Tuesday, 6 December 2011

HOW TO WATCH THE TOUR DE FRANCE AND EAT GOOD!




The Tour de France has always been just a vision to me since I was a kid growing up in Siglap on the east coast of Singapore.  One afternoon whilst I was having my busy day of coffee and watching CNN,  a lady walked in to buy a print and asked me what I was doing that summer of 2005.  I told her I wanted to go see Lance Armstrong win his 7th title.  She smiled and asked if I wanted to work during the Tour; it was a no brainer.  A month later I was shooting Lance Armstrong with his then girlfriend Sheryl Crow in St Etienne!! This is how it all started and has been going on every July.  So don't call me in July as  I'm shooting straight men in colorful spandex going up mountains with shaven legs.


Lance, warming up with Sheryl Crow and his kids in St Etienne, 2005.
Here it goes.  The Tour is 23 days with 2 rest days in between.  It's never the same route every year and always covers the Pyrenees and the Alps.  It can start outside France and weave its way into France and always finishes on a Sunday in Paris.  For example, the Tour starts in Belgium next year and is there for 3 days before it hits France.  The daily stage races start about 11am and end about 430pm.  So your  schedule is usually have breakfast at 8am ,  drive to the start by 10am to have another bite and wait for the start.  When they go off, you drive about 200km to the finish which would be about 3 hours down the road.  You then get stuck in a jam as all the roads are closed by the arrival town.  You look for parking and walk about 2 km to the finish line which is packed already.  After the race you get stuck in another jam going out of the town to your next hotel hopefully not too far.  By the time you get to your next hotel, it's about 8pm-9pm.  You do this about 23 times.  Welcome to Le Tour!!



Your love pad; a typical room during the Tour booked through Logis de France.


You might get lucky and stumble on a great hotel when you're driving around.


Hotels will be the nightmare for you in terms of availability, location and the P Diddy luxe factor!  The route is usually announced in November and it's a mad scramble for rooms.  The Tour would have already booked for the 3000 personnel way before that so it leaves you pretty much with nothing close to the start and arrival towns.  Don't worry people, I will hook your ass up!

I use these 3 sites :
www.booking.com  :  this is for the both the normal hotels and some smaller boutique hotels.
www.logisdefrance.com : for bed and breakfast hotels and even some larger Chateau like properties.
www.karenbrown.com : the most luxe P Diddy factor site impress yo lady type pad but it's limited to the more popular areas.  You can book through the property's website directly.

For the mountain stages, I usually book and try the ski resorts directly as they have a listing of the rooms and lodging on their websites.

As for car rentals I use Hertz.com or Europcar.com
Book a GPS but I still find maps (Michelin only) useful as it also helps you look at alternative routes if you want to chase the peloton.  Get an unlimited (I logged 3500km the last time) plan and pick it up from the train station or town you're starting from.  As for the final car drop off, I usually drop it off at the train station the stage before Paris so I don't have to drive it up to Paris.  TGV train tickets can be booked on the www.raileurope.com.  As everyone will be on the train to Paris after the time trial you must make a booking for about the 7-8pm train as the time trial ends about 5pm.

A good way to watch Le Tour if you can't afford to spend 23 days away from your Big Macs and Starbucks,  just do the last mountain stages (about 3 days)  and then the time trial before Paris and of course Paris on Sunday.  Most of the race is decided on the last mountain stages and time trial anyways.  This will only be a 7 day trip for you.


The crowd at the start of each stage.
So now you have an idea of the route and the hotel booking sites.  What's the strategy for booking the hotels?  There are various ways you can do it.

1.  Book the hotel the night before by the starting town so you can roll up and watch the start the next day.  You can then chase the peloton using an alternative route and wait for them to pass and drive off again to another spot to catch them.  You would then need another hotel at the finish that night.  But I usually prefer to get to the next start town so I can cut down on the driving the next day to the start.  As the stage finishes about 5pm, by the time you get out from the jam it would be about 7pm and if you're lucky, you drive an hour to your next hotel in time for dinner.

2. Another way would be to book a hotel in between stage towns so you can use that as a 2 day base and stop your girlfriend from bitching about changing hotels everyday and keep that relationship.

3. For the mountain stages, you don't have a choice but to book the finish towns of the ski resort at the  mountain finish.  This is because the roads are all closed early morning and you have no way up the mountain the next day but to bike or walk your booty up 15km with your wine and cheese and your girlfriend moaning by your side!

The Tourmalet Mountain stage in the Pyrenees.


Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees.

The mythical Alpe D'Huez Mountain in the Alps with a million people.



THE FOOD
A spread at a truck stop in Lourdes.
You will not be disappointed with the food on Le Tour.  Big tip, do not ask them where the MacDonald's are if you want to enjoy your trip and not get thrown out of the country.  Even in the most simple Logis de France 60 Euro room, a great meal will always be waiting for you.  A dinner set would be about 18 Euros.  The more elaborate P Diddy Chateaus would be about 25 Euros - 40Euros.  As for breakfast,  the hotel usually serves very simple coffee and bread/jam  and some cold cuts.  If you want to look for a Starbucks, you got to be the biggest idiot in the world.  Yes, the meals are way cheaper than Marina Bay Sands and you don't have young Russian girls walking around.

My goat cheese salad in the Pyrenees.
Duck and rib Cassoulet a speciality in the Toulouse area.

Entrecote, my favorite steak on L e Tour.
The marches are the way to go when you're waiting for the race to start as you can taste the specific cuisine from the region.

A crepe from La Creperie in Forcalqueur in eastern Provence
My Provencal salad in Forcalquer on the way to the Alps.

The breakfast in my little bed and breakfast near Toulouse.  This was a rarity! It's usually a croissant and coffee.
Don't forget your instant Tom Yam noodles too in the mountains to stay warm!
My Yakun Singapore style half boiled eggs with soy and white pepper; yes, I brought them all the way to France!





PARIS

Cavendish wins in Paris, 2011



When you get to Paris, you would want to get to the Arc de Triomphe about 1pm as the race comes by about 3pm.  This is a good spot as it's a U turn and so you can spot your rider as they come around slowly.  After the race, the riders come by and have their photos taken and sign autographs right in front of the Arc de Triomphe.  Bring a small foldable step ladder as the crowds are about 5 people deep.

Cadel Evans on his victory lap in Paris. 2011.


After the race and presentation (which happens further down) which would be about 7pm,  you can treat yourself to le Relais de L'Entrecote on Rue Marbeuf off the Champs Elysees.  Finally, you're living like a normal person again and your girlfriend can go shopping for her Louboutin shoes whilst you suffer from Le Tour withdrawals.

For more Tour de France info : www.letour.fr/us/


Please also check out : www.russelwongphoto.com



3 comments:

  1. bradda, u are a class act with your no frills doco :) simply entertaining read.Classic RW ...cheers.sg

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Myojo Tom Yam, half boiled eggs and croissant is a class act lah!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Another way is to go with a tent! We did camping for le tour in 2009 and it was not a hassle at all... and yes, even the simplest food was delicious! Your tom yam noodles win hands-down!

    ReplyDelete