Category Archives: Tdf trip planning

Information on seeing the Tour de France in person, including the process I go through myself each year- figuring out the TdF route, finding places to stay, rental cars, trains & more.

Rain has no future in my dreams!

Let’s forget about rain for a moment, and think about the awesome days ahead. Days like this one, in France.

OK, it’s not like I can deny the existence of rain. It intruded once again on this morning’s ride, which saw three of us climbing Kings (myself and both Kevins), and I even managed to catch up to a couple others who were heading up the hill. For a wet ride, it wasn’t all that bad, and I certainly felt a lot better than I did on Thursday’s ride.

But tonight I got to looking through older photos and of course, I’ve got a ton of them from France. I was looking at the 2015 trip, the last time I visited the Alps with Kevin (last year’s trip came close, seeing a stage in the nearby Jura mountains for just a day). 2015 was definitely one of the top trips when I look back upon it; we discovered a phenomenal apartment in Grenoble, and we managed to do all but one day of the trip out of that single location (we took the train back into Paris for the finale and spend one night there before flying home, but 8 or 9 nights in one place, Grenoble, was really nice). We discovered a ton of little back roads, found a few kebab places in Grenoble, and even rode up a mountain named “Col de Morte”. Morte = “death” in French.

It’s still up in the air whether I can make it this year or not. If I do, it’s going to be a shorter trip, leaving on Sunday the 16th and returning Monday the 24th. And it would be without Kevin (my son, not the pilot), who’s been with me on all of the trips from 2008-on. If I don’t go, it will be only the second year I’ve missed the ‘tour since I started this ritual in 2000 (Kevin and I missed going in 2009). Who knows, could be there’s a bit of a mortality issue driving my desire to keep going, because who knows how much longer I’ll be able to do the big climbs?

In the meantime, I’ll keep riding Kings, I’ll keep hitting up the Pescadero Bakery, and those are great things to be sure, but in my dreams, it will be France. –Mike–

Plan B- A shortened, more-intense solo trip to the TdF

What makes this so compelling to see in person? The mad crush of the crowd, the noise, the hours spent waiting beforehand… it’s not something a sensible person would keep going back for.

There’s very little chance of my “traditional” trip to France for the ‘Tour this year, which, 7 of the past 8 years (2007-2016) has included my son. He’s got some school obligations to take care of, and it’s not likely the bike shop can spare us both. That “traditional” trip has typically been 11 days, leaving on a Thursday and arriving home two Mondays later. So for example, last year Kevin and I left on July 6th (ok, that was a Wednesday) and returned on Monday, July 18th. We actually squeezed in an extra day last year.

This year, it’s possible an abbreviated version could see me leaving on Sunday, July 16th, and returning just a week later on Monday, July 24th. This would allow me to see the stages in the Alps, the time trial in Marseille, and, if I desired, the finale in Paris. Alternatively I could skip Paris and spend another day or two riding in the Grenoble area. the itin below doesn’t require a rental car; transportation is entirely by train (or, in one possible case, bike!).

The schedule would work out like this-

Sunday, July 16th, fly from SFO to LYS (Lyon, France), arriving Monday about 2pm. Yes, you lose a whole day flying east. Hate that! There are hourly fast trains that leave directly from Lyon airport to Grenoble.

Monday, July 17th, arrive Grenoble about 5pm and check into the fantastic Appartements Residilaverde Gare. 85 euros (about $90)/night for a very large apartment just 100 meters from the train station. Incredibly, not just a full kitchen (not that I’d be cooking though) but also a washer/dryer combo. No need to bring more than 3 days worth of clothes. How great is that? Monday evening build the Bike Friday, eat dinner, SLEEP!

Tuesday, July 18th,  is a “local riding” day. No option to catch the ‘Tour, which is too far away to be practical. There is some AWESOME local riding in the Grenoble area though.

Climbing the Galibier during an epic loop several years ago. I’d be passing through here again if I go this year.

Wednesday, July 19th, take a train at 6:37am (but who knows what time it would actually feel like) to Saint Michel de Maurienne, arriving 8:37am. This puts you right at the base of the Galibier, on the long side… the side the ‘Tour will be climbing about 6 hours later! Stage details here. Climb to the top, see the stage on one of its most-iconic mountains, then head back down the way I came up, catching the 7:42pm train that arrives back in Grenoble at 9:27pm. Arriving “home” this late might require having dinner at the apartment rather than eating out, although it’s quite likely there would be enough time prior to the train’s departure to catch dinner in Maurienne.

Local and regional trains are a great way to get around France with your bike.

Thursday, July 20th. This is where it gets interesting. For me, the most-important stage is the one going over the Izoard. Doing this without a rental car is tough. The best plan I can come up with is a two-day bike “tour” where I’d take the 8:10am train to Montdauphin, at the base of the Izoard, and ride to the summit to see the race. The route is shown here. Trouble is, there is no train available to get me back to Grenoble afterward! So, if it’s possible, I’d carry an extra day’s worth of clothing and, after seeing the stage, ride down the “other” side of the Izoard and spend the night in Briancon. This leads to-

Friday, July 21st. Leave Briancon and ride back to Grenoble via the Col du Lauteret. Route shown here. 72 miles, 7200ft of climbing. This would be a tough ride without carrying overnight stuff. With it… could be a long haul! The Tour de France would be doing a pretty flat ride that day, so not missing much there.  After dinner, time to put the Bike Friday back into its suitcase; it won’t be needed anymore.

Note: The itin could be modified to include a rental car for access to the Izoard, but it’s a very long drive in each direction. I’ll look into this a bit more though. Fortunately Grenoble has an excellent Sixt location near the train station.

Saturday, July 22nd. Take the 9:30am TGV train to Marseille to watch the time trial. Arrive 12:20. See Time Trial, return on 6:21pm train arriving back in Grenoble at 9:48am. Since these are TGV, it’s likely not practical to bring the Bike Friday, which would have made it easy to ride around the course to get pictures.

Sunday, July 23rd. If crazy enough to want to see the finale, then I’d probably take the 8:21 train to Paris, arriving about noon (there’s a much better direct option that leaves at 10:15 but it’s 1:15pm arrival in Paris might be a bit late). Leave at 7:41pm (unless this will be a night-time finish finale) and arrive back in Grenoble at 10:42.

Monday, take train from Grenoble to Lyon airport and fly home!

Intuitively, doing this solo wouldn’t seem to be nearly as much fun as doing it with someone else. That shared experience thing makes it a bit more real. The times I’ve gone on my own in the past were spent, most of the time, with tour groups, and maybe just 3 or 4 days completely solo. But I’ve got a biking friend who moved to France recently, and it might be possible that some bike dealers I know might have an interest in sharing a room with someone known to snore. 🙂