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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My wife and I are looking into guided tours for TdF 2011. We have been talking with a few tour companies about itineraries / prices. I'm leaning towards either Custom Getaways or Trek Travel. Has anyone had experience with either company? We were looking at spending 6-7 days during the last week of the Tour which should include the Alps and the ride into Paris. Most likely, we will be able to climb the Alpe d' Huez. Anyways, besides recommendations on tour company, I was also looking at bringing our own bikes vs renting in France. Trek provides Madone 5.2's. Custom Getaways arranges Kuota or Ridley bikes with rental rates about 250 - 290 Euro / week. If we were to bring our bikes, we would have to purchase hard cases (starting at about $300 each) and pay the additional fees for oversize shipping (varies between $100-150 per bike each way). So, shipping our own bikes would definitely be a little more expensive, but is it worth it to be riding your own bikes? Anyways, any input would be appreciated.
 

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Graham Baxter-cost effective tour company

i did the 2001 tour w/ Graham Baxter sporting tours and they were very good and very resonably priced. I brought my bike in a soft case and had no problems. I did their tour which was 10 days in the Alps. From my experience, they were much less than most other tour companies and didn't do a lot of hand holding. We didnt stay in luxury hotels or have a sag wagon but it was perfect for me. On my tour we had 3-4 buses hauling all the bikes in big trailers and we were given drop off points for riding 40-60-80 miles etc. I know people that have had good experiences with trek travel...possibly 3-4x the price but you get wine/cheese parties, helicopter rides and sag wagons galore...much more of a plush experience so really it depends what you looking for. If you want a cost effective tour company-at least back then, graham baxter, based in england, were very good and have been doing it for years. Most of the people on the tour were from england, australia and the US. I would rec'd bringing your own bike. i've used the same soft case for multiple trips to italy, france, belgium and spain without any problem- I think most european carriers tend to handle bikes better b/c they're used to it... but a bent derailleur hanger isn't out of the question so bring an extra one just in case- a good $15 investment from someone who spent 4 hours in rural holland looking for a ridley hanger with little luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the advice.

Trek Travel packages are definitely more luxury oriented (and more expensive). I think the 3rd week packages range from $5000-7000 per person but include bike rental. Custom Getaways packages are more reasonable ($3200-$4200 per person) for the 3rd week and include VIP entry into the start area, riding a portion of a stage on the same day (before the racers), and getting to hang out with the teams in the finishing area in certain stages. They also are very flexible in terms of ride distance, which is probably helpful since I'm riding with my wife and may opt to do the shorter rides on some days.

As for traveling with bikes, has anyone flown recently. I was looking into fees / regulations from various airlines. They pretty much all have a max weight of 50 lbs and a max linear measurement of 64 inches. Pretty much any hard case will be up around 88-90 linear inches and will be considered oversize. Are some airlines better than others? Does anyone still offer a bikes fly free program? I haven't flown with a bike for over 10 years, so I would appreciate anybody's more recent experiences with flying their bikes.
 

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I used Custom Getaways in 2009, but on just a 4 day tour. Having broken my leg a few weeks before the trip, I didn't do any cycling, but most folks on the tour did.

The bikes they supplied to those that didn't bring their own looked quite decent, but you'll have to evaluate which method works for you (and what the costs are).

The arrangements for viewing the finishes were quite good - generally large screen TV viewing was available, as well as live finishing straight seating. Except on Mt. Ventoux - where our catered roadside location was well over 5 miles from the finish; we saw the riders pass, but had to use the TVs for viewing the finish.

I also was able to ride in a team "follow car" during an ITT - pretty exciting (but presumably a substantial extra charge - which my wife gifted to me). (If you're on crutches, they'll probably insist that you sit in the front passenger seat!)

While the whole thing was quite an experience, which I'm glad I did (there's a bunch of interesting "backstage" stuff that you're not likely to see on TV), I doubt that I would do it like this again.

First, viewing road cycling races on the scene just isn't that great. You might see a total of 30 seconds of action (for a 6 hour stage). TV does a much better job.

Second, the logistics of following the Tour require a huge amount of time and effort (possibly long periods stuck in traffic, walking long distances (from the parking to the venue) - well they were long for someone on crutches, possibly having to drive far from the stage start/end cities to your hotel, etc.). On the tour there is almost no free time: breakfast, get on bus to go to the venue (possibly cycling part of the way), hang around the finish venue for perhaps hours before the racers come in (ok, there's sometimes some free time there), hustle to the bus, on to the next hotel, dinner (sometimes quite late), bed (at least for an old guy like me).

If I was to try cycling in Europe again, it would not be associated with a huge stage race.

Custom Getaways itself seems like a fairly good tour company - they really try to give folks a good experience. We had some folks on our tour that use them every year.
 

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One big issue on the bikes is if you fit a stock frame. Also what kind of gearing you have on your bike.

If you are fine on a stock frame it is a lot easier not to take your bike. The travel companies will also have the low gears you need.

I went to 10+ days of the 2001 Tour and think it is an experience every rider should undertake. I did not notice any hassles getting to where we wanted to be, but maybe it was because I was enjoying the whole experience so much.

I had not been riding for a few years and was in my 50s so my 39-52 gearing was painful. I think I hold the record for the slowest ride up Luz Ardiden without stopping.

Although you do not see the riders for very long the experience lasts all day. It starts with riders checking in before the race each day, riding on the course and getting a great position for that days stage. The advertising caravan is pretty amazing also. It was great to be with 100s of thousands of people on Plat d'atet the day Ullrich went off the road and over the handlebars descending on the previous climb. I was positioned at the first major turn on the climb near a huge TV so you could watch all of the action before the riders arrived.

Luz Ardiden was amazing too as Laiseka won the stage and the Basque fans painted everything orange.

On the final time trial I spent a lot of time on the final straightaway pounding on the boards.

Nothing but great memories.

Jeff
 

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2nd this opinion

The best way to watch the Tour is to be cycling in the general neighborhood but not on the same roads as the day's stage. As you cycle the day away, find any bar with a TV and watch the stage while you sip something cold. After the stage, finish your ride to where-ever you are staying. Once you see a stage in person, you say "been there, seen it....now where's the TV and the nice roads for me to ride on?"
 
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