The Normans attempted to annexe Britain to the French continent during their conquest back in the 11th century. Now our Franco cousins are at it again, albeit without the same level of hostility from the natives, as the first three stages of the Tour de France are hosted in England’s green and pleasant land.
The first two days take place in Yorkshire (the Grand Départ sets off from Leeds), before the peloton rolls south for the third day on 7 July. During the 98 mile route, riders will set off from Cambridge, breeze through Essex before sprinting in to London, finishing on the Mall with echoes of the Olympic Road Race Finish two years earlier. We’re hoping that the British riders will have a more successful outing than they did in 2012.
The Tour is one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events and there are likely to be many thousands of spectators lining the capital’s streets a week today, eager to catch a glimpse of the world’s best including ‘Cav’ and ‘Froomey’ (but not ‘Wiggo’). With almost 100 miles of road to choose from, the question is: where should you go to get the best view? Luckily, we’ve compiled the top 10 places to watch the third stage of the Tour de France for you to take your pick from.
We’re oft told to start at the beginning. And so we shall. If you want to see more of the riders as they get themselves ready, then set off, Cambridge might be the place for you.
The centre of the festivities will be Parkers Piece where there will be a fan park and French market from 8.30am. The riders will set off from the nearby Gonville Place and the park will remain open until 5pm so you can enjoy the rest of the day. Details of the event and times are available from Cambridge City Council.
Trains to Cambridge leave from both Kings Cross (très rapide) and London Liverpool Street (ne pas très rapide) with journey times varying between 51m and 1h 27m. If you’re taking your bike, you may need to book it on the train in advance — check before you travel.
Departure time: 12.15pm
Compared to the hills of Yorkshire on the previous two days, Stage Three will feel as flat as Holland to the riders. There are a handful of hills on the route, however, which will slow the riders down, giving you the maximum amount of time to shout your support and capture those all-important pictures.
The first hill is just outside Saffron Walden. Head to Radwinter Road where the peloton will have to squeeze through relatively narrow B-roads (some even without pavements!) and riders will need to negotiate a series of tight-ish turns as they head up the hill. Parking is likely to be scant/non-existent so best to leave the motor at home. The hill is around four miles from the nearest station (Audley End — trains run here from Liverpool Street station) so you may want to take a bike — check to see if you need to book these on in advance. There are no facilities in the area so be sure to take everything you need with you.
Earliest probable arrival: 12.43
North Weald Basset
The second of the hills are can be found a little closer to London just before the riders pass under the M11 and make their way through Epping Forest — near North Weald Airfield. This hill doesn’t have a steep gradient, but continues on for a while with the summit just before the underpass for the motorway.
Following the hill, the riders will then make their way through ancient forest, which is managed by the City of London Corporation, as they hit the two-third mark of the stage. The nearest station is Epping, which is in Zone 6 on the Central Line. You won’t be able to take your bike with you on this line, so be prepared for a 45 min walk from the tube station to the crest of the hill; otherwise, use North Weald Airfield’s park and ride service.
Earliest probable arrival: 14.35
If you fancy somewhere a little more ‘refreshing’, then consider the Robin Hood pub a bit further in to the forest — although it is on a downhill section and so they’ll be belting it with dreams of wearing the Maillot Jaune.
Earliest probable arrival: 14.43
Spectator hubs (x 3)
Three ‘spectator hubs’ or fan parks will be in operation before and after the event. The flagship park can be found at Queen Elizabeth Park (International Quarter in Stratford), with further fan parks at both Green Park and Trafalgar Square. The parks, which are free to enter, boast large screens showing all of the action and are described on their website as “the perfect place for supporters to come together and celebrate cycling”. Additionally, there are retail stalls, cafes, bars and cycling demonstrations, although you won’t be able to see the action with your own eyes. They are however open until 11pm, so will be popular for those wanting to soak up every drop of the atmosphere.
Another option could be to watch it from the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit in Queen Elizabeth Park. OK, you won’t be in spitting distance of the procession; however, you’ll have a unique eye on the race (not to mention some unique pictures). From your lofty position, you’ll also be able to see them approaching long before anyone who is road-side would even be able to sniff them. The Orbit is open for bookings all day, although it will cost you £15 per adult.
Earliest probable arrival: 15.11
Those who have lined the final few miles of the London Marathon will already know about heading to Hungerford Bridge for great overhead pictures of athletes, and this is also a likely hotspot for the latter part of stage three of Le Tour. Our advice is to get there early, preferably with some sandwiches and a flask of tea. The race may be French, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy English comforts while you wait for the riders to appear on the horizon.
Earliest probable arrival: 15.39
Want to see the victor cross the line in a flurry of blood, sweat and spokes? The finish line takes place on the Mall and unless you’re the Queen – who can probably see the victor hold his arms aloft from her bedroom window – you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a space near here. Access to the finish line is limited to VIPs and Le Tour’s humongous entourage. Fear not however: as the riders turn on to the Mall, the almost grandstand-esque Duke of York steps should provide a more-than-adequate alternative to being on the line itself. As always, arrive early.
Earliest probable arrival: 15.42
Stage Three of the Tour de France in full:
- The Round Church
- King’s College Chapel
- Botanic Garden
- Little Shelford
- Little Chesterford
- Great Waltham
- Chipping Ongar
- Epping Forest
- The O2
- St Katherine’s Docks
- St Pauls Cathedral
- The Savoy Hotel
- St James Park
- The Mall
- Fitzwilliam Museum
- Great Shelford
- Saffron Walden
- Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
- Royal Docks
- Canary Wharf
- Tower of London
- Middle Temple Hall
- Houses of Parliament
- Buckingham Palace
- Trafalgar Square
To find out road closures and changes to bus routes, see Transport for London’s website.