As the buzz surrounding the weekend's Tour de France action in London builds steadily, more and more people are asking where will be the best places to watch, especially during the Prologue individual time trial on Saturday afternoon. Unlike the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, where the best vantage points are well established, there's no obvious form to go on for this one-off cycling spectacular in terms of where to set out your viewing stall early doors, so we've been closely examining Transport for London's map of the event, published only in the last couple of days and featuring the final locations of various crucial amenities, to create the Londonist Guide to "Where To Watch the Tour de France Prologue 2007".
(See our post-Prologue suggestions for Five Lessons to Learn for the race organisers here.)
Best for Viewing Value
The trouble with watching the world's fastest cyclists is that you don't get to see them for very long. For most spectators, Saturday will be one super fit pedaller and associated vehicle entourage scorching past after another in steady succession. Get something in your eye and you might miss a couple. Not that you have to pay, but it seems to us that a great value viewing spot would be pretty much anywhere along Constitution Hill (pictured above), the only part of the course that the riders traverse in each direction. If you fancy a leg stretch after an hour or two there's a big screen nearby in Green Park and the upmarket refreshment temptations of Piccadilly just beyond if you've had enough of baking in the predicted sun. The area in front of Buckingham Palace itself will also give you a great chance to see outgoing riders hurtling by on one side while their returning brethren surge past you on the other towards the finish line halfway down The Mall.
Best for Incident
Let's be honest, here. Although we're all admirers of corinthian endeavour, what most of us like in our racing sport more than anything else is a good crash. Or a dramatic skid. A nosedive into a public monument would be a bonus, and if it was all happening at a calmer speed than pretty much anywhere else on the course that would be even better. We give you Hyde Park Corner, no stranger to prangs and near misses on any day of the year, but the lucky few encamped on its grassy central reservation will get to witness the riders shooting under the photogenic Wellington Arch (pictured above) before arcing right on a gravel surface that's likely to offer the stiffest challenge to stable equilibrium anywhere in the Prologue. If you miss out on prime spots there, try the northern edge of the roundabout where the competitors will emerge on their way back, driving for speed along the final run-in after negotiating what almost amounts to a chicane around the southern tip of Park Lane. This is our favourite of our nominated viewing spots and those who are unfamiliar with its geography can gain an excellent understanding from this aerial picture.
(See our Friday night update on the viewing situation at Hyde Park Corner / Wellington Arch here.)
Best for Entertainment
There's no doubt where Transport for London and Tour organisers Amaury would most like you to go, and that's the North East section of Hyde Park which contains the much heralded People's Village and its many and varied delights. As Mark Howell of TfL told us in his interview a few days ago:
From cycling displays and attractions to street entertainers and live music the People's Village has something for everyone. Exhibits include a French and British themed market featuring a huge variety of traditional produce. There will also be craft stalls selling French goods. For children there is a bike tryout area with experienced cycling coaches. There will also be loads of information for people wanting to find out more about cycling as a way of getting around.
There will be at least one big screen in that area and four more bordering the mile and a quarter long Serpentine Road, probably the fastest and most picturesque stretch on the course with the Serpentine lake itself providing a glorious backdrop to the competition.
Best for Wet Weather
The current forecast for Saturday is bright sunshine, which will no doubt cheer up the Wimbledon committee no end, but if the weather turns a bit nasty the place to be will be inside having a good old nosh up while gazing out onto the toiling athletes below. Victoria Street seems to us to have been included in the route simply because it was too expensive to construct ramps high enough to launch the riders straight from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace, but it does have the advantage of containing a number of eateries with upstairs windows. They're mostly chain places and mostly Italian and you'll almost certainly need to eat your own weight in pastries and pizza while guzzling a fountain of capuccino to keep your seat all afternoon, but it's a great alternative to doing the same thing on your own sofa in front of the ol' widescreen. Our star venue along this stretch would have to be the Albert Tavern which has an upstairs restaurant and is situated smack on the corner where the riders will swing onto Buckingham Gate. The management tell us they're already busy to bursting for Saturday, but that they anticipate you might have a chance of snagging a table if you time it right and are willing to wait.
(See our correspondent's experience of watching the race from the QEII centre here.)
Picture of Wellington Arch from Constitution Hill via askpang's Flickr stream.
Best for the Disabled
We're afraid you're only slightly better off than the customers of Thomas Hobson if you want to take advantage of the two special viewing platforms for disabled spectators in that they're at opposite ends of the Serpentine Road, though this does mean they are also handily placed for the facilities and festivities of the People's Village.
Best for Elbow Room
Looking over the course we were struck by the mile and a half drag to its western extremity along South Carriage Drive. The northern border of Knightsbridge is probably the least touristy bit of the whole route and we reckon the crowds will be thinnest beside the Hyde Park Barracks and down to the Prince of Wales Gate about a quarter of a mile from the high speed right hand swerve onto West Carriage Drive where further spacious viewing might also be found. Not far into Hyde Park itself there's even a pair of big screens along the South Carriage stretch.
Best for Tension
If you enjoy the thrill of the starting gun releasing an athlete into full flow you'll want to relive it again and again along Whitehall. There are even two big screens sited on its western side, though we're guessing that at least one of those is actually in Horse Guards Parade. If the tortured faces of sportsmen spending their last reserves of power in an attempt to grasp a couple of vital seconds is more your thing then you'll want to station yourself in the traditional event viewing territory of the western end of The Mall, though we think that very reputation will make it one of the most crowded places to try and get a glimpse of the action. In case you can't see a thing there is the consolation of two big screens on the northern side of the road and a third in St James's Park.