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Corsica is the only region of France never to have the Tour de France pass through it but will have the honour of slipping the centenary event into gear, with this year's opening three stages; starting in Porto-Vecchio on Saturday, 29th June.
Drug scandals in the sport of cycling are wheeled out far too often in the media, but that doesn't stop Le Tour from being the number one road race on the planet; bigger and better than Olympic cycling. Perhaps because the event lasts for three weeks with plenty of emotional highs and lows for all to see.
Even if some of these men claim to have eaten meat past its sell-by date, or received dubious treatment from deceitful team doctors, there's something to be said about the effort needed to pedal up the steepest mountains in Europe; often with surging crowds almost denying riders a gasp of much-needed oxygen.
These are special moments to witness; live, or on the television.
With cameramen on motorbikes and tv crews shooting from helicopters in the sky, you are treated to different visual angles of the cyclists rolling through a varied French countryside.
A good commentary team on board can share a wealth of background information on the various chateaux, regional foods, and even something insightful about the cycling itself.
If you would like to follow the Tour de France online, here are some good places to start:
Tour de France on Eurosport:
The online Eurosport coverage takes place on Yahoo, which means you can easily add comments to Eurosport's Tour de France content if you're one of the millions of people with a Yahoo id.
Tour de France on ITV:
This is the live coverage TV channel for viewers in the United Kingdom.
While watching the race on television you may see places with a number in brackets. This number represents the French Department (département).
Tour de France on Social Media
Where to See The Riders For Real
The first thing to do is to look at the Tour de France route and see if the peloton will pass by anywhere you intend to be, or anywhere you would like to visit.
If you're using public transport, the departure and arrival points are often the easiest places to get to and there's always a party atmosphere when 'Le Tour' comes to town.
Last minute accommodation may be hard to find in 'stage towns' and large crowds can make it difficult to get good pictures, if you don't have a photographer's bib.
If it's photographs of the cyclists you're after, then it's better to stake out a place on the route itself.
This needs thinking about too; or you could find yourself waiting for hours, only for the peloton to pass you by in seconds.
Riders slow down at feeding stations and tend to go slower on the steeper inclines. If you're fortunate, you might even be lucky enough to have a bidon (water bottle) discarded in front of you; as we did, just after the Delle feeding station in 2009.
Getting Into Position
The official Tour de France website gives an estimated time schedule for each stage but not when the roads close; check out the local municipal websites for that.
If you have a camper van (RV or motor home) and want to park it on the side of the route, you need to find your spot early; sometimes the night before. Choosing this option also means you could be stuck in traffic jams for hours after the race.
You may prefer to study a local map and leave the car close to where you want to be but not on the route itself; for a quicker getaway.
Keen cyclists can always get themselves into good positions on the climbs and then beat the traffic jams back down to the bottom.
Waiting For The Riders
The Caravane precedes the cyclists by about an hour and a half.
This is when the decorated vehicles of the sponsors pass by; promoting their brands in something of a carnival atmosphere. When you see helicopters approach, you'll know the cyclists are getting closer.
If you're really interested in travelling around France to follow the tour, then you should consider getting your hands on a copy of Graham Watson's Tour de France Travel Guide.
The last stage of Le Tour, with its prestigious finish on the Champs-Élysées, is always highly attended. You may not get the best view of the riders at the finish but at least there's plenty of hotels in Paris and you can say you were there.
If you can get there early enough (the night before) the fountain by the final run-in is a good place to be. The Place de la Concorde is where the team buses are parked up and you may catch some of the riders around here after the race is over.
Tour de France 2013 - June 29th to July 21st:
1. Saturday, June 29th: Porto-Vecchio to Bastia.
2. Sunday, June 30th: Bastia to Ajaccio.
3. Monday, July 1st: Ajaccio to Calvi.
4. Tuesday, July 2nd: Nice (team time-trial).
5. Wednesday, July 3rd: Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille.
6. Thursday, July 4th: Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier.
7. Friday, July 5th: Montpellier to Albi.
8. Saturday, July 6th: Castres to Ax 3 Domaines.
9. Sunday, July 7th: Saint-Girons to Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
Monday, July 8th: Rest Day (Saint-Nazaire - Loire-Atlantique).
10. Tuesday, July 9th: Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint-Malo.
11. Wednesday, July 10th: Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel (time-trial).
12. Thursday, July 11th: Fougères to Tours.
13. Friday, July 12th: Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond.
14. Saturday, July 13th: Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule to Lyon.
15. Sunday, July 14th: Givors to Mont Ventoux (French National Day).
Monday, July 15th: Rest Day (Vaucluse).
16. Tuesday, July 16th: Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap.
17. Wednesday, July 17th: Embrun to Chorges (time-trial).
18. Thursday, July 18th: Gap to Alpe-d’Huez.
19. Friday, July 19th: Bourg-d’Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand.
20. Saturday, July 20th: Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz.
21. Sunday, July 21st: Versailles to Paris Champs-Élysées.
Who will wear the yellow jersey in Paris?
Chris Froome might have a chance if Team Sky can keep Contador at more than a bike's length. I'm also hoping Mark Cavendish can hold on to the green points jersey this year; maybe even wear yellow from Bastia to Ajaccio.
I'd like to get up to Mont Ventoux on the 14th (Bastille Day); fingers crossed!
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