Miami photographer Alexander Aguiar traveled to France for the 2022 edition of the Tour de France. He shares with us some of his favorite images, as well as some travel tips and photography dos and don’ts. Pro tip: Go with your mom (if your mom speaks French).
Bike: Was this your first time watching the Tour de France?
Alexander Aguiar: In 2019, my mother and I went to the Tour de France. We had so much fun that it was itching to go back (I’m itching for the third time). It doesn’t hurt that my mom is French. It was helpful to rely on her for translations since I don’t speak the language very well. I have been to France other times with my mother; it’s also nice to connect with my family’s heritage.
Bike: Have you photographed other bike races or just tours?
guide: The 2019 Tour was my first time photographing any type of cycling. I shot it on film, and I kind of regret not shooting it with a digital camera…which motivated me to go back a second time. I don’t literally shoot the races. I love cycling and I find the Tour incredible, but I don’t know all the riders competing, I don’t know all the teams and I don’t know all the stats or rankings for each stage. Instead, I focus on embracing the event with an “outsider” perspective (even though I love my CAAD13, I don’t consider myself a cycling purist).
Bike: When did you book your ride? Where did you stay?
guide: We decided to go after the tour itinerary was released in October 2021. After deciding on the days/locations, we booked through AirBNB and sites like Hotels.com. However, it was not necessary to book hotels as early as we did. We had issues with cancellations and incorrect AirBNB listings. We were able to find rooms for the same night.
Book your car and flights early. But for hotels, I suggest pre-booking the first 2-3 nights of your trip and leaving the rest up in the air. The original reservations I made were not as convenient as they could have been and added extra driving time to the already long days. Things will work as long as you have a phone that can search the internet and make calls.
Biking: So you commute by car, not by bike?
guide: We rented a car at Charles De Gaulle airport when we arrived and I would recommend doing the same. But it makes more sense to finish the trip by taking a train to Paris and leaving the car at the nearest rental facility. We saved about 5 hours driving to Paris by doing this, which seems like a big deal when you’re driving non-stop for 10 days.
Occasionally you can park your car directly on the road used by the cyclists for the race. If road closures are a problem, pencil in a few miles of hiking. There were many days where we walked 8-9 miles, but I think we walked more than the average fan. Tour buses seem great if you want to take the logistics out of the equation. I can see this being really valuable for larger families with children.
Bike: What else would you or wouldn’t you do again?
guide: I would like to ride my bike or rent a bike; this would be a game changer. Many fans bring their bikes and ride through the stages, which I appreciated more this year. Aside from the cool factor of sharing the roads with the world’s best cyclists, having a bike also makes getting from the car to a viewing area much easier.
Aguiar Photography Lessons Learned
- Be friendly with the locals. They are useful with directions, viewing locations and parking in cities. Offer them a portrait in return.
- Take a bike or rent one in France. Many fans cross the roads before each stage officially starts and help get to places when the roads are closed to cars or when parking is far away.
- Pack baguettes, cheese and meat for snacks on the go. They are cheap and delicious.
- Arrive early at the location. This way you can meet other fans, wander around the cities, enjoy the scenery and manage to get your seat before things get crowded.
- Don’t expect everything to go well. Roads will be closed unexpectedly, GPS and addresses may be inaccurate. You just have to go with the flow.
- Don’t skimp on international cell service. You will need it for Google Maps, unless you are well versed in using actual maps.
- Don’t forget the insurance for your rental car! My first TdF experience resulted in an unpleasant rental despite being careful with the car. Streets that are usually quiet are busy.
- Don’t forget to take some shots and take the time to look at the site away from the race.
- Do not arrive without a language translator. You can use Google, a friend (or mom) who knows French, or practice your French before you go.