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The world’s biggest bike race begins in Porto-Vecchio, Corsica, and culminates – after 3,404km of racing – in Paris on July 21. Here Ned Boulting, who has followed the past 10 Tours as a television presenter, picks the best places to watch it live.
Stage 13, Friday July 12, from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond (173km) Not perhaps the most obvious stage yet Tours is a wonderful starting point, with its half-timbered townhouses and lumpy Gothic cathedral – and I’ve seldom eaten better than here. Try to get accommodation right in the town centre, and soak up the atmosphere at the race “start village” after breakfast. Then it’s a short(ish) hop on the autoroute to get ahead of the race and watch what will probably be a sprint finish into Saint-Amand-Montrond – spectators may get to see Mark Cavendish ride out what will quite possibly be his fourth or fifth stage win. Most of the other fans will have been drawn to the Alps, so you can feel smug, and something of a Tour connoisseur. For information on hotels and travel see www.tours-tourisme.fr and www.st-amand-tourisme.com
Stage 15, Sunday July 14, from Givors to Mont Ventoux (242km) If you’ve never seen Mont Ventoux, the Giant of Provence, from up close, then you really should take this opportunity. Two things might occur in the race: a Frenchman might win the stage (thanks to the extra motivation of it being Bastille day), and there might well be a decisive showdown in race leadership on the mountain’s lunar slopes. Stay at the bottom in a gîte near Apt or Roussillon, or in one of the many little villages nearby. Then hire some bikes, or stout walking shoes, pack the factor 50, and head up the mountain at dawn. Climb as high as you can along the route – make sure you get above the tree line if you can. Then unpack the sardines, uncork the wine and let the action unfold in front of you. www.ventoux-en-provence.com
Stage 21, July 21, from Versailles to Paris (133km) For British fans, the prospect of a repeat of last year is enticing – a British yellow jersey and a British stage win. The Champs-Elysées belongs to Mark Cavendish – he’s never lost there, and intends to make it five consecutive wins. But that’s not the only special hook this year. The stage is due to finish at dusk, for the first time ever. The avenue will be floodlit, and there will be a huge fireworks display. If you can afford it, try to find accommodation in the Marais, somewhere near the Place des Vosges, because when the race is over, you will want to escape the crowds. That’s where we always head for a late-night end-of-Tour feast. www.parisinfo.com
Ned Boulting is the author of ‘On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation’s Cycling Soul’ (Yellow Jersey, £14.99) and presents the Tour de France coverage on ITV4