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by Chris Riordan
July 27, 2015
Photography by Chris Riordan & Riley Wolff
“The Ultimate Job” competition winners, courtesy of Exodus Travel, have finished their trip around France. As his final assignment, we asked Chris if he had any thoughts or advice on travelling with a tour. You can check out Chris and Riley’s previous ‘work’ via the #UltimateJob hashtag on Instagram and see their previous posts here.
I’ve been doing a bike tour following the Tour de France for five days now, so clearly I’m in no position to pass myself off as an expert on these matters. But that won’t stop me trying. So if you finished watching le Tour and caught yourself thinking ‘I’d like to follow that on a bike tour next year!’, then here are the answers to the questions I had before coming over.
Should I hire a bike or bring my bike over?
In our group there are 8 people. Three people brought their own bikes, and five hired bikes through the tour company (Exodus Travel). So far everyone has been happy with their choice, so I don’t think that there is a definitive answer one way or the other. You just need to balance the joy of having the bike that you are comfortable with and may be top of the line, with the inconvenience of getting that bike into the country and having it with you if you travel after the tour concludes.
Either way, the most important thing is to make sure that you have the right gears to get you up some pretty hefty climbs (and I can guarantee that the hire bikes will have these).
What if I’m the fastest/slowest in the group?
Sadly being the fastest has not proved to be a problem… but on the brighter side, neither has being the slowest. Within the first couple of days you work out who rides at your pace and you tend to stick with them. The faster people can head off and punish themselves on the climbs and then smugly await your arrival at the top, while the slower ones can take the climbs at their own pace, but then have to decide if the cheers that await them at the top are sarcastic or not.
What happens on a normal day?
Assuming that you are going to watch a stage of le Tour, and you are watching it towards the end of the stage, then the tour organiser has to work a fine balance between getting you to your desired vantage point before the roads are closed but not so early that you spend 5 hours sitting in the sun waiting for the riders.
We would generally get up and have breakfast at about 7.30 – 8am (although the French idea of breakfast does seem to lean pretty heavily towards croissants and coffee…which is not the ideal fuel for a big day’s riding). We would then usually head off at about 9am and ride until about 1pm when we would stop for lunch. Then aim to get to the race by about 2pm. We would find our spot for the day and then watch as the caravan of promotional cars drives past. The riders usually came past between 4.30pm and 5pm. Then we would make our way through the sea of humanity walking and riding back to the nearest town, where we would begin our ride home.
‘But Chris’, I hear you say ‘You’re body is finely tuned to eating dinner at 6pm! What on earth did you do?!’ Let’s just say I ate a lot M&M’s provided by our tour guide, and tried to pretend that eating dinner at 9.30pm was somehow a good idea. We would normally eat dinner as a group at a local restaurant or the hotel where we were staying. Then usually we went to bed at about 11am… ready to repeat the same process the next day.
Do you have the ability to do your own thing?
Yes. There is a basic itinerary that everyone is following, but on our first day we were able to choose between staying in Gap to see the finish, or heading up a local Col to see the riders climbing or descending. The combination of road closures and our excellent senses of direction gave us plenty of opportunities to meet the local Gendarmes and ask for directions. But we did get there!
Should I take a camera?
The short answer is ‘Yes’. The long answer is ‘Yes, but think about what you want to carry’. For the first two days I rode with a back-pack containing; a DSLR with a 50mm lens, a GoPro with a small tripod, a microphone (in case we wanted to do interviews) and my phone. On the third day as I climbed up the steepest hill I’ve ever climbed, and in 40 degree heat, I thought ‘This is batshit crazy! I’m going to put my back-pack in the support car, and if something amazing happens when the support car is with someone else, I’ll just shoot it on my phone’. So that’s what I’ve done and it’s been fine. There have been moments (like meeting Didi) when I wished I could have had my DSLR, but I reckon that by the time I’d hopped off the bike, taken off the backpack, opened it, grabbed the camera out and got my settings sorted, the moment would have been lost. So if you really want to have your DSLR with you when you see the riders, then just leave it in the support car for the majority of the ride and then just grab it for the last section as you head up to see the riders.
So there you have it. Of the 8 people on the trip half are first timers and the other half have done a number of these sorts of tours. So clearly there is something keeping people coming back, and I’m undecided as to whether it is the cols!
If you have any questions, put them in the comments section and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.