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What’s Camping at the Tour de France Like?

By Jiri Kaloc

Experiencing one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the world in person is something special. And there’s no better place to make it a truly memorable experience than on the top of a mountain. If you’ve ever wondered what camping to see a mountain stage at the Tour de France is like, this article may give you an idea.

How do fans end up on those remote mountain roads?

The main problem with spectating at the Tour de France’s mountain stages is that the race organisers close down the roads a day or even two ahead of the given stage. This means that there are three ways that fans can get up there to see the riders up close. Which one you choose depends on your fitness and how close you want to get to the top.

  • Ride your bicycle up. If you want to combine spectating with cycling, the best option is to get a hotel close to the mountain, get up early, and cycle up the mountain before the peloton gets there. The roads remain open to cyclists and pedestrians until just a few hours before the whole Tour caravan comes through.
  • Drive and hike up. If you’re staying in a hotel nearby and don’t have a bicycle or the fitness to tackle a mountain climb, you can still use your car. Some side roads may be open to get you partly up the mountain. And you can continue to hike higher to get at least a mid-mountain view.
  • Camp on the mountain. If you want to fully immerse yourself in the Tour atmosphere, you should definitely go for the third option, camping. You can drive up in your camper van, camp in a tent or even a regular car. Just be sure to expect narrow mountain roads with steep drop-offs and many other campers lining the road. If you’re comfortable manoeuvring your vehicles in tight spaces, you’ll be able to get really high up the mountain.
2018 Tour
The main problem with spectating at the Tour de France’s mountain stages is that the race organisers close down the roads a day or even two ahead of the given stage. © Profimedia


The best time to start your planning is as soon as the Tour route is announced in May. Hotels and apartments for rent all around the start or finish of the stage will be booked up really quickly. You should plan to be up on the mountain at least 48 hours before the peloton gets there to avoid the road closures. But if you want to snag a spot with the best views, you will have to plan to be there full 3 days ahead.

Cookouts, fireworks, and sharing stories

You may be thinking, three days on a mountain, what am I going to do there? Don’t worry, you won’t have a boring minute up there. The community of cycling and Tour de France enthusiasts will welcome you with open arms, and you can be sure that everyone wants to have a good time. You can hike up and down the mountain top during the day, meeting people from all over Europe and beyond.

You’ll be able to talk to fans who’ve been camping like this for decades, young locals, retirees from different continents, die-hard cycling fans, and people who’d never seen the race or been on the top of a mountain before. Some will party all day, others just sit quietly, enjoying the views. You can listen to their stories share cookouts and wine, and join in as they yell at their small TVs following the race.

The race day build-up

When the roads close the day before the race, you start getting a sense of a community up there on the mountain. And this feeling only intensifies on the morning of the stage that passes through or finishes at your mountain.

At dawn on the day of the race, the route will be buzzing with excitement. The organisers will be setting up all the route signs and banners, amateur cyclists will be making their climbs, and people will be out chatting about the progress of the race, and finding the perfect spot to watch the race. You’ll also be able to find food stalls and vendors selling delicious local French dishes along the route.

The caravan

With about an hour left before the riders get to the mountain, things will get loud as the publicity caravan arrives on the scene. The caravan is a parade of wildly decorated vehicles representing each of the 30 brands that sponsor the Tour. It’s a continuous show on the wheels lasting more than 30 minutes and stretching for more than 10 km. They come with loud music and throw free gifts on both sides of the road towards spectators. Get ready to catch your polka-dot hat and t-shirt, snacks, key chains, plushies, or sunglasses. This really gets the party going and signals that the riders are close.

After this burst of activity, there’s a bit of a calm before the storm. Everyone is glued to the side of the mountain craning in hopes of getting the first glance of the riders. The first signs of the peloton are the helicopters providing the aerial footage, as soon as you hear those, you know it’s time.

The peloton is finally here

The riders finally start arriving and you can see them up close and personal. Many riders show no pain while others visibly struggle. You can see who is patched up from earlier falls, you see the differently built climber specialists and sprinters. And you get to look out for all the jerseys pass you by. Will the yellow, white or polka-dot appear first? The green is likely to be further behind, but those are the riders that get the loudest cheers as people are willing them to the top.

Despite the steep terrain, the whole peloton is likely to zip past you in a matter of minutes. But the energy of the crowd, screaming and spectators chasing the riders, and unreal performances make it all worth it. And just like that, it’s over, the peloton continues descending on the other side of the mountain. The fans begin to pack up and the fight to get down the mountain begins. It’s best to take your time and wait it out to be safe. If you don’t have to rush down, enjoy the mountain top with its returning serenity for a few more moments.