Clients who are new to following Le Tour live often ask how much they should try and fit in, so here are our 12 top tips for planning your 2017 Tour de France trip:
1. Following the Tour de France is a really fun thing to do, but when you follow the world’s largest cycle race in a campervan or motorhome you need to plan carefully to avoid the common mistakes that others have made, and avoid spending your trip caught up in the inevitably large volume of traffic surrounding the Tour’s route. It is estimated that around 10,000 motorhomes follow Le Tour every year, with the route traveling, mainly, along ordinary roads, often passing through small villages with narrow streets. Just close your eyes and try to picture 10,000 motorhomes in a village!
2. Needless to say, one of the beauties of having your accommodation with you is that you don’t have to plan every detail or book campsites for every night, but if you want to have a few guaranteed nights on campsites along the route (where you will generally find good showers, washing machines and electricity etc.), it’s a good idea to reserve a few soon after the route is announced in October. If you plan to head to the start, booking a campsite is an absolute must as you will want to leave your vehicle somewhere secure when the whole city knows you are not going to be in it for a certain part of the day! The host city for the start of the 2017 Tour de France is Dusseldorf in Germany. We suggest you contact the Dusseldorf tourism office for campsite options so you can make a booking as soon as possible.
3. Many hirers in the past have told us they regretted trying to see too much and setting themselves too hectic a schedule. In fact, many have finished up seeing a great deal less than they planned because the traffic/road closures will not allow you to get to too many stages even if it looks feasible on paper. Setting a more realistic schedule will relieve the pressures and frustrations of trying to keep to an overly ambitious plan and missing things you planned to see.
4. Arriving too late in the day when everybody else is already in position (and in the way) will mean trying to squeeze into spaces that your vehicle just won’t fit into, so with Le Tour remember…less is more! To get ahead of the crowds don’t try and see every stage, allow for days where you travel and get in position at least a day before the race is due, park up, find a bar and enjoy watching the previous day’s action on TV, surrounded by other race fans.
5. If you head up into the mountains, be prepared to be stuck in a stage for a long time before and after the race passes. There is usually only one road up and one road down a mountain – once wedged in to a suitable parking spot, with lots of other motorhomes, you won’t be able to move whilst the stage rig and de-rig takes place. Parking somewhere nearby and hiking or biking in is definitely the best way to see mountain stages unless you are prepared to be parked up for some days to see it.
6. If you do decide to park up mountain-side, remember to stock up with water and food for the duration of the stage. Lugging water and food up to your parked motorhome on foot is no fun, and the closer to a stage you are the more expensive some items will be.
7. If you are keen to cycle some of the stages, taking a day or two off to do that, after Le Tour has passed through, can be very enjoyable having just seen the world’s best cyclists do it on TV or in the flesh.
8. Even in non-mountain stages, if you head for the really popular ones, parking up some distance from a stage and plotting a good hike or bike ride to the action is always a good approach to avoid frustration (and work off some of that French gourmet food too!). There are many places you can access by bike or on foot that you cannot in a motorhome, or even a car, so you just need to allow time to get in position and be prepared to take the essentials with you for the day. Having a very detailed map is essential for plotting good routes to the edge of the stage so bring one with you or buy one when you get here.
Avoiding damage whilst following Le Tour
9. Once in place on a stage, think carefully about how you and others around you manoeuvre to avoid the inconvenience and cost caused by damage. There will nearly always be other motorhomes parked in very close proximity and other drivers – especially those arriving late in the day – may be less careful than you.
10. Park in spaces that are big enough for your vehicle and don’t create too narrow a gap for others to pass you. Take extra care when reversing or going through narrow gaps – most damage that we see each year is to the back and sides of vehicles through hitting other vehicles or objects. Having someone outside to guide you is the only sure way of avoiding a collision when reversing or negotiating your way through a narrow gap.
11. Having said all that, following Le Tour in a large pack of like-minded people is the very thing that gives it the legendary atmosphere and the vast majority of other Tour goers are full of goodwill so don’t avoid them altogether, just be a little selective about where you park up and which gaps you try to thread your vehicle through.
12. You will pass through some of the most beautiful areas you have ever seen and our advice is to allow a little time to enjoy them; those images of France you see every year when you watch Le Tour on the TV are real! Slavishly trying to keep up with Le Tour is only for true fanatics and most of our clients enjoy a wonderful mix of seeing the action and enjoying the world’s number one tourist destination. Enjoy Le Tour but remember to see France while you are here!
If these tips have inspired you to visit the Tour de France 2017, take a look at our ‘2017 Tour de France Campervan Hire Special Package’, which has two options, several choices of vehicles and includes two hybrid bikes, free GPS, 5,000 km of mileage, transfers to and from our local train station, free parking at our depot for your own vehicle, plus special payment terms.
(All photo provided by FMH clients Frank and April Rippel whose 2016 Tour preparations and plans can be seen at RippelTours.com)