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.

Long travel day to France behind us

Larry standing in for my son Kevin, sleeping on the train…
It’s 10pm here, probably 2pm back home? Time to get to sleep after being up pretty much continuously since 7am yesterday morning. It starts with a 9:30am flight from SFO to Chicago, followed a couple hours later by a 6:20pm (Chicago time) flight to Paris, arriving 9:30am (Paris time), then a train that’s supposed to leave at 11:57am (Paris time) but is delayed due to suspicious baggage, which might also have been why they chased us (and everyone else) out of the place we were eating in the train station 30 minutes prior. So the train we’re taking to Grenoble, which has a 14 minute connection in Lyon, is now 10 minutes late. 4 minute connection. That’s just not possible with two people, two bikes, two suitcases, right?

Good inexpensive food is never an issue in France…
That’s where technology comes in. When you buy your European train tickets from Trainline.eu, they send you updates on what track your next train will be leaving from, which saves you a LOT of grief in crowded, complicated euro train stations. And it turns out we arrived on track K, and were leaving on track J which, just this one time in my life, actually was adjacent, just like it ought to be!

So my friend Larry from the way-back days, who’s seeing the Tour de France for the first time, arrived with me in Grenoble in one piece, not much the worse for wear. Of course, Larry can sleep on planes, and trains, and even hotel rooms, while I’m up plotting out details and just generally a bit restless because, as they say, does anybody really know what time it is? I sure don’t!

That rarest of all rare photos; me having a beer!
Tomorrow morning we take a train out to an obscure city adjacent to the Vercors, a spectacular mini-mountain-range, where we’ll do a pretty gnarly 54 miles ride, carrying all of our camera gear because the end of the ride conveniently drops us off near tomorrow’s Tour de France stage finish! Then we take another train back to Grenoble, pick up the rental car which we’ll need for a couple days from now, and just keep on moving on, one foot in front of the other, riding our bikes in France.

TdF trip (updated earlier post)

The “traditional” TdF trip of the past 8 years (2007-2016) has included my son. Not this time. 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. Not this trip. just 8 days total, leaving on Sunday, July 16th, and returning Monday, July 24th. Fast & furious!

Originally thought about flying into and out of Lyon, keeping things super-simple, and possibly avoiding Paris altogether. That didn’t work out; air fare was cheap out of CDG (Paris) at $1130, vs $1700+ out of Lyon. Too bad; Lyon airport has a one-hour direct connection to Grenoble, via TGV. So here’s how it plays out-

Sunday, July 16th, fly from SFO to Paris (CDG) arriving Monday about 9:30am. Yes, you lose a whole day flying east. Hate that! Catch a train from the airport at 11:57am that goes straight to Lyon (about 2.5 hours) than a regional train from Lyon to Grenoble (about an hour). Arrive Grenoble about 4pm.

Walk a VERY short distance to 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.

Alternative- Thursday morning, rent a car and drive to Briancon. Get the bike out and then ride south from Briancon to the base of the Izoard, up & over the pass and back to Briancon. Drive back to Grenoble.  This is workable only if I’m going with someone else; I’m not a fan of long solo drives in a car.

Saturday, July 22nd. Take the 9:05am direct TGV train to Marseille to watch the time trial. Arrive 11:16. See Time Trial, return on 6:14pm train, transfer in Lyon, arriving back in Grenoble at 9:42pm. 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, leave Grenoble on the 6:21am train to Lyon, xfer to TGV train that goes direct to CDG (Paris Airport). Check in at hotel, then take local train back into Paris to see the race.  Later that evening, take local train back to CDG, spend the night there.

Monday morning, already at the airport so the 11:15am flight home doesn’t require an early wake-up!