Sunday, July 24, 2011

So you wanna go to the Tour de France?

Recently, we've had several requests for details of how we planned and executed our trip to the Tour de France. We didn't go with a cycling tour group or have VIP access, but we didn't need either one. If you have questions after reading, feel free to email questions to and we'll do our best to answer them.

So you wanna go to the Tour de France. Live. In person. So close that your musette strap could "accidentally" wrap around Ricardo Ricco’s handlebars (if he was actually racing). Well, we have some expert tips for planning and executing a trip to Le Tour. And by “expert”, we mean we’ve been ONCE.
This trip isn't for the casual race watcher. If you could take it or leave it, you'd better leave this trip. This is for the diehard fan who has both Eurosport and VS on everyday of the Tour. It's for those of you who schedule your trip to the beach in June because you aren't sure that the condo at the beach gets Versus. If you have Colavita olive oil in your cabinet, Terrapin Rye in your fridge, and Haribo in your candy bowl because you appreciate each and every company that supports cycling, well, this trip is for you.

There are a few deal breakers for planning trips to the Tour de France. The first is people. It’s like anything else; it sounds great to everybody right now. We’re still in “Tour trance”, which means we are so involved in this race that we can just picture that this time next year, we’ll be sticking our heads out the sunroof of Leopard Trek’s car, yelling at Andy Schleck. First of all, that spot is obviously reserved for Eddy Merckx. Secondly, if you attempt to get in the team car, you will be arrested by really attractive gendarmes who might throw you into French jail. And while not as bad as Turkish prison, it still isn’t great to go there while on vacation. *This is not an admission that we know anything firsthand about French jail. Nor is it a denial.
Anyway, everyone wants in on the trip to France. Sometimes people can make it work, and sometimes life gets in the way. A real bummer though, would be to plan your trip around just one other person, and then they can’t go. If you start planning with a group of people, say 4-6 friends, chances are, that at least a couple are really going to make it work. So your trip has a good chance of survival. If you’re comfortable traveling alone, it’s not a bad trip, but you need to practice the language. But really, this is something you should do with friends.
There are plenty of people who’d love a trip to France. If you’re going to see the race, make sure your group has the same goal that you do. If you’re traveling 3,000 miles to see a bike race, the whole group needs to be going for the bike race. That doesn’t mean your group can’t have other objectives, but everyone in the group needs to be on the same page. There’s a lot of waiting in watching a bike race in person. Someone who isn’t that into it is going to get bored quickly.
For us, our main goal was to see the Tour de France. We had some smaller objectives, but we wanted to see THE RACE. Anything else we saw or did was a bonus.

The second deal breaker for your trip to France is time. A week is ideal. You really need that much time to get your body acclimated to the time change and jet lag you’ll experience. Plus, it goes by way too fast. Try to make sure your group has at least 7 days. We definitely recommend going to the Tour de France the LAST week of the Tour.
Not that we wouldn’t want to see the Grand Depart, or the second week’s climbing stages, but the final week is special, as you’ve witnessed this year.
Getting to France on Sunday before the last week is good because the next day is usually a rest day and you can use that day to recover from the flight and to travel to Tuesday’s stage, which probably won’t be anywhere close to Paris. In 2010, that stage was in the Pyrenees and this year it was in the foothills of the Alps. On the map, France looks kinda small. You might be thinking, “Aw, that’s like driving from Oklahoma to the Tour of Missouri in 2009. I did it in 4 hours. France is a lot smaller than the U.S. Besides, it’s just three inches from Paris on the map.” Let me set you straight now. Those three inches means 1,000 kilometers. Not really, but you do need to research all types of transportation, because if you choose to drive from Paris, it really is a loooong way to either the Alps or the Pyrenees.
We recommend using the TGV. It’s a high-speed train that you sometimes see racing alongside the Tour on tv. It’s very clean, comfortable, and fast. You can buy tickets online and the train station is close to the airport. There’s ample space for your luggage, small, yet adequate bathrooms (think airplane lavatories), and a snack bar.
It’s not that good for scenery, as it goes way too fast for your eyes to linger on anything, and it would be impossible to get a good shot with a camera. But remember, your goal isn’t scenery, is it?

The third deal breaker is language. The common thought is that everyone speaks some English. In Paris? Probably. Everywhere else? Not so much. If you’re traveling through small villages in southwest France, their second language won’t be English, it will be Basque. We were lucky since D’Andrea has visited France often and was able to communicate well. Anita printed flash cards and knew random words and handy phrases such as, “Au Voleur!” (Stop Thief!). Barbara learned, “Oui”, and “A vos souhaits!” (Bless you). The point is, we were in many, many places where not one single word of English was spoken. So don’t rely on them. We picked up a lot of language there, and it was fun to practice our French while ordering meals as it would make waitresses giggle. If you’re extremely lucky, you have a member of your group who is Canadian and knows French. Our friend Hélène joined us in Bordeaux and the French were immediately relieved that they no longer had to guess at what we were saying.

The fourth and biggest deal breaker is money. As we mentioned above, a year of saving, asking, begging, and soliciting (we don’t condone, we just don’t judge) money seems like ample time. Remember though, that life often gets in the way. “We didn’t know braces were gonna be this year”, “That transmission never gave me problems before it went out completely”, or “Shit, I thought we had flood insurance.”
It’s also very hard to spend that much money on something that doesn’t involve your whole family. After all, you could spend the week sleeping in Cinderella’s castle with your whole family for what you’ll spend on this trip. If you have a significant other who will make you miserable for spending this money, this trip may be doomed.
Airfare is one of the biggest expenses. If someone in your group is sleeping with a pilot and can get buddy passes, that’s always a plus. Otherwise, it might be smart to subscribe to,,, and many other dot coms to compare prices. It’s also smart to become reward members of airlines such as Delta.
The route for the Tour is unveiled in October. It’s in your best interest to already have some ideas about where you want to stay and where you want to be on each stage. Typically, organizers alternate the Alps and the Pyrenees each year. We recommend researching a homebase within reasonable driving distance to as many stages as possible. In 2010, we stayed in a tiny town called Monein, about 30 minutes outside of Pau. We were about 1.5 hours from the top of the Col d’Aubisque, 2 hours from the Tourmalet, 1.5 hours from Hautacam. It was about an hour from Lourdes. We chose to use a homebase so that we didn’t have to carry all of our luggage every day. And we have LOTS of luggage.
It’s best to book this homebase or multiple hotels in October when the route is unveiled, because that’s what everyone else is doing too. European hotels are different from your standard Holiday Inn. Most hotels in the U.S. can fit four people with 2 full or queen-sized beds in a standard room. In Europe, single beds are very common as is one full/queen bed. We had to look carefully for hotels that could accommodate 3 and then 4 of us, and it wasn’t cheap. Especially during the Tour. The best part about rooming with others is sharing the expense. It makes things much more affordable. Don't even think you'll be able to secure an RV for that one week. Often, those are reserved a year in advance and they're often reserved for the entire 3 weeks. Believe us, you really don't want to navigate an RV down a mountain.
After taking the TGV from Paris to Bordeaux, we rented a car for the week to get from stage to stage. They drive on the same side of the rode as we do and the steering wheel is on the same side. The only real difference in France is the incredible amount of “road furniture” and extremely narrow streets.
Another tip is to combine some money for a kitty to be used for food and gas. Of course, when you’re in France, it’s called “le chat”. We each put $100 in le chat until it ran out, at which point, we each added $100 again. It made it much simpler to pay one check at restaurants, buy gas, groceries, pay for parking, etc.
Food is expensive. Simple meals (think jambon (ham) et fromage (cheese) sandwiches) and a beer is often more than €10, which with the exchange rate, is about 15 bucks. However, finding inexpensive wine at grocery stores is a nice surprise. Besides your accommodations, expect to spend between $50-$75 a day. Of course, you can spend less if you plan well.
If you’re going to the Tour during the last week, DO NOT miss the final stage in Paris. (But don’t drive in Paris. Turn in your rental car on Saturday and take the TGV back. A cab will get you to your hotel.) Get there the day before and get rested up. Stay somewhere close to the Champs-Élysées, even if it’s expensive. Get up early, grab a bag with a small blanket or towel to sit on, sunscreen, bottled water, a little food, camera, National flag, and go to a cafe to buy a bag of pain du chocolat and a café créme to go (as the French barista rolls her eyes at your blatant Americanness of wanting coffee in a paper cup), and stroll over to the Champs to grab a spot at the barriers. If you get there after 10 am, forget it. Plan to be there until 6 pm or later. Make sure to have some Euros in your pocket so that you can visit the bathroom down the street. It has a line out to the street and costs €2 for each visit. However, they are very clean, have multi-colored toilet paper, and each stall has a name. It’s very posh. And after pottying on the side of French mountains for a week, €2 to pee in lavish conditions is reasonable. As far as the bag of pain du chocolat, make sure there’s one for everyone in your group and then make sure you have 3 or 4 extras in case you have to bribe gendarmes to keep your spot if you go potty. Also, we DO NOT condone fake credentials, but we did have them. D’Andrea was almost stuck on the wrong side of the road when gendarmes closed it off until she flashed her Divas Tour France badge and they waved her through. You never know.
The Champs has a big screen so you can watch the race which is great. The sound of the wheels in front of you on the Champs is magical, and the feel of the wind from the peloton is welcome after baking in the sun for most of the morning with no shade. But the best part is after the race is over.
If you’re a fan of “the boys”, you’ll want to hang around for the parade. Each team lines up and, sans helmet, takes a leisurely ride down the Champs. They go very slowly, waving to fans, blowing kisses, taking pictures with their own cameras, tweeting, and giving the fans a glimpse at the satisfaction and relief of finishing the hardest sporting event in the world. We’re not a bit ashamed to say we cried.

It’s nice to be able to stay in Paris for a few days to sightsee. It is expensive to stay there, so be warned. And remember, you’ve just seen the Tour de France. The rest is just icing.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why we'll always be true to the red, white, & blue...

After returning from Greenville, for the United States Professional Road Race & Time Trial Championships (or USPros as we call it), we're sad that the cycling season is drawing to a close and that this great event is over for another year. To our delight, the schedule has changed, though! We only have to wait until May to see our beloved race again! I bet they did that just for us.
We truly love this race. Yes, we adore our cyclists. We proved we're hardcore American cycling fans by braving the slopes of Pyrenean mountains to chalk the American's names. We even chalked the names of Canadians. Hell, we SLEPT on the side of a mountain to cheer them on and wave the American flag as they passed. But that's not why we love this race.
We appreciate the accessibility to riders that this race brings. We enjoy watching the faces of new fans at their first race. We think it's fun to watch 'newbies' take pictures of the SRAM support car and we giggle when we hear whispers like, "Which one is Phinney?" Still not why we love this race.
We really like the city of Greenville. The main streets strung with lights, the river flowing downtown, and children playing in the fountains. But that's not why we love this race.
We love this race because this race brought us together. In 2008, D'Andrea was working for Medalist when she accidentally sent Anita 2 Time Trial tickets instead of the Road Race tickets. When Anita called about the error, she was told just to come to both events. Oddly enough, Anita and D'Andrea ended up sitting at the same table and sharing cycling stories. Anita shared the story about magically getting invited to both events while D'Andrea gulped and admitted to screwing up the tickets. Voila! A friendship was born!
After swapping phone numbers and email addresses, and D'Andrea giving Anita her VIP Rock Racing downtown event tickets, D'Andrea headed back to Atlanta with family in tow, and Anita went to pursue her goal of getting her picture made with Jonathan Vaughters. (Yes, it really does go back that far). After getting the shot with JV and texting it to D'Andrea, the two were bonded.
The launch of twitter and to some extent, the use of Facebook, kept the two in contact until the next race in Greenville in 2009. Anita and D'Andrea spent the day of the Time Trial together and began the tradition of chalking up Paris Mountain. What a great way to spend a Saturday!
Anita and D'Andrea had become fast friends with @bgreene1 on Twitter but had yet to meet. Unfortunately, D'Andrea had to go back to Atlanta that night and would miss the road race and meeting Barbara. It was at the road race that Barbara and Anita would tweeting the race and the other uploading pictures which would end up meshed together and used on the CyclingFans website. Little did they know that was just the beginning of that type of collaboration!
Barbara and D'Andrea did meet in Atlanta that fall and we all ended up having lunch together the day before Thanksgiving. Not long after, we reconvened for Athens Twilight and some great fun! Barbara & D'Andrea were then tearing up SpeedWeek around the South, picking up some Italian men from airports, and attending pro-training camps. The Tour of California came, and as D'Andrea worked her magic, keeping the boys safe, Barbara flew to LA for 2 stages. At last it was July and we finally made it to the Big Dance. It was more than we could have hoped for.
Some women are catty when they're together. They're petty, jealous, and snippy. They'll smile at you while slowly turning that dagger into your spine. Not these women. These women love fun people, cycling, their families, good wine & cheap champagne, pink crack, chalky hands, French slang, twitter, traveling business class, and each other.
That, my friends, is why we love this race.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Oh my stars. The past 36 hours have been pretty darn tiring. After awaiting seats on Saturday and not getting enough for the three of us, Barbara and Anita sent D'Andrea on to Paris to transfer train schedules, call our hotel in the Pyrenees, etc. We went back to Barbara's, sulking about still being in Atlanta while our friend was in Paris. Since we made huge sacrifices to the cycling gods on Sunday, we were graced with not only two seats on the plane, but Business Class. We had unlimited champagne, foot rests, booties, eye covers, gourmet food, hot nuts, hot towels, and Barbara even scored a sloppy kiss on the cheek from a drunk bodybuilder. So we were psyched! We landed around 5:30 am Paris time, which is 11:30 pm Atlanta time. We then met D'Andrea at the train station at Charles de Gaulle, and waited about an hour for our train to Bordeaux. We were on the high speed train for about 4.5 hours. If you've never taken one, I highly recommend it. The views are great but the service not so good. After all that time, we never got anything to drink and we were so parched. Barbara got scolded for putting her poor, swollen feet on the bench next to me. Of course, he fussed at her in French & she didn't understand a word, but when he tapped her feet, she got the message.
When we arrived in Bordeaux, we got our rental car and attempted out of the city toward our new home at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains. It took us three hours, and D'Andrea became the Jens Voigt of driving. She mastered that road furniture like a champ and took great care of us. We stopped at a tiny roadside market to get water and snacks and the owner spoke ZERO English. Even with my flashcards and studying, I still did a lot of pointing. I had a banana, and I'm thrilled to say that my first French Banana was terrific.
We arrived at our "home" and we were immediately impressed with it. We have lovely and spacious accommodations and our hosts are so sweet. We unloaded our things, then went in search of food. We found a small restaurant on the city square where the waitress tried to be so helpful, but again, knew no English. We did lots of pointing again. D'Andrea was able to tell us most of what the menu said and if she thought we'd eat it. By the end of dinner, the three of us were so tired. We have a couple of team tactics for tomorrow's stage but we're unsure which we will use. We're going to bed now and hopefully, after a good night's rest and some cafe créme, we will be 100% ready to go get that yellow jersey.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Lance's crash won't be a Dealbreaker...

If you watched the stage yesterday (and let's face it, if you're reading this, you watched it at least once), you know that Lance Armstrong had some miserable luck and lost quite a bit of time to the other "big dogs" in the race. He was already sore and battered from crashes that happened earlier in the week. Probably 50% of the cyclists in this year's Tour have either crashed or had issues of some sort that have caused discomfort. For Lance, the time lost means there will be no 8th Tour de France win this year.
As American cycling fans, the three of us have the utmost respect for Lance and his place in cycling history. We appreciate the Livestrong Army that he has created and the inspiration he has given to so many affected by cancer. We like watching past Tours and the complete domination he showed over adversaries such as Ullrich & Beloki.
But we are cycling fans first. Lance not being a main contender doesn't change our plan. It doesn't hurt our feelings, upset us enough to cry, or make us fret at all over our game plan in France.
For the first time, the United States has FOUR, count them, FOUR! teams in the Tour. How crazy/wonderful is it that we have four teams in the biggest bike race in the world? Not counting Lance, we have seven other hard-ass American cyclists participating in this year's Tour de France. We are so proud of each and every one!
To recap on the rest day, we're going to list a few things that have made us smile this week:

*Fabian in yellow We can't help it. There's just something so right about it.
*Jens driving the peloton. Enough said.
*Seeing George in Stars & Stripes. He's a perfect representative of the U.S.
*Watching Tyler continue racing. What a stud.
*Cav crying. Yeah, we're suckers.
*Brent Bookwalter's prologue. Georgia boy's living the dream & kicking butt!
*Watching Samuel Demoulin. It can't be easy to be 5'2" and ride the Tour de France.
*Trying to figure out French teams' tactics. Boy, they hate each other, don't they?
*Thor. Nothing in particular. Just Thor.
*Ryder as the new team captain? We're good with that.
*A world champion in yellow. That's just cool.
*Listening to Phil and Paul. Just hearing them puts us in the zone.

So, as you can see, there's plenty to smile about. We could have gone on and on. We're happy Lance is staying in the race. We hope to see him ride well and help his team. We're cycling fans first and foremost. We'll cheer for all of the boys and pray that they stay safe. Think about the moments this week that have made you smile. My goodness. We still have two weeks left. Thank God.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The TDF: It's Not Boring....

Wow. After stage 2 of the Tour de France, we are really wondering who will be left to battle for the overall when we finally get to the Pyrenees! Prior to the start of the tour, we knew that stage 3 had cobbles and would be a decisive stage. We had no idea that multiple riders would crash by the end of stage 2 and favorites would be completely out of contention.
As for us, we've loaded songs and some French words into ipods, ordered Euros (which have a really pretty iridescent strip on them, BTW), made ID badges to attempt to convince non-English officials that we're pretty important, printed t-shirts with sponsors listed on them, uploaded Euro maps into the new Garmin, changed phones to make sure we are "global-ready", and bought some new clothes. Barbara is going full-throttle, between working full-time and going to school. D'Andrea is attempting to live in 2 states at once while preparing for 12 days in France. Anita is enjoying summer break and spending time with @Bike_Dude.
We have set up some media outlets for you to follow our journey to France. Besides this blog, you can watch videos at:
You can follow us on twitter at: @divastourfrance

We can't wait to experience this trip of a lifetime and can't wait to share it with you!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Tour de France Eve!

Welcome to the best three weeks of the year!
The Divas are counting down to both tomorrow morning for the start of le Tour, and our date of departure. Currently, we have plans to leave on Saturday, July 17th. It is entirely possible that we move this up a day to the 16th. We plan to bring you pictures, tweets, stories, interviews, and videos. Hopefully, you will feel you are there with us! Stay tuned to our many forms of media to get all of our posts!