour. Two people in my RAGBRAI 2015 group met while riding across the USA with Adventure Cycling Association and they had all positive things to say. You can select from fully supported, Inn to Inn, self contained or van supported rides (and more).

I’ve been dealing with some health issues so my goal is to work my back to the place where I can consider one of these adventures. My ideal trip in 2017 would include the start of the Tour de France in Dusseldorf, Germany in July. What destination is in your future?

 

Art of the 101st Tour de France

Supporting Greig Leach’s Kickstarter campaign to bring his beautiful drawings together in a book was a no-brainer. I’d seen some of his drawings in the news. We were both following the entire tour. I like how he captured pivotal moments of each day in line drawings with watercolor in his Book du Tour. I received my copy about 2 weeks ago and I have been going through it slowly. It brings back so many great memories.

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It is also time to sign up for cycling tours at the 2015 Tour de France.  I can personally recommend either Trek Travel or Thomson Bike Tours.

If you are interested in a spectator tour, then Thomson is the only one offering these. The brilliant Jacinta McHale is returning to lead them.

And on a completely silly note, those of us who traveled with Jacinta in 2014 were thrilled to see Enriique Iglesias’ song Bailando won the Song of the Year at the Latin Grammys.

Tour de France Finale in Paris

It was a very emotional day: the final stage of the Tour de France. After 21 stages in 23 days I can hardly believe it is actually over. It was also an exhausting and hot day. It took some staying and recovering to appreciate that I was actually on the Champs Elysees watching the last eight laps of the 2014 Tour de France.

IMG_3206My favorite moments were actually trying to snap a picture of the lantern rouge, the only Chinese rider Jl Cheng of Giant Shimano.  At the start of the day he was almost 6 hours behind Vincenzo Nibali. Today he was lapped by the main peloton. Ouch.

We were about 150 feet from the finish line, but it was on the other side of the road so it was only on a distant large screen television that I could see Marcel Kittel just barely beat Andre Greipel. 

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The end of the race was a nice surprise. Much of the crowd stayed and cheered for the riders as they made their way to the team buses. Some even high-fived us as we reached over the barrier. The winner of Stage 19 stopped to speak to his friend. Families helped to celebrate the end. 

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Thomson Bike Tours went on a river cruise. I chose to walk slowly back and see the team buses and savor the last moments of this magnificent event. The Vittel water sponsors were peeling off the logo from the vehicle and I got a section of it. Sounds strange I know, but it looks really cool.

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I paused to see Jens Voigt, Frank Schleck and others at the Trek Racing Team bus. Then I spied Gabe, my Trek Travel guide. It was great to give him a big hug and bring my experience full circle. 

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Now I cannot wait to get the DVD from NBC Sports so I can hear about this year’s tour in English!

Women of the Tour de France

Some people who are unfamiliar with the Tour de France are surprised to learn that it is still a men only sporting event. This year is a grand exception. An inaugural women’s race is taking place in Paris on Sunday. I will be able to watch from my Thomson Bike Tours VIP viewing on the Champs Elysees.

(Marianne Vos, the current world champion, won the circuit race. We overcame many obstacles to be able to see the last couple of laps.)women's race

Meanwhile, most of the staff supporting the teams are men, but women are not relegated to sponsor liaisons only.  For example, Mariah and Alyssa with team Garmin Sharp are a communications director and soigneur, respectively.

The communications director wrangles television and radio interviews, new media as well as managing press releases and Twitter and Facebook accounts.  Both Mariah and Alyssa laughed at the idea of having a narrowly defined job. On the Tour you do whatever is needed.

Alyssa could be assigned to hotel massages when the team bus roles in, or making the bags of food up for the feed zone, or filling water bottles among the many possible tasks. And filling water bottles is not just about filling them with water. Each rider has preferences for their liquids—gatorade, water, water with electrolytes, and so on. Read this article from Ride magazine to learn more about life as a soigneur.

They travel with the team over 200 days a year. Alyssa has been with the “Argyll” team since the beginning and has been living in Spain and will move to Ireland to be closer to family. 

Incredible Access at Stage 19 Departure

My last VIP pass to a departure village was in Maubourguet.  Thanks to Thomson Travel we arrived in plenty of time for a coffee and a slice of pear tart in the official Village before the team coaches arrived. Then we went to the area where the team buses park.

Each stage is set up differently depending on the space designated in the host town. This day the road barriers were set up so the buses lined up on one side and the cars parked across in the pedestrian area at a diagonal leaving about one lane for journalists, fans, team cars and racers to pass one another.

Today I noticed how much camaraderie there is among the teams and riders. Racers were stopping on their way to sign in and chatting with friends. Some would get stuck in traffic and oblige signature seekers like me. I had to keep my wits about me so as not to miss an opportunity. Some riders like Marcus Burkhardt spend a lot of time chatting with friends.

Kiwi cyclist Jack Bauer for Garmin-Sharp
Kiwi cyclist Jack Bauer for Garmin-Sharp speaking to Thomson spectator Greg

My top priority today was getting an autograph from the Kiwi Jack Bauer at Garmin Sharp for my friend Barry Bridgman in St Heliers. Then I moved on to Omega Pharma Quick Step. I got so many signatures that my flag is almost full.Young fan systematically collects autographs.

The night before we were awakened by raucous thundershowers. The rain continued lightly and at the start it looked like a wet ride. The wet roads dampened riders’ spirits and created the conditions for a largish crash inside 3 km. This took Peter Sagan out of the sprint finish and may have distracted the peloton enough to allow Garmin Sharp’s Ramunas Navardauskas to stay away and win.

Jens Voigt rides to the start of Stage 19
Jens Voigt rides to the start.

Jens Voigt has a terrific blog on Bicycling.com. He summed up Stage 19 in a very funny and profane rant. I read it on Thomson Spectator Greg’s iPad but it may have been removed for being too irreverent. Bottom line: Stage 19 was s**t!

The Queen Stage in St Lary

Thomson Bike Tours regularly stays at the Mercure Hotel in St Lary Soulan for the Pyrenees portion of the Tour de France. This year it just so happens to be on the course of Stage 17 and a quick gondola ride up to the finish line. 

Thomson Cyclists rode their bikes the 10 km straight up to the finish line. Spectators took the gondola. We all messed about this morning watching the finish village come together. Jacinta introduced us all to Phil Liggett and I scored his signature. He is a huge favorite with all of us and he was very down to earth and lovely about posing for pictures and giving autographs. I returned to the village and hotel and did a couple of chores and then checked in on the race in the bar.

It was fun watching it with the Thomson cyclists and other hotel guests. When we thought the caravan was passing, we left the comfort of the bar lounge and stood in the hot sun for more swag. Then we returned to watch the race. It was an exciting day. Although only 124.5 km, it included 3 category 1 climb and ended with an HC finish in St Lary Pla d’Adet.  When the leader “Kiri” had 20 km to go (a quick descent into St Lary Soulan), we dashed back to the roundabout right by the hotel and waited.

The race leadership got rejiggered on that descent and suddenly the breakaway was consolidated and Kiri was no where to be seen. We waited for the yellow jersey and then dashed back to the hotel lounge to watch the finish. The newly anointed polka dot jersey (King of the Mountains), Rafal Majka with Tinkoff Saxo, was in the lead. We could not tell exactly how close everyone was on the last climb because the announcing was all in French. Finally, it was clear that Majka earned his 2nd stage victory and the 3rd stage victory for Tinkoff Saxo. 

After some fun kibbitzing with my fellow spectators, I walked outside to find the team buses. It took a while to walk there and I decided to gravitate to Trek and Cannondale. I arrived at the Trek bus at the same time as Jens Voigt! Someone grabbed his bike from him and took off the computer and put the bike on top of a team car. Jens signed an autograph and jumped on the bus. 

I turned around and found Jacinta and Lisa at the Cannondale bus waiting for Peter Sagan’s return. All of the riders rode back down the last climb because it is faster than dealing with the crazy traffic jam. Peter has to receive his green jersey on the podium and do media interviews before he can ride down. All the other team members had already returned and showered on the bus by the time he returned. Lisa did not get a picture with him; however, she and Jacinta had a ball talking to the mechanics and other riders. 

It is good to grab a slice of pizza on the way home and have an early night. Tomorrow we are up with the robins to drive to within 1.5 km from the finish on Hautacam. Tomorrow the racers go up both Tourmalet and Hautacam. I really look forward to riding my bike when I get back to Davis, and I am perfectly content being a super fan and leaving the riding to others in the Pyrenees.