Enjoying le Tour de France as Spectator

I have stood along the side of the racecourse on many a stage of the Tour de France. I followed the 2014 from Stage 1 to 21. I have been a spectator at the Tour of California, the Tour Down Under and the Giro d’Italia. Watching a professional bike race in person is a thrilling experience. Whether you are traveling across the globe or stepping out your front door, there are certain dos and don’ts to being a good spectator.

I have a new appreciation this year watching religiously on my NBC Sports Gold app. I set my alarm every day at 6:00 a.m. to watch the day’s Tour de France stage. This year I have spent as much time yelling at spectators to behave as I have at the cyclists to race to the finish.

barrier down

A spectator accidentally deflated the 1 K marker; photo telegraph.co.uk

The spectators need to exercise self control. Here are some suggestions. First and foremost, pay attention to your surroundings at all times. After the caravan of sponsors go by you have about an hour before the first cyclists will pass. If you pay attention and stay sober enough you will hear the helicopters, notice an increase of motorcycle police and official race cars. This will get more and more intense and then you will see either the breakaway group of 2-20 (on average riders) or the whole frickin’ peleton of 180+ riders. Then there are always a few stragglers fighting to get back with the group. Notice how fast they are going compared to you on foot? This is why it is foolhardy to try to interact with them. Besides it is not about you.

  1. Never touch a cyclist or his/her bike. You think you are helping but you are actually more likely to throw them off balance or off their cadence. (Yes, there are more and more women’s cycling competitions. Same rules apply.)
  2. Never throw anything at a cyclist: water, pee, chalk, smoke, fireworks. This is rude and dangerous. On RAGBRAI when amateurs are cycling across Iowa, spectators sometimes turn on their hose and offer to spray cyclists, but it is entirely voluntary, they never cover the entire road. Same with high fives, etc. And it is non-competitive. In a race the cyclists are going full gas throwing something at those speeds can hurt!
  3. Stay off the racecourse. This means that you can not extend your arms out over the barrier to take a selfie, or lean into the road with your mongo camera lens to take a photo. It also applies to your children (don’t hold them over the barrier so they can see), and your dogs (always on a leash please!).

The race organization ASO also has much egg on its face for a series of logistical catastrophes. On Stage 7, the inflatable red 1 kilometer marker collapsed and caused an accident. When the race entered the Pyrenees it was clear that the ASO was not investing enough in safety as many spectators interfered in the race. Then on Mt. Ventoux, the ASO moved the race short of the mountaintop because of severe winds but didn’t move the fan barriers. At 1 kilometer to the new finish the crowd closed in resulting in an accident, a broken bike and Chris Froome, the race leader (yellow jersey) did a 100 yard dash up the road.

Could this have been avoided? Absolutely. The ASO decided to move the finish line the day before, so they had time to move the barriers. The ASO excuses just grated on everyone’s nerves. It might have caused more angst, but the tragedy in Nice shifted the focus.

George Bennett’s run in with a spectator was impressive on Stage 9. For some crazy reason a spectator decided to cross the road as the cyclists came roaring around the corner. Bennett put out his arm and she fell backward out of the road. Asked about it later and the New Zealander said he “Sonny Billed” her. (Sonny Bill is a fantastic rugby player for the All Blacks.) Cyclists should not need rugby experience to compete at top levels.

daily mail Sonny Bill

Sonny Bill Williams of the All Blacks; Irish Times

One of the marvelous things about cycling is how accessible it is to fans. Sure you can pay for VIP access, but most fans enjoy it either on television or from the racecourse for free.

Remember after 21 days of racing the top 3 finishers are often separated by only seconds. So if you think waving a flag in front of their bike and screaming in someone’s face can’t make a difference, look at how close the finish can be:

Irish times photo finish

On Stage 4 Marcel Kittel edged out Bryan Coquard by mere millimeters.; Daily Mail

You can still dress up like a devil, or bring your inflatable kangaroo. You can hang your team or country flags. You can play music or sing and dance. You can experience your heart leaping into your throat as the peleton takes a corner and goes by so fast your eyes water. And you can go home satisfied that the race was decided by hard work, talent, grit and luck.

Let’s be careful out there.


Must See: Tour Down Under


City of Adelaide goes all out to welcome UCI cycling event Santos Tour Down Under and its fans.

When I was following the Tour de France in 2014, the Aussies I met encouraged me to come down for the Tour Down Under. The City of Adelaide really commits to making the Tour Down Under a success. Victoria Square is completely dedicated to the 6 stage race with a festival open to the public (free access) all week. It is right on the streetcar line and just across the street from the Adelaide Hilton, headquarters for the Tour Down Under race management, all of the cycling teams, and many fans.

Signing autographs at BMC booth.

Cadel Evans, Tour de France champion, now retired, is Australia’s most successful cyclist and a huge favorite with fans.

While the race starts and stops all over South Australia, it returns every night to the Victoria Square to turn over bikes to mechanics set up in a main tent. Thus there is a routine for cyclists and fans that makes the race easier to watch (and probably to ride).


Free haircuts for gents in the Village by one of the sponsors. I do not understand: caffeine shampoo by Alpecin.

There is Willunga Hill, but South Australia does not have Alps or big mountains, so the race favors sprinters. It is also a great race for tuning up your legs and fitness as teams enter the new season after 2 months “off”.


Jens Voigt signing autographs and posing for photos with fans at the Trek booth.

This is a UCI sponsored event so it draws the main European teams, but a mixed bag of headliner riders and domestiques. Just as the Tour of California attracts all of the American riders, this race draws all of the Australian cyclists.


View the race from Victoria Square on the big screens.

When I arrived on Thursday, Stage 3 was taking place outside of town. I had to wait to check in so I stowed my bags and headed downtown to find a bookstore. I got distracted and returned to the hotel just in time to watch Simon Gerrans (Orica Greenedge) nip Rohan Dennis (BMC) at the finish line. The bonus points extended Gerran’s lead. He was heading towards his 4th win (nonconsecutive).

I met up with my Tour de France friend from Perth for dinner. He and his cycling club spent the week cycling out to the race course. They were having an absolute ball riding, watching the race and having a few beers. They were not the only bike club, every day the festival area and the race course were awash in Aussie cycling clubs, including Greg’s club the Eaton Dogs from Bunbury, Western Australia.


Cyclists ride to the start of Stage 6. The final stage is 20 circuits through the Adelaides CBD.

The next day I spent about 18 hours going to Kangaroo Island for a wildlife safari. Fortunately I caught the tail end of the highlight television broadcast. Simon Gerrans won his second stage win and solidified his lead.

I was tuckered out from the big day out on Kangaroo Island and thought I would just watch the race and call it a day. So I bought a wood-oven pizza in the village and found a seat to watch the last hour of the Queen Stage on the big screen. Tassie rider Richie Porte (BMC) won the biggest climbing stage for the third straight year. He wrote his name on Willunga Hill–no one could beat him, not even the Columbian climber Sergio Luis Henao winner of the King of the Mountain jersey, could catch him.


My candidate for a new logo!

The final day was a 20 lap circuit through the central business district. Because it was only 90 km it started at 1:30 instead of 11ish. This allowed me to relax and enjoy some time to read before slathering on the sunscreen and heading out. I checked out the course on King William Street just as the peloton was headed to the start. I realized that while it would be thrilling to find a shady spot on the street, I would only be able to see them go by 20 times and I would not see the finish. I opted for the village again at Victoria Square. The big screen projection screens allowed me to watch the televised version of the race.

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen announce the race with assists from Robbie McEwan and Jens Voigt. On Australian television they show about 10 minutes of racing and then 10 minutes of advertising. It is a bit frustrating. Still, it was great to see the entire race, including the sprint finish with Caleb Ewan (Orica) beating Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) by a comfortable margin.


Lots of people rode their bikes to watch the race. Cycling clubs from around Australia made this a club outing for the entire week.

The overall race was won by Simon Gerrans, though this was never in danger. Team Orica controlled the race and Richie Porte, who moved into second place with his win on Willunga Hill, was quoted as saying, “I cannot sprint out of sight on a dark night.”

Adelaide is a smaller city and very walkable. I loved staying at the Hilton, but there are lots of hotels to choose from at different price points. The CBD is a $20 cab ride from the airport. Buy bus tickets to get out to the racecourse, or ride your bike. Or focus on downtown Adelaide like I did and enjoy the village and the rest of the city. There are VIP tickets for better viewing spots with grandstand seating and better access to alcohol. One of the most endearing aspects of the Tour Down Under was the easy access to so much of the race and amenities without having to buy expensive access. I was able to meet Jens Voigt and Cadel Evans at events in the festival village. I could have easily collected signatures by handing out in the mechanics tent.

The weather was sometimes broiling or hot and humid. Yet I would say this was well worth the time and expense to get to Adelaide to see the Tour Down Under. Well done everyone!

Santos Tour Down Under encourages a new generation of cycling fans.

Stage 6 was family day and these kids got their faces painted in the village.