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Tour de France – A Family Day Out - Al Fresco Holidays

After camping close to the cyclists’ route several times over the last 20 years – and always trying to avoid all the traffic by staying on the beach, or heading in the opposite direction, in 2010, in the Alps, we discovered what we have been missing all these years. Some of our guests (we were campsite reps for Thomson Al Fresco at the time) plan their holidays each year around seeing it at some point. And they seemed to be normal people like us. They persuaded us it was worth it, and after all, we were in the area for 5 months. But we still took some convincing – we saw the “Tour of Britain” a few years ago when it passed the end of our road. I was NOT impressed.

But this was really different. Yes, the cyclists generally whizz past in less than a minute (actually a bit longer for us as we were on an uphill stretch). But sadly we had started to walk towards our car when a lone cyclist, (we found out later to be David Millar) came struggling valiantly up the hill, being cheered on as people realised he was still part of the race. But all that was nearly 3 hours after we had chosen our best viewing point.

The atmosphere was electric.

The Caravan:  No, not an Al Fresco mobile, or even a holiday-home dragged by a 4×4. “The caravan” consists of a parade of cars, lorries, motor-bikes, floats, all decked with advertising gear and throwing freebies at the waiting crowds. It starts to come past about 2 hours before the cyclists arrive and lasts about an hour.

Taking heed of what we had been told, we arrived in plenty of time, parked the car on our side of town, and walked up and up, round the hairpin bends, to find a good viewpoint in the shade of the trees. The camaraderie was akin to the old-fashioned street parties, especially for us as virtually all our guests had turned out and waved and shouted to us as we walked past.

We settled on a roadside wall, with baguettes, Camembert, and Champagne (or Sauvignon blanc) and prepared to watch the spectacle. Don’t forget to take a bag to carry all the goodies. Our first gift was a bottle of Vittel water, handed out, not thrown – very welcome. We had bottle openers, sweets, hats, biscuits, key-rings, cleaning wipes, bandanas, notebooks, pens, and my husband’s pride and joy – a Team-Vittel cycling jersey. When we got back to the campsite, all our guests had similar.

The Race itself:  After 82 km and over 2 hours of cycling, the cyclists arrived, bunched together, very much as they must have been at the start of the stage, with only seconds between the leaders and were past in no time at all even on a very steep incline. The supporting cavalcade, of dozens of vehicles carrying spare cycles, camera crew, refreshments and first aid took much longer to pass.

We learned terms such as “peloton” (the main group of cyclists), “breakaways”, how cyclists continue with broken arms and ribs, and how medics can stitch a leg together through a car window. Aargh!

Review:  An experience not to be missed. Enjoyed by toddlers and oldies alike. We are looking forward to being in The Vendee for the Tour de France 2011 from July 2nd-5th. We’ve cycled the area ourselves, when we camped on Clarys Plage. This summer we’ll see how the professionals do it!

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