Holiday with kids to Le Tour de France – are you mad? Well, not really…

If your kids are keen Cyclists or Triathletes, then the biggest annual sporting event in the world is a prime candidate for a Summer holiday. We’ve visited the Tour de France (TdF) for a few years now, here’s a few tips from what we’ve learnt…

Planning & Booking
With the route announced every October, it’s important to make plans and book accommodation early. With around 10 to 12 million spectators visiting a stage in 2016, you could say it’s quite popular! The 2017 route was published on 19/10/16.

Once you’ve decided on camping, hotels or B&B’s/Gite’s then you need to locate and contact these as close to the Stage (you plan to watch) as you can and get it booked! The longer you leave it, the more difficulty you will find as all options become fully booked. Don’t be surprised to see prices double for that period, once the owners realise they are on the route!

You will soon see Motorhomes are a favourite on the TdF, especially with ‘Tour Chasers’ who follow it around France to see as much as they can. They do offer real flexibility in this situation, so it is worth considering hiring one for the trip.

Deciding where to watch?
On a climb:
Anywhere on a climb will be busy. On flat stages, the Peleton can sail past at quite a speed, so it’s all over quickly. On a climb, particularly towards the end of a day’s stage – you will see much more, including blood, sweat and tears!

Stage Starts:
We think stage starts are great for the kids as they see so much more. You can find where the Caravan has gathered ‘back-stage’ and watch their warm-up and take a look at the crazy vehicles. You can also see the team buses arrive and maybe get an autograph or selfie with your favourite riders.

Stage Finishes:
We’ve not seen a finish yet, as they can be a bit manic and to get anywhere near the barriers to see the action would involve a long wait with young kids, so not the easiest day out. With older kids it should be fine.

There is usually one day for the Individual Time-Trial and one for the Team Time-Trial. We hope to catch a hilly one at some point, but with much more waiting around and less ‘action’ we will wait till our kids are a little older. You see each cyclist in-turn with short gaps between them, but it’s less of a spectacle than the full Peleton.

The ‘Caravan’
This really is where the carnival starts for the kids, but its not actually a Caravan! It’s a convoy of the race sponsors promotional vehicles, driving the route (around an hour in front of the lead riders) to give out (throw) free gifts to spectators.

It’s a lot of fun, especially for the kids. Most of it is rubbish, some of it is quite good – but the average 7-year old seemingly can never have enough Skoda fridge magnets?! Unsurprisingly, the Haribo vans are a regular favourite.

It is always a big source of amusement, with some taking it far too seriously. But it can often break down language barriers between the various nationalities of cycling fans waiting for the race. If you have kids, don’t be surprised if the adults around you end up handing your kids a ton of stuff, as they have only been collected it for all the kids in the crowd!

If you have very small kids, you will need to exercise caution – the Caravan can move at a fair old pace through the crowd at times, as the organisers try to keep the race on schedule.

As the race approaches…
So the Caravan has passed through and the kids are still ‘trading’ their booty amongst each other. The race is on its way. You will notice more official’s vehicles and TV or Gendarme motorbikes coming through, again at quite high-speed. This can go on for a while, with some forward Team and Manufacturer support cars too.

Tension in the crowd begins to build. The only giveaway as to the impending arrival of the Peleton (or breakaway) is the helicopters. As many as 3 or 4 will be following the Peleton, so even if you can’t see the road stretching beyond the bend in front of you – if the sky is full of choppers, they will be on you very soon!

Again, with young kids be cautious. Even on steep climbs, you will be surprised just how fast the Peleton will approach. Give plenty of space. Don’t be fooled into nudging forward on the roadside to look past the crowd. At the last second the crowd will part and you will be hit! Best (and safest) option is to find some height nearby, to look down onto the road.

Prepare to be amazed. After years of watching it in the flesh, there is still nothing like it. On a climb you may have just ridden a few hours ago (at what you thought was a respectable speed) they fly by at twice the speed. Breathing through their nose. After 170km that day. On day 20.

The Race
Made up of 21 ‘stages’ which are mini-races each day (usually a couple of rest days too, at strategic points) so each day has a stage winner, with the General Classification (GC) being a result of the riders overall performance across the entire race. So at the end of each day there will be a prize presentation for the day’s stage, plus awards for the GC Jerseys…

The Jerseys
Riders leading each classification wear disinctive jerseys designed to stand out from the team jerseys;

  • Yellow Jersey (Maillot Jeune) is for the current, overall (GC) race leader
  • Green Jersey (Maillot Vert) or Sprinters jersey for the springing points leader
  • Polka-dot Jersey (Maillot a Pois Rouges) or ‘King of the Mountains’ for the climbing points leader
  • White Jersey (Maillot Blanc) is the Young Riders jersey for riders under 26 years old

Inspiration for the kids?
All depends o the child of course, but we think visiting the TdF is a huge inspiration for kids who like to cycle. The carnival atmosphere aside, they really enjoy seeing the world’s best, particularly in the mountains. If you head to the Alps or Pyrenees it is important to be prepared for the weather.

Temperatures in the high 30’s are common in July, so make sure you have plenty of water with you. We usually have a minimum of 10 litres in a rucksack. Poor old Dad! You still need rain coats in the mountains though.

Walk or let the kids cycle? Depends on where you go and how your kids are on the road. However, we’ve found the roads to be ideal for kids on bikes during the TdF, especially on the day of a stage. Much of the surrounding roads can be closed, with literally 1000’s of cyclists riding to the stage – so traffic is less of an issue.

If they really do want to cycle a Col (and you’re happy they can do it) then we find the best time to do it, is the day AFTER the TdF has been through. There will still be plenty of spectators on the mountain the next morning in their motorhomes to cheer and encourage a young rider up!

We don’t encourage it, but if you do decide to let them have a go – don’t do it on the spur of the moment, consider this very carefully and plan everything in detail. If you try it on the day of the stage, don’t forget they close the road (even to public cyclists) as the Peleton approaches, so you can get a bit stuck!

In July, there is quite a lot else going on in the Alps apart from the TdF too – you could try MTB or a kids Triathlon?

2017 is the 104th edition of the Tour de France and the ‘Grand Depart’ (start) leaves from Dusseldorf in Germany on July 1st, finishing in Paris on the 23rd July. For full details on the route and race CLICK HERE.

Some BIG statistics from 2016 edition…

  • 198 riders (22 teams of 9 riders)
  • 3,535km of racing!
  • Longest stage: 237.5km (Saumur-Limoges)
  • Highest altitude reached: 2,408m (Port d’Envalira)
  • 170 vehicles in the Caravan, distributing 14 million goodies!