Three weeks and 3500km – think of it as the ultimate European road trip. The world’s most famous bicycle race pushes its competitors to the very edge of endurance (it has been compared to climbing three Everests and running a dozen marathons) but for the travelling circus that follows the riders, it’s just a great excuse to experience beautiful French countryside. It typically starts in a neighbouring country before the pelotan makes its way throughout France, with stops in Barcelona and little-known gems like Andorra. Following the caravan, you can expect to meet outrageous characters and encounter millions of people who line the route.
The four main events or ATP Grand Slams are held in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York. Each tournament offers something unique for the tennis traveller. Melbourne is a sports-mad city, enjoying scorching temperatures often resulting in heat-breaks for the players. The crowd loves the underdogs, and the shade of their umbrellas. Roland Garros in Paris is played on red clay, with the French always rooting for homegrown players. Join them, and you might find a great improvement in service! Wimbledon is the most traditional of the Slams, suffused with strawberries and cream, champagne, and overnight line-ups. New York is the most daring, with arguably the most vocal crowd, and stadiums packed with celebrities.
Speed, money and power converge in the world’s richest sport, the highest class of auto racing, precision, technology and driving skill. There are between 17 and 20 FIA Grand Prix’s held each year, in destinations as diverse as Malaysia, Hungary, Brazil, and Turkey. For weeks before, cities like Shanghai, Singapore and Abu Dhabi get caught up in the frenzy, wooing massive crowds cheering on their Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull favourites. Billions of dollars are spent on cars every year, capable of achieving speeds of up to 360 km/hr with an ear shattering roar. My pick is Monte Carlo, home of a famed street circuit lined with stylish crowds, overlooked by the world’s wealthy elite. Indy Car and NASCAR races also deliver their own thrills and atmosphere. Don’t forget to pack a pair of earplugs!
Every four years, over a four-week period, the best national teams in the world join together to battle for the greatest prize in football. For a sport that crosses the widest of social and economic divides, the World Cup Finals is nothing short of a religious holiday. Business shut, traffic vanishes, and nearly a billion people tune in the most watched sporting event in the world. In 2014, soccer-mad Brazil once again hosts the finals, the biggest sporting event in the world. It’s a unique moment in the country's modern history, where adventurous travellers will be able to experience the best of the country.
Both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the world coming together. Host cities spend spend billions on construction and infrastructure upgrades to host what is effectively a non-stop party. Being able to support Team Canada (and Team South Africa) is secondary to the spirit of the event.
It’s billed as the “Most Exhilarating Two Minutes in Sport”, a thoroughbred horserace that has captured the imagination of the world. Inaugurated in 1875, the race is the main draw card for a two-week long Kentucky Derby festival that includes the Great Balloon Race, the Great Steamboat Race, and an assortment of music and cultural events. Writer Hunter S Thompson once used the race to capture the essence of the American south, and visitors might take heed when they read his seminal “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”. Whatever you find in Kentucky, soaked in its mint juleps and tradition, chances are it will be a world away from the world’s richest horserace, the Dubai Gold Cup.
The four major golf tournaments create a sporting mecca for both players and fans. The US Masters in Augusta, the Open Championship in St Andrews, the US Open and PGA Championship bring the world’s best players together, along with those that would pay good money to see men hit little white balls into little shallow holes. Securing a ticket is expensive, or sometimes not even possible. The Masters only makes tickets available to club patrons, but you can enter a lottery to see Tiger Woods on the practice rounds. If golf is your ticket, it might be easier to attend one of the less prestigious Open tournaments, held in over two-dozen countries annually.
Following the pro-surfing or windsurfing circuit combines two crucial elements for the weary sport traveller: the atmosphere of a major sporting event, with the bonus of being on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Throw in string bikinis and tanned hunky surfers, and one could do worse than hop on the ASP World Tour, annually visiting top beach towns in Brazil, Tahiti, Australia, South Africa, Spain and France.
I don’t have the space to explain the rules of cricket. Yes, test cricket can last five days without crowning a winner, and yes, there is a position called the Silly Mid-On. Hugely popular in England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Australia and the West Indies, if you ever find yourself in one of those countries with the opportunity to catch a match, do so. As a local explains the rules (which are quite easy once you slow down a bit) you can soak in an electrifying atmosphere of exploding cherry bombs (South Asia), steel drums (West Indies), BBQ’d boerewors (South Africa) or beer swilling songs (Australia). When India meets Pakistan, it’s nothing less than two countries at war, the tension so thick it could bowl you over.