Tour de France 2017 – the best place to stay in the Alps

Here’s my idea of heaven, two weeks in Chamonix, in the summer, with my bike and with the Tour de France for company.

This year’s edition of the Tour de France pays two visits to the Alps, July 8th & 9th, after which the race then departs for the Dordogne, to return on the 19th July for another three days. If you like cycling, you like the mountains and you’d like to see what all the fuss is about when the World’s biggest and toughest sporting event rolls through the Alps, well, how about a two week break in the home of Alpinism, Chamonix.

Chamonix would be a good base to travel to either stage starts or finishes or even to find a place on route to watch close to 200 hundred of the worlds fittest athletes ride by in a riot of colour. Granted, you don’t get to see very much of the actual race as the cyclists pass so quickly, it’s all over in the blink of an eye but factor in the anticipation as the race approaches and the tension builds, the publicity caravan and the road side party atmosphere and believe me it’s a good day out.

Chamonix in full summer bloom

The best place to watch the events unfold would be on a climb, and there are many to choose from. You’d be spoiled for choice, especially on Wednesday 19th July as Stage 17, a 183km meander from  La Mure to Serre Chevalier takes in no less than four iconic climbs, the daddy of them all, the Col du Galibier would be a wonderful place to watch. Starting in La Mure, the peloton (the collective name for all the riders) traverses the Col d’Ornon, the Col de la Croix de Fer, the Col du Télégraphe and the Galibier. The rider leading the stage at the top of the Galibier will be awarded the Prix Henri Desgrange, (the founder of the Tour de France) as the race passes its highest point.

You’re guaranteed a party on the Galibier, it’s a mecca for cycling fans and the climb would be packed almost all the way up, all 18k’s of it, if you want to secure a spot near the top get there early. I’m not kidding when I say that camper vans from all over Europe start arriving a week early. The 2011 Tour climbed the Col du Galibier twice to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of the pass in the Tour de France, including the first ever summit finish. This was the highest ever stage finish in the Tour de France.

The epic accent of Col-du-Galibier

The average gradient is 10%, so obviously the riders pass a little slower and the peloton is more spread out as the lesser riders get dropped from the front group and grovel their way up in dribs and drabs. The publicity caravan, that precedes the actual race, takes quite a while to pass, gifts, sweets and keepsakes are thrown to the crowd from all manner of weird and wonderful vehicles. Fans set up BBQ’s, bring picnics and the alcohol flows freely, it’s quite an event.

In between the two visits, you have 7 days to explore the region. Summer in the Alps is wonderful, the sun is hot, the vegetation is lush and the scenery is magnificent. Tackle the climbs at your own pace and appreciate how fit the Tour guys really are as you ascend the same climbs at half the speed.

Chamonix is also a bit of a party town in the evenings. There’s a cosmopolitan crowd and the many bars and restaurants play host to people from all corners of the globe, can a globe have corners? There are a plethora of amazing luxury ski chalets in and around Chamonix pressed into service to cater for summer guests.

Sat 8th July – Stage eight: Dole – Station des Rousses 187km (Summit finish)

A lumpy stage is characterised by two categorised climbs in the final third of the day, culminating in an ascent to Station des Rousses.

At the finish line Station-des-Rousses

Sun 9th July – Stage nine: Nantua – Chambéry 181km (Mountains)

Starting at altitude in Nantua, the peloton faces a categorised climb from the gun up the Cote des Neyrolles, with the route also taking in the Col de la Binche and the Grand Colombier in the middle kilometres and the daunting Mont du Chat immediately before the descent into Chambéry.

Wed 19th July – Stage 17: La Mure – Serre Chevalier 183km

The first stage in the second visit to the Alps sees the iconic climb of the Col du Galibier as the penultimate ascent of the day. Starting in La Mure, the race tackles the Col d’Ornon, the Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col du Télégraphe.

Thu 20th July – Stage 18: Briançon – Col d’Izoard 178km (Summit finish)

A little bit of history for the 104th edition as the race finishes for the first time on the Col d’Izoard. The mountain has featured 34 times since 1922, but never has as stage finished on the climb. Interestingly, the Tour’s women’s race, La Course, will be contested on the Col d’Izoard this year – the first time in its four year history it has not taken place on the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées.

Fri 21st July – Stage 19: Embrun – Salon-de-Provence 220km

Shunning the tradition of recent years, stage 19 heads out of the mountains and towards the Provence region. A rolling stage may not shake up the general classification too much, though, as the riders prepare themselves for the following day’s time trial.

Rebecca Taylor is Director at SkiBoutique.

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