Anyone can test their mettle on the 21 switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez and surge toward Paris along the Tour de France's winding route through Provence, but working out the logistics for such a trip might prove more exhausting than the pedaling. We respectfully suggest signing up for one of these bike tours, which handle all the mind-numbing details, from schlepping your luggage to manning the sag wagon so you can focus on your race against yourself.
But these tours are notable for more than making riding through the landscape that shaped modern bikes pleasant, since each one ensures that the rider makes it to key points d'observation when the actual Tour de France peloton flies through, meaning you could be watching and – in your own way – participating in the 2014 Tour de France. Book fast for next year's Tour, since these trips begin to fill up as soon as the new champion makes his way down the Champs-Elysées.
A no-frills outfitter based in the Pyrenees, PyrActif is known for offering authentic cycling tours at an excellent value. Its Tour de France tour focuses exclusively on the Pyrenees stages. It kicks off with two guided days riding stages 8 and 9 and viewing the race at key vantage points. The rest of the trip is a mix of guided and self-guided rides on some of the best routes in the Pyrenees, including its most epic climbs: Tourmalet, Aspin, and Superbagnères, and a day across the border in the Spanish Pyrenees. This is the trip to do with your cycling buddies, who've otherwise "been there, done that" in the French Alps and Provence, or who want to mix in some other outdoor activities besides biking. Instead of a ride, PyrActif can substitute hiking, kayaking, rafting, or climbing. Accommodations are chambres d'hôtes (guest houses) or 2-star hotels. Rent from PyrActif's small fleet of titanium, aluminum, and carbon-fiber road bikes for $33 a day, plus a $38 cleaning fee and a $388 security deposit. [All-inclusive, starting at $1,275 for 9 days/8 nights; pyractif.com]
Credit: Courtesy PyrActif