For the 92nd time, the Tour de France has started. This three week cycling race is one of the biggest sporting events in the world and undoubtedly the toughest on the individual participants. No professional cyclist wants to finish his career without having "made it to the Champs Elys?es". And every single one of them has had dreams of winning the Tour. Very few will. In the current edition of La Grande Boucle two participants have tasted victory before and hope to do so again. Favorite, and record holding six times champion Lance Armstrong from Austin, Texas will be facing Germany's Jan Ullrich and 187 other riders from 28 different countries. On July 24 the winner of the Yellow Jersey will be known. When asked who would win Ullrich answered: "The Best".
The Tour de France wouldn't be as big as it is without it's millions of fans around the world. Most watch the Tour on TV and of course one can see all the spectators by the side of the road cheering on their favorites, especially in the climbing stages, where one wonders why not many more accidents happen. Fans crowding the road, not wanting to miss any of the riders and often not stepping back until the very last moment have on some occasions influenced the outcome of a stage.
Not seen on television are the thousands of active cycling enthousiasts who follow in de Tour's wake. From all over the world people come to France and on their bicycle they ride the same stages the professionals have traversed only days, sometimes hours before. Some of them come back every year. The entire year they spend training, not unlike the professionals, in order to ride the more than 2200 miles of the Tour. And for them there are no flowers or Yellow Jersey in the end, but there is the recognition of their peers and their sense of accomplishment. And of course they have gotten to enjoy the gorgeous scenery, the terrific French cuisine and wines and an active vacation. A side note for newbies, the small Inn's and restaurants in out of the way places often give the best bang for the buck.
Most of the active Tour followers don't have the time or desire to cycle around France for three weeks. They select certain parts of the race to hook up with it, depending on their interest in surroundings or strengths in what terrain suits them best. Not everyone can ride uphill and still enjoy him- or herself. The rest of their holiday is spent finding their own routes, camping out, enjoying lots of what France and the rest of Europe have to offer to biking lovers.
One of the main reasons Lance Armstrong has won six times is the almost obsessive perfection in his preparation. Armstrong said in his press conference on Thursday prior to the Tour de France 2005: "For me ?t's not a promenade around France". If you take a cycling holiday, be it in France or anywhere else in Europe or the world, and to you it is a promenade, a little but serious and well-informed preparation goes a long way.
Rob Bout is a long time Tour de France and cycling enthousiast. For more information on cycling vacations and the Tour de France visit http://biketravelinfo.com/