Endless baguettes, blanketless beds and bedbugs: Tips on surviving the French tours

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That part of the season is upon us…the beginning of the French tours. Yep, the Tour de France isn’t the only tour happening in France! There’s La route de France, Trophee d’Or and the infamous Tour of Ardeche which will include Mont Ventoux. And so whilst the Olympians are off frolicking in Rio, the racing continues in Europe for the rest of us.

Pretty sure both the pro men’s peloton and women’s peloton agree: the French tours are a special kind of race that need special preparations.

My first ever European race was “Route de France” in 2012. I was so excited at the opportunity to finally race in Europe that I sent my teammate Amber an email to ask what to expect. Pretty sure every person I spoke to had the same response: “I hope you’re not a glutard, and like baguettes, because that’s all you’ll be eating for 10 days.” Hmmm, I love baguettes I thought, so that’s not so bad, carbs are my friend.

What they failed to mention, however, was that I should probably bring along a few extra items… you know, like a towel, a pillow, maybe some snacks. My first experience included staying in schools, group showers, no towels or pillow, and meal tickets where you were allowed either 1 entree or 1 dessert. Hot tip: don’t dare try to sneak both if you’re tall and awkward. You’ll get caught and chased by the chef out of the kitchen. Yep, that happened to me. Awkward.

Loren Rowney wins stage four at the 2015 Route de France.
Loren Rowney wins stage four at the 2015 Route de France.

5 tips on what to bring along to a French race

Consider it a little survival guide for all those newbies and even seasoned pros headed to France.

1) Pillow and towel. Let’s start with the basics here. It is worth leaving a pillow and towel in your team camper or van. In 2012 I had the experience where a school we stayed in had neither pillows nor towels. Luckily, my swanny had some small gatorade hand towels. You know the ones you use on the trainers? Oh yeah, a tea towel. Let’s just say it’s called a tea towel for a reason, because it dried maybe half of one of my arms. For a girl who was neither comfortable with her nakedness nor group shower situations, this was rather confronting. Choosing whether to cover the top, or the bottom? No one should have to make that choice.

2) Good coffee. For coffee lovers this is perhaps the most important tip of the whole blog. If you’re partial to drinking dirty water, then skip this tip. However, if you are a coffee fiend, make sure you bring your own coffee and coffee making equipment.For me personally, that is the Tayler Wiles Blend from equator coffee or Expresso mafia blend from Girona. A bad night’s sleep due to the fact that you forgot tip one and did not pack in a pillow is easily remedied if you have good coffee to kick start the day. Shitty French breakfast? All good when you have a steaming cup of good coffee in your hand. Oh the little things in life. And coffee is certainly one of them.

3) Snacks. An essential for one of my teammates is the emergency chocolate bars. In long tours, there may be that point where you might crack a little bit. Maybe you’ve had some bad luck with crashes, you’re getting a bit run down, the baguettes just aren’t doing it for you anymore those are the moments when you crack out the emergency chocolate bar and life is good again. One thing I have gotten in the habit of doing this year is brining my own breakfast mix. Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, so I figure if I can have good coffee and good breakfast before a long day in the saddle, I’m rather content with a baguette and protein shake after the race.

4) Entertainment. Generally speaking, the whole wifi situation is going to be shit. So let your boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends and wives know that no, you’re not ignoring them, it’s just France. My advice is to use this time as a time away from your device. I am the worst at this. I don’t really even watch TV shows or movies anymore, because I’m always on my phone texting someone or surfing social media. It’s shocking. So make sure you load up your hard drive with good flicks, TV shows, podcasts and books. I myself am starting to get into the “classics,” and am attempting to catch up on Game of Thrones. I’m way behind the 8 ball on that one.

5) A sense of humour. Some of my best memories, and when I say best memories, I mean funny ones, have come from the French tours. To be honest, it’s my favourite time of the year. I’ve had a fair bit of success in France, and a lot of fun sharing some interesting experiences with teammates over the years. I always try to laugh in a bad situation.

For example: Tour de Languedoc in 2013. I thought we had hit the jackpot with our accommodation on this gorgeous little seaside town. I even snagged my own room – winning. But at 3 a.m. I wake up itching like crazy, like nothing before. So I turned on the lights, threw my sheets off, and to my horror, the whole bed was covered in bed bugs! It was horrifying. I threw everything outside, and attempted to go back to sleep, wearing everything I owned. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep so well that night, and what awaited me the next day was the queen stage of the tour. So, all I could do was laugh. And now looking back, what a story it is to tell to the young ones to scare the crap out of them!

Below are a few other essentials you may want to consider throwing in the bag:

  • Portable fan
  • Good head phones
  • Ear plugs (I suggest the silicon ones)
  • Eye mask – sometimes curtains aren’t a thing in France, and no one wants to wake up at 6 a.m. during a stage race
  • A good phone plan if you don’t want to be reliant on wifi (I’m with Vodaphone. It has changed my life)
  • Podcasts: This American Life, Stuff you should know, Hamish and Andy

Loren Rowney is a professional rider for Orica-AIS. The South-African born Australian lives in Girona, Spain during the European cycling season.
Pictured: Rowney during the 2012 UCI Road World Championships in Valkenburg.

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