Stephanie Spitler
July 16, 2013 9:00 am

It happens every July. Hundreds of men go speeding down French roads on nothing more than twisted frames of carbon fiber. They climb up impossibly high mountains using their own strength rather than an engine, and then they elegantly descend down winding roads into picturesque valleys. Their ability to ride their bikes for hours a day, over three grueling weeks, is a testament to their endurance and athletic prowess. None of them are named Lance this year, so we’re not hearing a lot about the race over here in the US of A. But yes, it’s Tour de France time once again.

I admit, until a few years ago I didn’t know much about competitive cycling. If you’d asked me about the Tour de France, I knew it was a bike race in, well, France. But that’s all I could tell you. I didn’t know it was a stage race that lasted for three weeks, and I had no clue about the intricacies of strategy involved (evidently, there’s more to it than “ride the fastest and come in first every day”).

Even now, with a few years of watching under my belt, I’m definitely not an expert on the sport. But I do look forward to, and watch, the Tour every year. One reason is because I live with a cyclist who’s a huge fan (Tour time, aka July, is like the Superbowl every day for three weeks in our house). But another reason I love watching is because of the scenery. Seriously, it’s like your own personal tour of quaint, out-of-the way villages and off-the-beaten-path towns. It’s a weeks-long travel advertisement for the French countryside.

I’ve been to Paris several times, and Versailles, but I’ve never been to any other parts of France. But every year, watching the cyclists speed through mountain towns and coastal villages, I feel like I’m taking a vacation to all the parts of the country I’ve never seen in person. I get a birds-eye view of cobblestone streets and castle ruins in the countryside. I get helicopter tours of walled cities and history about medieval cathedrals (seriously, the commentators, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, are the best tour guides; you get to watch the cyclists while hearing tidbits about the towns they’re sprinting through. I think I’ve learned more about French history from watching the Tour than I ever did in school). There are motorcycle cameramen on the route with the riders, so I get to see the towns from their point of view.

Watching the Tour gives me endless ideas for places I’d like to visit and, since the route changes every year, I can always count on being able to jot down the names of small towns that never would’ve been on my radar otherwise. I get to plan (and preview) my next French vacation. And even if that vacation ends up being years away, I know that every July I have my virtual trip through France to look forward to.

Do you ever get travel ideas from watching a sporting event?

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Featured Image via Shutterstock

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