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A shout out to TEOTEOTEO or others who have been to the TDF(4 posts)

A shout out to TEOTEOTEO or others who have been to the TDFspockie
Aug 9, 2003 7:12 AM
Guys and Gals who have been to the tour. I don't know what has gotten into my wife, but we are going to the TDF next year. I really need to know stuff from you folks. I speak very little French, is it easy to get around ( I am learning though ). Where are some of the best places to stay? We are thinking of trying to get to one or two of the mountain stages. Any info you can share would be great
Spockie
Some info/thoughts . . .long postms
Aug 9, 2003 1:55 PM
The first decision you have to make is whether you want to go on an organized tour or make your own way across France. From what I have heard, tours vary greatly in terms of cost and satisfaction level. I think that Teo3 did a post within the last week or so about how to evaluate an organized tour. Based on your question, however, I am assuming that you are not doing an organized tour.

The next decision you have to make is how you are getting to France. I think that most people assume that they should fly to and from Paris. However, unless you plan to see the finish, I would recommend that you consider flying into other places. Paris is quite a distance by car from both the Alps and the Pyrenees. Geneva or Lyon are good airports relatively close the Alps. Toulouse is close to the Pyrenees. Do not make the mistake I made this year and fly into Madrid because it is closer the the Pyrenees than Paris -- it still is a long (6-8 hour drive). Airfares fluctuate throughout the year. The cheap fares that you see advertized in the fall and winter, will not be available for travel in July. I started checking travelocity and expedia in January/February and booked in March or April. The fares were much cheaper in 2003 than they were in 2002 (approx $900 in 2003 from the East Coast of the US vs. $1250 in 2002).

You will need a car if you want to get around the Alps or the Pyrenees. Car rentals are expensive in Europe -- especially if you want/need an automatic transmission. Gasoline and diesel fuel also are expensive (the prices look ok at the pump until you realize that the prices are in liters, not gallons). Unless you are traveling with your bike, get the smallest car possible -- you will save money and you will be glad that you do not have a large car when you are on an Alpine road that is only about a lane and a half wide, you are on the outside (i.e., there is a several hundred foot drop next to you) and a car comes the other way. All of the major US auto rental agencies (Hertz, Avis, Dollar (called Sixt in Europe)) have cars available at major airports and there are some Eurpoean agencies as well that have websites. Last year I got my car through AutoEurope.com (it actually just brokered a deal for Avis). Reserve your car early (i.e. several months in advance).

Speaking of driving: I would get the Red Michelin map of France and then get the Yellow Michelin regional maps for the places where you plan to stay. The maps are necessary and worth their weight in gold. Beware -- the nice dark lines that look like major roads are actually not very major by US standards. Except for the autoroutes, almost all roads in France are undivided, two lane roads that have innumerable roundabouts and pass through the middle of every town and village on the map. In other words, what looks like a short ride, may take much longer (especially in mountainous areas where you also are doing climbing and descending on roads with steep grades and hairpin turns).

Speaking of your bike. Although traveling with a bike is not easy, you should take it with you. Most airlines do not charge fees for taking a bike on a transatlantic flight (check this when you book your flight and make a copy of the airline's rules -- USAirways assured me that there would be no charge and I asked for a citation to the rule --I printed the rule and it came in handy at the airport when the agent tried to charge me -- she never had heard about the no charge for transatlantic flights -- she and her supervisor used my hard copy to find the rules on their computer -- it took several minutes, but my bike traveled without a charge). Your bike is an essential thing for viewing a mountain stage of the race. Most available parking spaces on the major climbs are taken hours (if not days) before the race. However, if you can ride to the climb from where you are staying or drive to someplace near the base of the climb, you can ride your bik
Some info/thoughts . . .long post --the restms
Aug 9, 2003 1:57 PM
However, if you can ride to the climb from where you are staying or drive to someplace near the base of the climb, you can ride your bike up the climb so long as you get to the top or where you want to view the race by the time the publicity caravan approaches, which is about an hour before the race begins. It is a blast to ride up a mountain with crowds on the road and then see the pros do it a few hours after you do it. However you get up a climb, remember to take food and water with you -- there are no hot dog vendors on the mountains (although you may get a sausage or piece of cheese from the publicity caravan).

Where to stay. The route of the Tour is announced in November and within minutes (I really mean minutes) of the announcement, accommodations near the starting and finishing towns evaporate. However, accommodations near the route, but not in a start or finish town can be had. I would recommend basing yourself in the same place for several days, riding in the neighborhood and driving to a stage or two within striking distance of where you are staying. The Tour will should go the the Pyrenees first and then to the Alps in 2004 (the tour goes clockwise one year and counterclockwise the next -- 2003 was clockwise). One thought would be to rent a house or book a hotel for the Pyrenees for what should be the second week or the Tour or a place in the Alps for the third week of the Tour. Although the route of the Tour changes every year, the routes through the Pyrenees and the Alps are usually pretty predictable (e.g., the Tour always passes with 30-50 miles of Pau/Tarbes/Lourdes).

There is a great variety of accommodations in France. There are traditional hotels, bed and breakfast places, houses to rent, etc. Although I have some experience with all three types of accommodations, I will wait to see if others with greater knowledge post before I go into detail (Philippe -- are you reading this?). There are a lot of internet possibilities for finding places to stay. I have only a rudimentary knowledge of French and have done OK (albeit with a little help from my friends and my wife, who is fluent in French). Most internet sites have an English translation and most hotel and B&B owners have enough knowledge of English that you will be able to communicate. If you can read a map, learn some basic phrases, know the names of the foods that you want to eat, and be patient, the language issue will not be a problem.

Teo3's guide to the Tour, which I think that you can download from one of his early posts this year on lancearmstrong.com is a great guide. If you go, make lots of plans, but realize that plans do not always work well -- I think that it is better to enjoy and savor the country than to keep to a schedule that is cast in stone. Don't get upset if you do not see the Tour live as many times as you may want -- watching the Tour on TV in a French bar or cafe is as much an experience as seeing it on the road (and you will see more on TV).

As you go through the planning process, post your questions. There are several of us here who have been to the Tour, plan to go again, and love having an outlet to talk about it. The Tour is more than the race that you see on television. You have to go to France to really experience it.
Some info--understatement of the day (laughs)teoteoteo
Aug 9, 2003 5:29 PM
MS just about said it all but feel confidant that I will do my guide again for 2004. I literally will compile an e mail list of people and as soon as route is formally announced I will e mail towns needed for hotels.

I use the same method as the tour companies--a centrally located base that can serve you for 2-4 days at a time. Lourdes/Pau/Tarbes in the Pyrenees and Grenoble/Bourg D Oisans/Briancon/Les Deux Alpes in the Alpes....and sometimes Albertville and Annecy.

Off for now as dinner beckons and I have a big A.M.
ride.
mail me at teoteoteo@hotmail.com