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Tour De France Trip Aftermath -- Good Faith And A Refund(6 posts)

Tour De France Trip Aftermath -- Good Faith And A RefundGregory Taylor
Aug 21, 2003 7:06 AM
You know, sometimes ya just gotta have a little faith in people. There are some good businessmen out there that stick to their word and do the right thing. Like give you a refund for a trip that, well, had its problems.

Cryptic jibberish? Read on.

As you may (or may not) remember, I took a trip to France this July to see a couple of stages of the Tour and ride in the Etape du Tour. Being a novice in negotiating my way through France, I booked a trip through Graham Baxter Tours, which is located in England. Graham Baxter has a sterling reputation, and the itinerary looked really interesting.

Anyway, the trip was a rolling disaster scene from the get-go. One of the motor coaches, the now-infamous Bus No. 24, was a terrestrial version of the Titanic. For starters, the air conditioning packed up, not a good thing in the 95-degree heat. Adding to the musty ambiance is a backed-up toilet, which emitted a reek that would stun a goat. Think of it as an outhouse/sauna combo on wheels.

This, however, merely served as a background for the coup de'grace: we were forced to spend the night in the bus parked along the side of a small rural road, having been informed by our drivers that, after ten hours behind the wheel, they could not legally proceed any further without a mandatory eight-hour rest.

No hotel. No dinner. Two hours from our destination. Stuck in the middle of nowhere. Twenty-four hours before the Etape. Needless to say, tempers were a bit frayed.

As fate would have it, our coaches rolled to a stop about 50 yards from a tiny, ramshackle roadside bar that, improbably, was still open. It was a tiny place - a couple of tables, a galley kitchen, and an outhouse in the parking lot, right by the roadside. The evening's menu was similarly minimal – French fries, some sort of frozen microwave cheese sandwich, and beer. Lots of beer.

So, faced with a dearth of options and a lot of time to kill, the only rational course left to us was to begin drinking.

Heavily. All on the tour operator's tab.

We proudly closed the bar down at 4 am, settling a bar tab that will allow the proprietors to retire comfortably in the south of Spain. For those who have managed to stagger back and find a place to sleep on the bus, the morning sun was greeted with the sound of snoring and stunning levels of cheese sandwich-induced flatulence.

What a great way to prepare to ride a mountain stage of the Tour.

The remainder of the trip suffered from similar disasters: Hotels that looked more like minimum security prisons, hotels with no air-conditioning, busses that broke down, etc.

I'm very happy to report, however, that Graham Baxter Tours has voluntarily stepped up to the plate with a refund. Yes, a refund. Recognizing that things weren't going well, and that his good name as a tour operator was in serious jepordy, Mr. Baxter volunteered to refund Seventy-five percent of our group's money. No hassle, no excuses. I got the check yesterday.

How 'bout that? Good for you, Graham Baxter.
Are you going to do the Etape next year?ms
Aug 21, 2003 7:19 AM
Now that you have a refund, you have a head start on financing next year's trip.
Ifso, what tour group are you going with??PaulCL
Aug 21, 2003 7:24 AM
Just a joke, but maybe all the bad luck is behind you and that particular tour operator. Do you dare use him again?

As someone intrigued by the Etape, how long were you in France, what was the cost of the tour (pre-refund)? And most importantly....did your wife come with you? If you left her at home, how on earth did you swing that one??

The Negotiations For Next Year Will Begin ShortlyGregory Taylor
Aug 21, 2003 7:38 AM
The trip was 10 days, with eight of it being taken up with the tour activities.

The problems with the tour arose from a couple of things, most notably an apparent lack of focus on details. Like I said, Graham Baxter's Sporting Tours has a sterling reputation (good write-ups in the Washintgon Post, as well as the Brits that I talked with on the trip). This year was different, however, because they apparently expanded their operations and had more groups over in France than in previous years. Stuff slipped through the cracks, like not having spare coach drivers on the long haul out of Paris. The crap hotel issue was partially a function of having the organizers of the Etape moved the date of the race after hotels were booked, which left folks scrambling for spaces. We weren't told of the down-grade in some of the hotels, however, and some of our accomodations were a very nasty surprise.

Having taken a bath on this tour, I'll bet that Graham Baxter tours will make sure that things run better for next year.

If I go next year, I'll try and arrange it by myself. I have a buddy who is a real Francophile, and he has put together tons of trips to France. He's also a rider, an Etape veteran, and he wants to give it a go again. The only tricky thing is the entry into the Etape, but this can be managed, I think.

Finally, the spouse and kid did not go with me. In hindsight, this was a blessing. Next trip, however, they are coming.
Etape entryms
Aug 21, 2003 8:04 AM
I don't want to volunteer someone else (you probably can guess who -- I think he is on vacation right now), but there are resources here (RBR) that can accomplish the entry. However, you will need to have your ducks in a row -- it is my understanding that in 2003 only the applications that were received by ASO within 3 days of the earliest application date were accepted. Usually the "start" date is during the last week of January.

I took the family with me in 2002, but went as a bachelor in 2003. If I do it in 2004 (I'm in negotiations, too), I will take my family. There are pros and cons to taking the family, but the pros outweigh the cons.

My guess is that the 2004 Etape will be in the Alps or, if there is a Mont Ventoux stage, in Provence. Given that the family went to the Alps in 2002, we are more likely to go in 2004 if the Etape is in Provence or if it returns to the Pyrenees.

Given that I have done the Etape twice with my own arrangements (albeit with a great deal of help from friends in France), I have lots of thoughts about a self-arranged trip (especially one with family). Let me know if you have any questions (hmstichel at
D'oh! I forgot to answer...Gregory Taylor
Aug 21, 2003 7:42 AM
...what this extravaganza cost. Check it out here at their website.