Getting to Le Grand Départ

They may still be testing the syringes used by riders in the 2009 Tour De France but that hasn’t stopped the organisers announcing the course for the 2010 edition. And it’s a cracker. I didn’t much care for this year’s figure-of-eight route with its anticlimactic ascent of Le Ventoux and total neglect of northern France which – with Brittany – is really the home of cycle sport à la Francaise. 2010 makes up for the omission with a Grand Départ in Rotterdam and four days winding along the roads (and over the cobblestones) of northern France, before branching east into the Champagne region.

Then come the Alps and an extended stay in the Pyrenees, climbing le col du Tourmalet not once but twice, in honour of the centenary of the first time Le Tour featured the climb back in 1910. Of course it was not uncommon for holidaying cycle tourists, men and women both, to ride over the Tourmalet and the other cols of the Pyrenees years before the Tour ever did. So potent is the self-mythologising of Le Tour I expect to tire of commentators informing me that Octave Lapize was the first man to summit the Tourmalet on a bicycle.

But back to the opening weekend, which strikes me as offering a great opportunity for a little jaunt across the Channel. Bike Show contributor, Bob Dylan buff and sometime journalist Matt Tempest has already expressed his delight at the prospect of “watching the Prologue in Rotterdam with a big fat one” (by which I assume he not referring to a Dutch version of the Camberwell Carrot but to the splendid hookers immortalised in Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam). And who am I to disagree? But how to get over there for all the fun?

For us Londoners it’s obvious: Eurostar. It’s a little known fact that a ticket to Brussels is valid to any station in Belgium so I suggest buying one (they start at £29 single) and changing in Brussels for a train to Essen, close to the Dutch border. From there it’s a 65km flat run to Rotterdam. Folding or separable bikes are free on Eurostar, non-folding bikes cost £20 each way but are nowadays taken on the same train as the passenger, so there’s no delay like their used to be.

For those of an Northern or East of England persuasion, the ferries to Rotterdam / Hook of Holland are an exciting alternative to the horrors of the low cost airlines, the violence of the baggage handlers and the guilt of avoidable carbon emissions. Single fares from Harwich to Hook of Holland are £29 but if you go on a night crossing you’ll need to get a cabin which can cost extra, though is quite nice assuming you are not travelling with friends whose feet pong like a ripe camembert. Bikes are free on the ferry and from Hook of Holland it’s just 30km of dockside riding into the heart of Rotterdam. I’m not sure about the fares or timetables on the route from Hull to Hook of Holland or from Newcastle to Rotterdam.

Once in Rotterdam, and having left Mr Tempest to his Bacchanalian reveries, it’ll be time to hit the road. The good news is that it will be very easy to follow the Tour for the first four stages as the route criss-crosses back and forth across the lowlands of Holland, Belgium and into France.

parcours

Brussels, the much-overlooked capital of Belgium, will be a “super-ville-d’etape” with both a start and a finish, and this will be spectacular. As well as watching the racing there’ll be plenty of time for sampling the famed pavé of the cobbled spring classics, stopping off in at the town of Oudenaarde, home to the Flemish museum of cycling, all the while keeping up the energy levels by consuming vast quantities of beer, chips and mayonaise. For a return trip I’d suggest a train back from Lille, allowing some time for a visit to the venerable velodrome of Roubaix. If you ask nicely you might even get to ride a lap of the track and check out the showers like I did earlier this year.

I’m sure there are other ways of getting to see Le Tour 2010, so why not share your ideas in the comments. Tous en selle!

  • MarkD

    You can take bagged bikes for free on Eurostar:

    http://www.eurostar.com/UK/uk/leisure/travel_information/at_the_station/bicycles.jsp

    If it’ll fit on the luggage rack you’re all set. I’ve taken a regular, full-sized bike on 4 Eurostar trips with no more than the odd dirty look.

    If you don’t want to fork out for an expensive bag I thoroughly recommend the CTC’s fine plastic bag for £6.99:

    http://www.wiggle.co.uk/p/cycle/7/CTC_Plastic_Bike_Bag/5360041697/

    It folds to the size of a newspaper for easy carriage at your destination. If your ride is point-to-point, post it ahead for later collection.

  • Jack

    MarkD: That’s a fair amount of dismantling as a normal rolling bike bag wouldn’t fit on a luggage rack.

    So both wheels off so too any mudguards, racks, probably also handlebars, saddle and seatpost. I’m also a big fan of the CTC plastic bag.

  • MarkD

    Yes, good point. I’ve only needed to turn the bars and take the wheels off (and only the front last time) but for bikes with ‘guards and racks the £20 option would definitely win.

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