Le Tour de France :: Paris Spectator’s Guide

Yesterday was the perfect day for the final leg of the Tour de France. The race which started in 1903 last three weeks and covers over 3,000 km around the country. For the final stage of the race, the cyclists make 8 “tours” along the Champs Elysées (it’s more of a hill than you realize). Like many experiences I’ve had in Paris, this too was a bit of a last minute excursion, but was so glad I made it. Tiffany‘s dad is a huge cycling fan, so in his honor she had grabbed a “spot” on the top of the Champs Elysées to watch the turn. I arrived a little after 4pm to catch the magic.

Typically there were a half dozen or so racers at the front of the pack who would take the turn first, followed by the pack. In the distance you can see the Louvre.

The turn was pretty impressive to see everyone do it together.

Each team had a designated car following them, should they need a repair. So at parts it almost felt like Nascar as the cars followed. It was as the cars made the loop that you realized what a tight turn it was.

I have to admit, with all the throngs of people several deep along the Champs – even for the final lap – I was surprised by how little noise/actual cheering there was. I think we were all trying to take too many pictures.

These guys snuck over one level of fences to get closer shots. A police officer was there – he totally didn’t care. Maybe I’ll have to try this tactic next year.

The kids seriously had the best view on shoulders. I intentionally wore shoes with a heel on them (note: most of these shots were taken blindly with my arm up in the air and aiming in the general direction!). It’s something I learned after watching the fireworks on the Champ de Mars one year. And added height really helps make a difference when trying to see or take pictures.

However, if wearing heels aren’t your thing, I saw several people with little bathroom stools (the kind kids use to brush their teeth), step stools, perched up Velib bicycles, or even a true ladder. This guy was kind enough to let people take pictures from the front of his. And I’ll have to do some more research, but I was shocked how few people were watching from the top of the Arc de Triumph (I’m guessing it’s open). Even the roof of Publicis (one of the big agencies on the Champs Elysées) only had a handful of spectators.

The spectators were out in full force, including ones smoking cigarettes while wearing a “live strong” bracelet.

Ultimately, Brit Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 race.

Watching the race along the Champs Elysées is nice, because unlike many other major events there is not the rush to the metro when it’s done, and it just filters out nicely. We grabbed a beer (1,50 Euro at a mini mart!) to enjoy the day and wandered back to the Champs. When we looked up a throng of bikers of all ages wearing yellow were having their turn at the final tour. Then each cycling team and car made their final loop as well.

This also included aerobatic (?) cyclists.

Proof for Tiffany‘s dad that she watched the race!

Tips for watching the final stage:

  • Don’t be afraid to push yourself forward in the crowds. If you don’t, someone else will.
  • Wear shoes that will give you extra height. It makes it a bit more enjoyable.
  • The commentary was hard to hear where we were standing, so maybe a radio would be cool to have. (With so many people, 3G on phones is a bit slower).
  • There will be a lot of Anglophones watching, so you can learn more about the race (or the winner when they check their phone) by chatting with them.
  • Beers from the mini mart are way cheaper than at any stand or restaurant. And in Paris it’s more culturally acceptable than in the US to walk down the street with one.
  • Wear sunscreen. I saw some unfortunately “pink” people by the end of yesterday. Sunscreen is your friend.
  • Make friends who work at one of the companies with a roof deck along the Champs. (Now that I think of it, it may be tough to see with the trees in summer? – Do your homework).
  • Next year I’d love to catch it as it passes one of the small towns of France. There are countless locations over the 3 week race where you can watch it. Sounds like a great excuse to see the countryside to me.

For more Paris spectator sports, click here for my guide to Roland Garros.


  • What Lindsey said :) I can never drag my ass out of bed, and always just think to myself “well… I’m not going to be able to see shit anyway being that I’m a dwarf and all.”

    Nice to find out what I missed!
    xx JNSQ

  • The funny thing is I had no clue it was yesterday until I was on the metro headed to the market and heard an announcement that the Tuilleries metro was closed for the event. Such a gorgeous day I couldn’t resist the excuse to be in the sun. It started like 20 min after I got there too, which was convenient for me.

    Lindsey, mark your calendar now for next year ;)

    Shannon, happy to be some vicarious viewing for you. Seriously though, consider a step stool for next year!


  • Oh wow – I would love to be in Paris for the finish of the Tour! Definitely high on my list! Avid cycling fan, I have been lucky to see the ProTour when they come to Canada, but the Tour would be the ultimate! I was glued to the tv yesterday as they did their laps on the Champs! So cool you were there in person!

  • Anita Mac, as with when I went to Roland Garros this year, I really didn’t know what was going on. But I think the anthropologist in me loves just figuring it out as I go. It seriously was the PERFECT day for it yesterday (as it’s just really starting to feel like summer in Paris).


  • Seeing a stage of Le Tour is definitely on my bucket list (this list is very long), and until today, I always thought I just wanted to see one of the mountainous stages. Now you have me thinking I need to make it a trip focused around the whole race. Kind of like how some people tour the United States going to many different ballparks in the summer. I would like to do both.
    Thanks for sharing, I love the man with the ladder! He’s quite smart!

  • I particularly like the picture of the woman wearing the Livestrong bracelet and smoking. (The guy with the ladder isn’t far behind.) Scenes like that make me miss living in Paris! I used to stop at the Champs Monoprix all the time for a cheap bottle of wine during big events-especially on the Fete de la Musique. It sure beats getting ripped off on that avenue and nothing says Paris like drinking in the streets. Thanks for the report!

  • Sonya, I love it! Happy to help instigate crazy (yet totally doable) ideas!! France is really easy to get around, it wouldn’t be that hard.

    Munya, that was actually her 2nd cigarette, but so happy I was able to capture it, and at a sporting event no less! And glad too to hear I have fellow street drinker ;)


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