Thomson Tales

The Tour de France Grand Depart. The Crazy Intro to the World’s Craziest Bicycle Race


Each year the Tour de France announces a new start location for the following year’s race. Recently they’ve been alternating between locations in France and overseas. For 2019, the Tour de France Grand Depart will start in Brussels.

I have a special affinity for Brussels – or Bruxelles or even Brussel, depending what linguistic region you hail from. I grew up there, spending close on 15 years of my youth, and ending up racing with the local amateur cycling teams; you know, the ones with more sponsor names than jersey space. So I’m personally glad they’ve got the Tour de France Grand Depart. But this post is not about me.

So what’s to see?

The Thomson Grand Depart trip is designed as a spectator-only tour and will be led by the infatigable Jacinta. Jacinta’s been leading groups to the Tour de France for the last 8 years, and can get you into places even the Tour organisers don’t know about.

Aside from the Tour de France, the cultural aspect of the trip is also pretty intense, with opportunities to visit the historic center of Brussels – The Grand Place, Mannekin Pis; and the mighty Lion Monument in Waterloo – Scene of the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. We’ll also be taking you to see the Flanders cycling museum run by Freddy Maertens, former World Champion and rival to Eddy Merckx, who now works at the museum. With memorabilia from Eddy Merckx’s bike and Johan Museeuw’s jersey to a bust of Tommy Simpson, it’s a must see for cycling fans!

Brussels Atomium
The Atomium in Brussels

Back to the Tour

Well, we’re really here to soak up the race atmosphere and the anticipation surrounding the start. The day before the race starts we’ll attend the Team Presentation Ceremony. This superb experience will allow you to see all the teams before their grueling tour, get lots of photos and see every rider take the stage! It’s an amazing pre-race event with a really exciting atmosphere.

Stage One will see you at the finish as VIPs. As the race route is circular, you’ll also get to see the riders set off – we’ll get there early to get a space near the signature podium! The atmosphere amongst the crowds will be amazing! After the riders leave, you’ll head to the finish and enter the VIP area by the finish line. A tour of the technical village will take you inside the media and TV crew area and an opportunity to bump into Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen or Jens Voigt.

Stage Two this year is the Team Time Trial. And you’ll be seeing it from the Tour de France Relais Etape! The Relais Etape is situated on the course and lets you view the Time Trial in comfort. A 3-course meal, free bar, live coverage on TV until the cyclists pass right in front, it’s an exciting way to watch the race!

Stage Three and we also have access to the Team Paddock and Stage Departure Village. On Stage One, you’ve experienced the race from the fan’s perspective, now it’s time to experience the VIP side. The Departure Village allows you to mingle with team sponsors, riders and even bump into past winners of the race. Then, it’s onto our favorite – the Team Paddock is where all the cyclists and teams congregate pre-race. The area offers fantastic opportunities to get up-close to the riders and Tour celebrities, as well as giving you a first-hand view of the inner workings of the Tour de France. This is the place to get those all-important autographs and pictures with the Tour celebrities and riders. It’s one of the most popular moments on our Spectator Trips!

Join us in Brussels

We’ll be there for 7 days from July 3rd, 2019.  Check out the trip details and sign-up here.

Jens Voigt
You might bump into Jens Voigt
Jacinta McHale: Thomson Spectator guide
Our Superstar guide, Jacinta
Tour de France Grand Depart Presentation
Tour de France Grand Depart Presentation
Meet the riders
You can get this close to the riders at the Tour de France. Marc Soler pictured.