Earlier this summer a friend of mine told me that he wouldn't sell his memories of riding at the Tour for any amount of money. He said this right after I mentioned that I’d be following the final days of this year’s Tour, and his voice was wistful and envious.
I’ve been to Tour stages over the years, and while they were interesting enough I never found the experience all that moving. So I didn’t grasp my buddy’s covetous tone. But at this year’s Tour, I realized that I’ve just done it all wrong in the past. Dropping in on a stage for a few hours is like popping through Rome or Athens on a layover and expecting to feel like a local. To do the Tour justice, you have to spend a few days so you can grasp the mega scope and manic energy. And you have to bring a bike.
I went to France with Specialized, which was promoting their new Evade aero road helmet and, more generally, the Racing Performance Program. Our group was comprised mostly of journalists, though also along for the ride was Greg Wiedle, winner of the company’s #ItsMyTour video contest. The slogan sounds trite at first, but seeing Greg’s prize video, “Expand My World,” and then watching him and his wife experience Europe and the Tour, underscored just how transformative a trip like this can be.
They don’t have the combo of 5,000-foot climbs, Raclette cheese, or any of the pomp or history of the Tour back in the U.S., and the Wiedles drank up the experience. It made me realize that following the race isn’t necessarily about who’s in yellow or how a particular stage unfolds. It’s about channeling the passion of the event.
To wit, when, two hours into a sinuous evening alpine ride with at least another hour to go, we were faced with the choice of sticking to the plan or extending our ride to include the Col de la Croix Fry and missing our dinner reservation, the choice was easy. “It’s my Tour,” someone announced, and up we went. Another dessert or slab of cheese? Le fromage, bien sûr. Forgo a few more hours of sleep for another round at the bar. Not even a question.
In the final week of this year’s Tour, I came to understand the nostalgia and envy my buddy had expressed about his trip to France. If you do it right, there’s arguably no better vacation for a cyclist than spending a week chasing the world’s most important and overwrought cycling event. Here are a few tips. Vive le Tour!