This year we have Emily Collins joining Tour de France trips. Emily is a former professional New Zealand cyclist and ongoing ride guide living abroad in Europe.
Having raced and ridden throughout France as both an athlete and a guide, she has a few tales to tell from her experiences and some fond Tour de France memories...
It is ‘the’ must-do experience for any professional racer, cycling lover or traveller covering some of the best, most challenging roads for cycling and Europe’s most talked about, stunning regions; it’s the big lap around France or better known as the Tour de France.
As a former professional racer myself and a current cycling tour guide, I’ve certainly got a tale or two to tell and some special memories kept from my cycling adventures in France and experiencing the Tour.
My first taste came in 2010 soon after my arrival in Holland to join a club team and give the cycling game a crack abroad. I was not only a young, aspiring racer, but a mad fan of all things cycling - so when the Tour de France Grand départ was kicking off just kilometre’s away in Rotterdam with a prologue, I was ecstatic.
Safe to say, my first experience was nothing short of great. The streets were lined with yellow, cowbells blaring and atmosphere humming. I took It all in and looked on in awe as some of my biggest sporting idols took to the streets in style displaying pure profession and finesse from turn to turn. What amazed me most was how close spectators could get to the action, just steps away from the athletes; certainly a privilege for fans and unique to very few sports. The experience was one for the memory books and ensured I was glued to the television for the next three weeks to catch all of the Tour action.
Throughout my racing career, I ended up travelling to multiple different areas of France and although there was no women’s Tour de France, I was lucky enough to take part in ‘La Course by Le Tour de France’; a one day race directly prior to the men’s Grand finale into Paris. I lined up for the first edition in 2014 and loved every minute out on that pavé; from the cultured, historic surroundings to the electric roaring crowds - a constant buzz of excitement and cheer. Motivation and ambition was at its peak and I smiled from ear to ear - start to finish, albeit through gritted teeth and suffering. There was something seriously special about racing a bike along the Champs-Élysées’ and being part of the Tour de France circus.
I returned several times for training camps, but only truly got to experience the best of France when I hit the Alps as a cycling tour guide. The French Alps are highly rated world wide as one of the best travel destinations; not only for the incredible natural scenery but for its rich history. Lined with stunning mountains, lakes and waterfalls, there’s no doubt the Alps have it all for anyone with a love for the outdoors and as an avid cyclist, riding through the Alps was simply as good as it gets. Climbs for days and views that could never disappoint, followed by pitstops in charming town after town, rich in French culture and history. Undoubtedly, not only an ‘active’ holiday destination, with the delicious French cuisine, wine, arts and culture also popular points of interest.
Highlights as a rider would have to be climbing the iconic Alpe d’Huez and enjoying each of the challenging 21 switchbacks to the top. The climb itself was incredible and views a top all worth the efforts. Secondly, riding up the Col du Galibier ahead of the 2017 Tour de France stage. The climb and views were again stunning, but the atmosphere was what really made the experience. From km 0, dedicated fans lined the climb sporting different colours of the peloton or waving proud country flags. Barbecues a-light, beers and French baguettes in hand and an excited, constant chant of ‘allez allez’ in the air. I rode up at a leisurely pace, taking in each section and soaking up the atmosphere to arrive kilometre’s from the peak and await the stage to pass. Riding the climb ahead of the race was a neat experience and only made us cheer louder for the professionals in understanding the suffering they were having to endure for 21 consecutive days. They passed in waves with the climbers and General Classification contenders blazing past within the blink of an eye, attacks flying right before our eyes, to the ever entertaining gruppetto - happily accepting cans of coke to get through yet another gruelling day in the mountains ahead of time cut.
I am now thrilled to be returning for more of those special Tour de France moments and this time round, with the Mummu Cycling team on their upcoming Pyrenees and Alps trips. Bring on some great race viewing, riding and most importantly - good times!