We love following cycling races and the tour de France is certainly the biggest and arguably the best of the grand tours. Last year and earlier this year we have been fortunate to see a few stages of the giro d’italia, another of the 3 grand tours (the vuelta espana being the third). This year we decided to go and see a few stages of the tour de France.
A Few TDF Facts
The 2023 Tour de France was the 110th edition of the Tour de France. It started in Bilbao, Spain, on 1 July and ended with the final stage at Champs-Élysées, Paris, on 23 July. 22 teams with 8 riders each, took part in the race. The total race distance is just over 3400km although with each day starting with a number of km’s of riding before the official kilometre zero, the distance is somewhat more. The riders had to climb over 56,000m (more than 6 Mount Everests).
Watching the race it is incredible to see what goes into supporting the teams. Behind the scenes so to speak. A medium sized team would have a team bus, 2 team cars each carrying 8 spare bikes. They would have at least another 2 cars and probably 1 van for people who stop along the road to supply them with food and drink as they pass. Most teams have a chef van setup with a kitchen. Lastly, they have a big mechanics truck carrying bikes and spares. With 1 bike to ride plus a spare on each car, that is at least 3 bikes per rider (24 all up). Then they have their special time trial bikes of which each rider would likely have 2 (another 16 bikes).
Most teams have a minimum 17 staff: four soigneurs (general duty team members), four mechanics, a general manager, two race directors; a cook, a press officer, a hospitality manager, a technical director, a doctor and a photographer.
On our way…
We left Lucca early on Saturday morning after spending Friday night listening to Norah Jones who performed in a live concert. We had booked a car which we needed to collect from Pisa. We have a favourite pastry shop about 1km from the station. Glenda lugged our big suitcase to the pastry shop while Walter went to collect the car from the airport. We met at the pastry shop for breakfast and where soon on our way heading for Combloux in France.
The trip was about 6 hours of driving. Near the end we drove through a tunnel under Mont Blanc. The queue to get into the tunnel was 1 hour of waiting and then we paid about $90 for the privilege of driving in this 11km tunnel – ouch, it is expensive. Near our home in Combloux, we ended unintentionally driving up the last part of the course the riders would be riding up the next day. Very exicting!
We had a great apartment in Combloux with spectacular views of Mont Blanc. It was very conveniently located to the town and places for us to watch the tour. Whilst we mostly did our own cooking in, we did manage one night out to enjoy a cheese fondue – Yummy.
Day 1 – TDF Stage 15
Having spent the previous day in the car, we took an opportunity to explore the local area by going for a run. There are lots of quite country roads around. Being in the alps is so scenic.
Stage 15 on the Tour de France set off from Les Gets and finished in the ski resort Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc. The route was 179 kilometres, while the finish climb totalled 9.8 kilometres and averaged 8%.
We watched the riders coming through Combloux which was about 18km to the finish. First to pass through was the ‘caravan’ which is about 170 sponsor vehicles (about 10km long). They create a wonderful atmosphere and hand our promotional items as they pass. It helps if you are a kid, they are more inclined to throw stuff to kids. We got a small amount of ‘loot’. The riders passed by about 2 hours later. We got talking a couple whilst we waited. The husband was Dutch and the wife American.
When the riders zoomed pass us there was a lead group of 4 riders. They were soon down to 3 (Van Aert, Poels and Soler) when one crashed. Poels attacked near the bottom of the last climb and he reached the summit with a lead of 35 seconds. Van Aert dropped Soler on the climb to the line.
Here is a short video of what we saw as the riders passed – youtube link
Day 2 – TDF Rest day
This was a rest day for the TDF riders. It gave us an opportunity to go for a hike in the nearby mountains. We managed a 22km hike with a nice mountain summit. The alps have so many great hiking options. The weather was clear and relatively warm. We went prepared with enough food and water. A great day out.
Day 3 – TDF Time Trial
There was only 1 time trial in the TDF this year and it was a short one of only 22km – BUT it included a big hill for the last 6km. Early in the morning we went for a run down the hill and back up the hill they would be riding. It was nice to have the roads closed and we were able to appreciate the difficulty of the climb the riders would be facing.
Watching on TV we normally find time trial stage a little boring. Not so watching live. It was fantastic getting to all the riders coming through one by one. As usual, 2 hours before the start the caravan came through and we scored better ‘loot’ this time. Glenda had her heart set on getting a polka dot t-shirt. Well, we each got one including polka dot caps – Yay!
We chose a spot about 1.5km from the finish where the crowd was a little less and we could get into some shade for some of the time. It was a hot day, glad we were not racing.
With the 2 leaders separated by 10sec, this day was likely to prove important in deciding who won the tour. With the big hill, one of the decisions the riders had to make was whether to change to their road bikes at the bottom of the hill. Time trial bikes are not the easiest or fastest going up big hills. In the end some riders did change, and some did not.
In the end, nobody would have predicted how the day played out. Tadej Pogacar who was second at the start of the day put in a strong performance, 50sec better than the next best. Sadly for him though, Jonas Vingegaard put in an even better performance by a staggering 1min38 and so extended his lead to 1m48s.
Here is a short video of what we saw as some of the riders passed – youtube link
Day 4 – TDF Stage 17
The 17th stage of the Tour de France went from Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc to the airport in the mountains above Courchevel. The finale featured the brutal Col de la Loze. The route was 165.6 kilometres with an elevation gain of 5,400 metres. The last 600 meters rose at – wow – 10.8%. This was to be a brutal stage.
We ended up going to watch from just after the start. This was only about 1km from home for us. It was another glorious warm day, maybe not so good for the riders.
The story of the day was how Pogacar lost contact with the main group. In the end Vingegaard finished 5m45s ahead of Pogacar, all but guaranteeing him winning the tour. My theory is that Pogacar somehow did not eat and drink enough and so literally ran out of energy. We have experienced the effects of this happening particularly on some of our long hikes. One moment you are fine and the next the body shuts down and it is difficult to keep moving.
Here is a short video of what we saw as the riders passed – youtube link
So glad we took the time to go and watch some stages of the tour. Double bonus was choosing Combloux as it is such picturesque town.