A one-of-a-kind chance to see the Tour de France
Stars and Stripes June 13, 2007
For cycling fans in England, it will be harder to get better access to the sport’s biggest race than the first two stages of this year’s Tour de France.
For the first time in its history, the tour will ride through the streets of London. It will pass under the shadows of Big Ben, Nelson’s Column and the Wellington Arch, and provide ample opportunity for fans to get a glimpse of the peloton and their favorite riders.
Beginning July 7 with the 7.9 kilometer prologue through the city center, the Tour will run a short course through the downtown area, then crowd the riders onto The Mall the following day for the first group stage, a 203-kilometer trek to Canterbury.
From Canterbury, the riders will cross the channel to Dunkirk, France, for the remaining stages of the race considered the most grueling event in sports, according to the Tour’s official Web site, also passing through Belgium.
Those looking to view the riders in central London will be able to watch the prologue — an individual time trial — from nearly any spot of their choosing along the route, which will run from Whitehall, through the center of Hyde Park and back to The Mall. Underground service will be active to move people around the city, though some streets and roads might be closed, said a representative from the Transport for London office.
For the second stage, which will run through much of the county of Kent on its way to Canterbury, a good way to get multiple looks at the riders is to study the race map and plan well in advance, said Capt. Michael Epper from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, who has followed the Tour in the past years.
Though the course roads are closed well in advance of the riders’ arrival, it’s normally possible to find side roads that allow a person with a car to loop around and get ahead of the peloton multiple times, Epper said.
“You can get an idea of where they’re going to go, and you can go from point to point on other roads,” he said. “Usually you can jump on [other] roads to get ahead of the Tour.”
But standing in one spot for a while also has its advantages.
About an hour in front of the riders, a caravan of sponsors’ vehicles rides over the route, often giving out free samples of their products along the way. The products have included anything from candy to beer in previous races, Epper said.
“That’s kind of half the fun of seeing all these things — it’s like a parade,” he said.
For those looking for a group option, the Lakenheath Outdoor Recreation center has organized several trips. On July 7 and July 8, Outdoor Rec will take a 12-person bus down to London to watch the prologue and stage one, at a cost of 65 and 70 pounds respectively.
Then, starting on July 24, the program will lead a group on a bike ride from London to Paris to be there in time for the Tour finish on July 29 on the Champs-Elysées. Riders will cover up to 90 miles a day, and the trip costs $825, said Michael Ambrose, programs manager for Outdoor Rec.
“I’ve done it several times and it’s a really nice ride,” Ambrose said.