Nov 2004
Tour de France with
Bikestyle Tours
by Susan Gans

Toumalet - La Mongie

When asked to describe my trip to the TdF, the first word that comes to mind is “exhausting.” But it was the trip of a lifetime.

Sari Watkin and I chose Bikestyle Tours (BST), an Australian company, as our outfitter, rather by default - most companies were fully booked by January '04, when we made up our minds to go. Fortunately, it ended up being an excellent choice.

Our trip was the 15 day “Pyrenees to Paris” trip, which started and ended in Paris. It took us to all of the TdF stages in the Pyrenees and Alpes; the final stage in Paris; and provided an opportunity to do most of the fabled climbs: Col d'Aubisque, Col du Soulor, Hautacam, Col d'Aspin, Mont Ventoux, Le Tourmalet, La Mongie, Alpe d'Huez, Col du Glandon and Col de la Madeleine. We saw a good variety of race starts and finishes and were often able to ride sections of the actual course either before or after the peloton passed through - usually the same day, but sometimes the day before or after.

For those thinking about going in ‘05, belowe are some facts, highlights, and pros/cons of traveling with BST, and of going to the Tour versus watching it on OLN. Also, see www.Bikestyletours.com


Bikestyles Guides


Mt Ventoux

 

Cost:

About US$4,365, w/out airfare, for 15 days. For what you get, a great rate..

The Group:

Mostly serious to very serious cyclists, with a few non-riding spouses. All levels had a group to ride with. Mix of married men traveling together w/out wives, couples, and a few singles (mostly male). Wide range of ages. Approx. 60% from Australia , the rest from the U.S. and Canada .

Rides:

Usually three ride options each riding day (9 of the 15 days): for the strong, medium and slower riders.

Staff:

A highlight of the trip. Most of our guides were former pros who had raced (and won stages!) in the TdF and other major races and could provide fascinating insights about life in the peloton. Always available, very friendly and hospitable. BST hires professional mechanics to tend to all your bike needs, and stocks a full warehouse of bike parts. The staff also includes two professional masseurs.

Hotels:

Mostly 3 or 4 stars, but like most European hotels, rooms are very small. Our hotel in Grenoble also housed the Boulanger team, and Sari shared the elevator with Richard Virenque!! Most hotels were near or in the center of town. Due to size of group, hotels were large and institutional, and sometimes the group was split between two hotels.

Bikes:
Strictly BYO. This was a serious crowd (Colnagos, Sevens, Calfees, Trek Madones).
Meals:

All included meals were in hotel dining rooms, often just basic banquet food. Our advice: skip the group meals and go to restaurants - we had some amazing (and not very expensive) meals off on our own.

Transport:

Our group filled three luxury motorcoaches, equipped with TV's to watch the race (although ours didn't work most of the time). Bikes were carried in custom-designed, fully-enclosed trailers and handled with true TLC.

Pros:

There's nothing quite like being there, and BST delivers a lot of bang for your buck. Unlike other companies, BST specializes in the TdF and has the logistics mastered. They have a superb staff and an incredibly informative and helpful website (most of which is accessible only after you sign up). And for those who want to ride less, or not at all, BST had a tour guide who organized special sightseeing excursions, including a winery tour in Beaune, so the trip is great for people with non-riding companions.

Cons:

There is a LOT of time on the bus, given the long distances to travel. The group was large (138 people, including staff), so we stayed at large hotels instead of quaint inns, and it could feel like an army platoon on the move. The staff was attentive but you won't be pampered (no SAG support). And after a few days, the thrill of being at the Tour may be diminished by the unpleasantness of the HUGE crowds, the long waits for the peloton to go by (and then it's all over in a minute), and (in our case) the intense heat and humidity of France in July. You won't see nearly as much of the Tour as you would by watching OLN, but you'll have much better bragging rights!



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