Learning to fall in love with the Tour De France

When Tom Moulton was offered the trip to see the tour first hand, he knew nothing and had little interest for the sport. Here he shares his tips on how to fall in love with this beautiful and ultimate race.

I love watching sport and I love cycling but until now I have never been a fan of watching cycle racing, or been swept along by the Tour de France. For me, cycling is a way to shoot across London and to tramp around the world. I am not that interested in watching other people do it. Football is my ideal spectator sport as I can see all of the game in one eye full, and 90 minutes is about the limit of my attention span anyway. On top of that, I thought British people who swore by the Tour were people who thought of themselves as a little too sophisticated to enjoy football.

This all changed when I was offered a trip to see the Tour by Garmin which would let me follow stage 8, Castres to Ax 3 Domaines, crossing the roof of the Tour. I showed off this fact on my facebook page and received a number of jealous and passionate responses. I realised I had a golden ticket and it would be wasted if I did not learn to love the Tour. For a month before my trip to the south of France I buried myself in the race. I watched previews, documentaries, quizzed tour fanatics and read everything I could get my hands on regarding this great race around France.

The result? I was wrong. The Tour is a beautifully subtle race that unfolds gradually for three weeks. It doesn’t just fall into your lap, you have to learn how to love it. Below are the tips I picked up on how – like me – you can learn to fall for the Tour De France.

1. Try to understand the sacrifice and pain the riders go through. The pros on the Tour ride hard for three weeks. This year’s ride covers 3,404km, dragging the riders over the Pyrenees and the Alps. Henri Desgrange (the father of the tour) originally planned to create a race so hard that only one rider would make it to the end, in Paris. To complete this, not only do the riders train intensively but they starve themselves, shedding stones months before the ride.

2. Learn when to watch. Don’t overdose by watching all of the coverage and swot up beforehand. Each stage is studied meticulously and any critical moments are predicted before the race begins. My favourite is 30km before the end of a stage predicted to be ‘one for the sprinters’ when the peloton swallows up a breakaway group and spits it out behind. Or simply just tune in for the big climbs and watch the highlights show after.

3. Don’t mention EPO. The tour came perilously close to drowning in drug shame and becoming a joke sport like body building. People in and around the Tour think the clean- to-dirty-riders ratio used to be 80:20 but now those numbers have swapped around. Put it to the back of your mind, enjoy the race and hope the UCI has stepped up at last.

4. See it live. For over 100 years the tour has captivated the masses of France and for the peloton to roll through your town is a great honour. Before the Race hits your viewing point, a fever brews along the road as people try to predict where it is by watching the helicopters above. When it does breeze through, you are cheek-by-jowl with the riders screaming them on. In no other professional sport can you get that close to the raw action.

5. It’s not just about the yellow jersey. The battle for the maillot jaune is a long grind. While the hopefuls duke it out for that historic jersey, learn to love the other tour prizes. Make sure you take in the sprint finishes, the climbs and the individual stage wins. These are big accolades that change hands more often and are fought over for the whole tour.

In August, Tom is cycling on his own tour, a 2300km ride around Britain living on £5 a day, coined as Poor de Britain. He’s attempting to visit all his friends and family along the way before he returns and starts his studies. You can see his route map here and follow him @tommomoulton and #pdb.