The final stage of the 2015 Tour de France in Paris was everything the Nomad Newlyweds expected from a world class spectator event. Huddled together in the freezing rain wearing nothing but shorts and a blue poncho emblazoned with an Eiffel Tower is a small price to pay for an experience of lifetime.
Meredith and Andrew were joined by his mother, and spent three nights gallivanting around the city of lights. Wonderful picnic excursions, museums, cruising the Seine, and an unforgettable Stage 21 day, stationed along the guard rail barrier with fabled cobblestones of the Champs underfoot.
Andrew has been an avid television viewer of the Tour for the past 5 years. This trip was a dream trip that he looked forward to taking for many years. Every July he would muse, “I want to be on the finish line for the final stage of the Tour de France. Maybe next year …”
Next year never arrives unless you turn it into this year. Finally, 2015 saw Andrew cross off an item from his bucket list. Meredith hopes it won’t embolden him to want to return every year to see the Tour!
Stage 21 Journey
As this was our first time attending the final of the Tour de France, we did some homework ahead of time in order to secure the best possible viewing position. Unfortunately, some things you can’t entirely prepare for. There was an incident early on the morning of the Tour race day involving a man with a gun near the US Embassy, which is located very near the finish line in the heart of Paris. Needless to say, this meant an immediate increase in armed security guards and police. Their forward leaning presence was quite visible.
They cordoned off main areas and blockaded certain key routes near the race track, leaving spectators confused and lost as to where exactly we should go to watch the race. It was extremely difficult to walk around winding city streets that none of us had navigated prior.
After an hour and a half of walking – backtracking upon backtracking – we finally decided to plop our picnic backpack down and stake a spot. By that time, many of the prime guard rail spectator positions had been taken, and we were left with second row.
If this sounds like a war zone and too much for you to handle, don’t despair. It wasn’t that bad. Yes, it did seem like a mighty battle at times trying to hold your ground, stay warm in the rain and wind, and maintain civil conversation for hour upon hour.
Our advantage for second row was two fold:
- Added Curb Height – We were standing on a sidewalk curb, which added a few inches height for Andrew’s mom and Meredith. Andrew is tall anyhow and could pretty much see over non-flag waiving spectators
- Accommodating Neighbors – the people in your immediate vicinity can become valued allies. We started chatting with a few people around us, some of whom were on the front rail. Eventually, the had to use the washroom facilities. That’s when we swooped in and stole there spot! Just kidding. We all knew that we were working together to keep our territory. Believe me, there will be people who try to push right in front of you at the last minute – after you have been standing for 5 straight hours. Hold your ground. Politely (or forcefully in one case) explain that they cannot stand in front of you.
Our spot was near the Place de la Concorde in the final “S-curve” bend before the straight away sprint to the finish line. We were lucky in retrospect to secure this particular location. It had great line of site down the street, was right near all the buses where the riders congregate after the race for interviews and warm down (as well as autograph signing!), and had a wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. See the Google map below:
Late in the afternoon, a steady carnival noise approached. Through the visor of my rain poncho, I spotted a giant floating lion. I thought, this is it – he’s come to devour us all! Take pity on me, I don’t have much extra meat on my bones … go for some of the rotund British tourists nearby.
Luckily, he passed us by and made his way down towards the Arc de Triomphe at the far roundabout end of the stage. He must have smelled fresh meat down at that end.
The circus departed having whipped the crowd into a frenzy – as much as they could with patrons trying to warm their numb hands.
The main event was approaching fast. I relished in the moment and soaked it all up. Froome passed by, as did my new favorite cyclist Qunitana. All the riders in the Tour deserved our claps, cheers, and good will. I can only imagine the agony of cycling around an entire country the size of France over a three week time period. Inspirational athletes, all of them.
As Team Sky made their final victory lap, arm in arm, I felt uplifted to have reached a personal experience goal. The pain in my feet and legs faded away. All the shivers, tears, cheers, and even a few jeers were worth it. The highs and lows of the 2015 Tour de France finale were an amazing experience that will live with the Nomad Newlyweds forever.
Tour de France Tips for Watching Stage 21
- Get there early – camp out overnight if you have to! Seriously, you need to get there by 10 a.m. at the latest in order to secure the viewing spot that you desire. If not, you will be relegated to second or third row. Failing that, show up late and take your chances on finding a curb location, as above. You won’t have to stand for hours on end, and will still get a good view (if you are tall like Andrew!).
- Pack a Picnic Lunch – you will get hungry if you are standing around for any length of time. The 2015 Tour was on a Sunday, which further meant that none of the nearby grocery stores were open to grab something to pack for lunch. Plan ahead and pack your travel picnic backpack with lots of edible goodies. There are a few big name Parisian chain grocery stores nearby the race course such as Monoprix. Google and you will see the current locations.
- Take a Fold-up Chair – both your back and feet will thank you at the end of the day! Standing on hard concrete for many hours is exhausting. My feet have not been as sore as they were that night after standing, shivering, cheering, and finally walking back to the hotel room at 9pm at night. Many of the seasoned Tour watchers (or those who read travel blogs ahead of time) were smart enough to bring some type of collapsible chair.
- Plan for Weather – all types of weather. Even though it is Paris in July and should be hot and sunny, some years the weather turns cold and rainy. Unfortunately, Meredith and I didn’t bring much warm weather clothes over to London on our house sit for the summer as we weren’t expecting to be out in cold weather. The rain and wind conspired to make it a somewhat miserable time standing around to hold our ground on Tour Stage 21 day. On the other hand, exceedingly hot weather and sun beating down on us would likely have required shade of some kind. My advice: take an umbrella for both the rain OR sun!
- Make friends with your fellow rail birds – its both fun and lucrative. Getting to know other spectators from around the world who are also cycling enthusiasts is a fun thing to do. Plus, you never know when they have to go to the bathroom (or YOU have to use the facilities) and can hold each others front row locations.
- Don’t Forget Your Camera – This is kind of a no brainer. Make sure that you don’t forget your camera at home or in your hotel room! And, ensure that you have charged the battery and done whatever else you need to in order to capture some great photo memories.
- Binoculars – A good idea is to pickup a pair of travel binoculars. A nearby couple had a pair and they were useful for viewing the distant jumbo screen in order to watch the action unfold.
(click for larger image)
I asked my mom to write a few comments from her perspective on the race day and here is what she wrote:
An Experience to Remember
By: Annabell Shackleford
“The day finally arrived, after years of talking, planning and watching the Tour on TV with Andrew. I expected enormous crowds of people on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, but certainly underestimated the magnitude of the entire day – police presence at every corner, cameras rolling on high wires, jumbo TV screens, miles and miles of railing barriers and closed-off streets along the route, endless stands selling Tour memorabilia, no bathrooms, no garbage cans, but plenty of rain!
“Speaking of rain – I live in a very rainy city in Canada, but I can say, with some degree of honesty, I have never seen a downpour of rain last so long and with such intensity as it did on the day of the Tour. Coming from a rainy city, it is commonplace to always carry an umbrella; however, the rules appear to be different when one is traveling. In desperation, I hightailed it to the closest stand selling ponchos, and bought three at a very inflated price. They were life-savers, as the rain continued all day until about 6 p.m. when the cyclists were entering Paris, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and all the misery of standing in the rain was soon forgotten!
“As the cyclists approached, the excitement grew to a feverish pitch. It was a moment I had thought about for so many years, and to think I was now watching in person was unbelievable. I waved my Canadian flag with great vigor – I guess I was hoping our Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal would actually stop and acknowledge it – silly me!!
The riders flew by in a blur a total of 10 times, each lap more exciting than the last, and luckily we were able to make out some of our favorites.
“The pièce de résistance actually came after the race! As we wandered down a side street to make our way to the subway, we spotted the team Cannondale Garmin bus! As the riders handed off their bikes to be mounted on the bus, and as each one entered the bus, we thought for sure we spotted Ryder Hesjedal! I asked myself, ‘did I come all this way to Paris to leave without an autograph?’
“Since I already knew the answer to that pressing question, waving my flag, I chanted ‘Ryder, Ryder, Ryder’ in the loudest voice I could muster, while Andrew and Meredith quietly shrunk to the ground in total embarrassment. The tune changed when we got the autograph from Ryder. Suddenly they were all over it, excitingly pawing the flag, laughing and waving. Brought me back to my days cheering Andrew on at ball games, much to his dismay!
“With feet that were heavy with soaked running shoes, cold, and starving, the walk to the subway was long and agonizing, but we were elated with our day and our prized flag possession. It is strange how you can have such a happy heart, even when you are otherwise bedraggled. All the way back to our hotel, our only concern was whether our favorite patisserie was open so we could get a croissant?!”
Where to Stay in Paris
For the four nights that we stayed in Paris our accommodation was the well situated Novotel Paris 17th. For three people staying in one room with 1 queen bed and 1 sofa bed cost $561. Considering we only booked a few weeks before we departed, in the prime of summer tourist season, we got great value for money. Many other hotels in the area cost a lot more.
For other hotels in Paris, check out Booking.com Paris. They have a great range of hotels to suit all budgets, with FREE cancellation on most rooms.