Remember Hal and Sarah, BikeTours.com customers who got engaged on their trip to Paris? Well, that journey was just the beginning of their time at the 2013 Tour de France Finale, a 3-day trip the duo won during the USA Cycling Professional Road Cycling National Championships in May 2013. They were then treated to a VIP weekend in Paris (where Hal popped the question!). Look back on their experience below.
After spending a few days in Paris to see the sights, the day arrived when we began the Tour de France VIP weekend we’d won through BikeTours.com. That morning we woke up and took a cab to our new hotel. The Hotel Baltimore felt grand as we walked through the door. The hotel staff was inviting and the room we were assigned was comfortable and spacious. We met with a group of people also attending the race for a drink at a local bar, The Frog XVII. The group we went out with hailed from England and the United States. After a walk around the area by the hotel and a quick nap, we met with the group again for dinner.
We had a delicious dinner at Philippe et Jean-Pierre. It was a 20-minute walk from the hotel in the early evening. Our guide Violetta explained to us she had lived in several countries — everyone we met seemed to be well-traveled.
The morning of the race we met in the lobby of the hotel. We were greeted with a private car taking us and one other couple to the Palace of Versailles. The ornate building was breathtaking to walk through.
After touring the palace, we met with a man named Francois who presented us with our VIP access passes into the Official Tour de France Village. Francois was an official of the race who worked with the company who puts on the race. He was so friendly and had the best mustache in all of France (I would be willing to put money on this!).
We walked through security and found ourselves in a sea of Tour yellow: posters, umbrellas, and booths. We were fed a delicious lunch as part of our experience — and it was authentically French. The Village was set up to be a hospitality spot for official sponsors of the race so there were plenty of handouts for people who love swag! There was also plenty of fresh fruit, pastries, and other French snacks, which was especially refreshing for us Americans.
Riding in an official race car
At 5:00 p.m. (an hour before race time), we met with Francois and walked over to the official Tour car. We hopped in the car with Burt and Mary Kay, the other couple in the car, and headed off to the race! Our 135-kilometer journey started with a sharp left turn and Francois announcing “We are now on the race course!” He then began honking the horn and waving to all the spectators that lined the streets. We all followed suit! As we approached the 0 KM marker for the race Francois stopped the car and allowed us to get out and take a picture. Proof that we started at the beginning of the race!
As we drove through the racecourse we rode through several kinds of stunning landscapes, from sprawling country to urban architectural brilliance. Francois took the time to answer all of our questions as well as tell us some things to be looking for during the race.
Pypo, the cycling fan clown
One thing he mentioned was that we would come upon a clown, named Pypo. He said that Pypo thought he was famous so we should ask him for his autograph so he feels special. As we pulled up to an RV marked with flags, Francois stepped out of the car and shook our clown friend’s hand. While none of us spoke much French, Pypo was so excited to see an official car stop at his sight that he jumped up and greeted us warmly! Pypo had pictures from past races, which even included several pictures where Francois’ group were featured. Hal and I walked around on the road and checked out the scenery on this section of the race.
As we started back to the car, Pypo brought us a hat full of sausages. Our initial thought “What a strange gift?!” but Francois explained the hat he put all the sausages in was famous and we were lucky to receive it as a gift. How exciting!
We hopped back in the car and continued our ride on the course! Still honking and waving, people were excited to see the official car because it meant the racers were going to arrive soon. The crowds kept growing and growing the closer we got to the finish line, and so did our excitement.
Paris spectator crowds
We pulled into the city of Paris and were greeted by what we deemed “Rowdy Corner” — better known as the Norwegian fans. They were loud and clearly having the time of their lives. Francois laughed and told us that he loved the Norwegians because they had such a good turnout for the race despite having no racers left in the last stage. We were blown away by the massive crowds of people piling onto the sidewalks, anticipating the riders’ arrival.
Finish line viewing
Francois parked the car and showed us to the VIP area of the race, at the opposite end of Champs-Elysees from the Arc. This was the perfect place to be for the 10 laps the riders would make at the end of the race. The hospitality area had a great spread of snacks and refreshments. Between the live television feed and being front-and-center, we were excited to see the riders fly by for the last 10 laps of the race.
Team area access
As the race ended, Francois walked up behind us with glasses of champagne to celebrate the finish! He directed us to an exclusive area where the riders’ team buses were located. This area was packed with action, including a handful of fans, a ton of press, and the riders. We were close enough to speak to the riders and touch the team bikes. It was very impressive access. We watched the podium ceremony from the center of Champs-Elysees as Chris Froome was honored as the 2013 Tour de France winner.
The night ended with Francois driving us back to our hotel after the race. He didn’t have to, but it was on his way anyway. Even after the race, everyone was respectful of the race vehicle and let us through streets that were closed to the public. We wished him well as he was headed to Brazil for a much-needed vacation after the conclusion of the Tour. Of all the guides we had, Francois was our favorite and really helped make our day at the race spectacular!
We walked back into the hotel still excited from the race. As we fell asleep it was hard to believe that the trip was over. We had to head back to the States first thing in the morning. What an amazing experience! From start to finish the whole trip was so much more than we ever expected. Sportspulsions did an awesome job of having the right people in the right place at the right time to make our trip perfect. The people were friendly, the language barrier wasn’t an issue, and we would be going home to plan our life together. I call that a fantastic trip! Thanks a million to BikeTours.com and Sportspulsions for the experience of a lifetime!