Grand Tourism

Watch racing, go roadside.

16 July 2019

Following the Tour on TV is great fun. From Gary Imlach’s impossibly expressive eyebrows to Richard Virenque’s vitriol, our favourite pundits illuminate the race for those at home. But little compares to the sights, sounds and smells of pursuing the world’s greatest race on the open roads of France. Last year, we chased the race in a campervan, becoming accustomed to long days on the road, and alcohol-infused evenings beside it. Here, we distil three-weeks of learnings into one rallying call for campervan crusaders everywhere…

If you’re following the car in a car or van, arrive early to stake your claim to the best spots. Once the race hits the mountains premium places are long gone, so if you’re going – go early.

Then there's legions of cycling supporters at the roadside, friends you haven’t yet met. Bring a beer or two to share and get read to fly the flag of fandom.

Spray paint, chalk, brushes, rollers and stencils. Bring ‘em all. Join in and adorn the asphalt with messages of support, the names of your favourite rider – it’s all part of the experience.

A tip from those in the know: bring your own folding chair for the wait – or the dancing – and get ready for a col-based carnival.

The arrival of the riders is a nigh-on religious experience. The helicopters, the rolling cheers of the crowd below. There aren’t many places you can get this close to your heroes.

It might take longer to light a barbecue at 1,800m, but it's worth the effort for the views from the summit of Alpe d'Huez when you're eating your dinner. After the sun sets, stroll back to your van or tent for a night's sleep, and get ready for the riders coming the next day.

Chasing the race is tiring work: you need the odd day off. Camping Les Cascades in La Roque-sur-Cèze is one of many hidden gems – a feature-laden campsite set beside natural waterfalls and gorges. If a day watching the race is something to remember, so is this.

This is one for the super fans. The man seen here, Christian Descous, is the proprietor of a garage with a yard filled with old Citroën H Vans with a fine outlook: tout est possible – anything is possible. Here, he's fitting one of the infamous three-tone horns that are synonymous with racing.

After the race is done, rather than go straight to bed a lot of the pros get ready to party in Paris. This club is one of the favoured haunts and a prime spot for sighting your favourite riders. Where is it? That would be telling, but if you ask the right people you might just get lucky.

Rapha Doppio

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