Have you ever found yourself riding along or pouring over a copy of the TdF magazine, lazily daydreaming about riding the Tour de France route?
Well, if you're ready to turn your daydream into a reality, Le Loop will help you do just that.
Their annual event follows the entire Tour de France route, one week ahead of the pros. You can choose to do anywhere between two and all twenty-one stages of the tour, fully supported by mechanics, medics and massage therapists. At the same time, you'll be raising funds for the William Wates Memorial Trust, supporting some of the most disadvantaged young people in the UK.
We spoke to Kate, one of the organisers of the event, about what it involves and just how much training you need to do to cycle the Tour de France route!
Please note that the information in this article is based on the 2019 event. As the Tour de France route and prices changes each year, some of the information in this article will not be accurate in future years.
Part 1: The event
1. Tell us about your event - what, where and why?!
Le Loop follows the exact route of the entire Tour de France, one week ahead of the pros.
This usually means the very end of June through July. In 2019, we ride from Saturday 29th June to Sunday 22nd July. Riders sign up for one of our ‘Loops’: anything from two to all twenty-one stages of the Tour de France route. Either join us for the Pyrenees, or the Alps, the Grand Depart or anything in between. Just find the stages and the dates that work best for you.
Tour de France route 2019 (credit: letour.fr)
2. Why do people enter your event?
People ride Le Loop because they’re looking for a cycling challenge. Maybe they’ve been life-long fans of Le Tour and would love to cycle in the footsteps of their cycling heroes … maybe they’ve cycled a 100 miler and want to find out if they could get up and do the same again … and again!
Or maybe they’ve never done anything on this scale before and this is the challenge of a lifetime.
There’s a loop to suit everyone.
Some ride because they want their bucket list tick to mean more than just their own personal achievement. Le Loop was created by the William Wates Memorial Trust as their main fundraising event. Each year we raise, on average, £390,000 that is given by the Trust in grants to charities that work with some of the most disadvantaged young people in the UK, helping them to keep away from a life of crime and violence.
Our riders get the chance to meet some of the young people we’re helping and that inspires them to climb that next col and even make it all the way to Paris.
We also have a huge number of riders returning year after year. Why do they come back? Well the route is different every year of course – whatever A.S.O (the official TDF organisers) have designed for the pros, we ride – so they come to experience riding different parts of France. They also return for the legendary camaraderie on tour and the pleasure of a cycling trip where everything (apart from the pedalling) is done for you; from four fantastic and varied feedstops each day, to medical and massage support, and our cheery team of mechanics to fix any bike troubles.
3. What do people love about taking part in your event?
Time and again the same word comes up: camaraderie.
Yes, the route is incredible and watching the pros ride it one week later allows huge bragging rights and yes, the support on tour from our team is fantastic, but it’s the teamwork and friendships built out on the road that turn this into something so much more than just a sportive.
Every rider will have their good days and their bad days on tour. On a bad day there is always someone to offer you their wheel to hang onto and on a good day, there’s the opportunity to pay them back. We get through stages of the Tour de France route just as the pros do – by supporting each other through thick and thin. The fact that this correlates perfectly with what the young people are going through who we are supporting through the William Wates Memorial Trust is the icing on the cake.
4. What are the highlights of the route?
Every year of course is different, but for 2019 we’re looking forward to the extra extension to the Planche des Belles Filles (whether it will still be gravel, or have some tarmac on it in time for the Tour).
The Mur d’Aurec sur Loire on Stage 9 brought on slightly hysterical laughter from our lead cyclist Emily Chappell when she recced it last week. ‘It’s a beast’ according to Emily.
Stage 14 takes us up the Tourmalet which is a big tick for many riders. It’s a beauty of a climb. Stage 18 takes us over the highest paved road in Europe on the Col de l’Iseran, dropping down into Val d’Isere and back up to Tignes – it’s always quite good fun to ride roads where in the winter you may have skied. But this will be a beautiful, Alpine stage with stunning scenery in every direction we look.
But it’s not all about the climbs. Stage 5 in the Vosges may not be flat, but it’s nothing like the Pyrenees or Alps either. This region has a real Germanic feel with lovely architecture, leafy sweeping roads glorious smooth descents.
And of course the Grand Depart in Brussels will have beer, frites and waffles – what’s not to love?
5. What's the hardest thing about taking part in your event?
For the riders who take on the whole route from the Grand Depart to Paris, I honestly think the hardest part can be coming home! We live in a bubble for 3 weeks and the transition back to ‘normal’ life can be bewildering.
But of course before all that, to take on multiple stages of the Tour de France there needs to be a serious commitment to training through the winter which can be tough when the weather is grim. With busy lives, finding the time to put the hours in is also a challenge and it needs friends and family to be on board and supportive.
On the ride itself … getting enough rest is the challenge. Some years ASO give us a route that requires more early morning transfers to the next stage start than others. These all eat into critical sleep time, but our riders soon master the art of sleeping on coaches at the drop of a hat!
6. How fit do you have to be to take part in your event?
By the time you arrive on tour you need to not be phased by taking on 100 miles in a day. I don’t mean that should feel like a breeze … 100 miles is never a breeze … but it shouldn’t freak you out. You’re then going to have to get up and do that again the next day after all.
The speed of the group varies enormously and on a big mountain day we could be spread out 3 or 4 hours apart.
To help this along we ‘neutralise’ the first 40km to the first feed stop. This gives everyone the chance to take it easy at the start of the day, ride with folk you’ll maybe not see for the rest of the day and just warm the legs up.
Once everyone’s arrived at that first feed stop all riders are free to ride at their own pace. Quickly people find others going a similar speed and work together often in small pelotons. If a rider gets dropped, they just relax and wait for the next little group to come past and hop on the back with them. We have a back van but we won’t actually pull anyone off the course unless they are becoming a danger to themselves. Our team stays out there with the riders on a big mountain day until the last rider is in – which will probably be in the dark. They’re guaranteed a hero’s welcome when they come in to dinner!
It’s well worth getting some practice in during the winter at riding in a peloton so that you can take advantage of this on some of the flatter, faster sections of the tour. We run a couple of training weekends (free) in the Spring that are a great opportunity to gain those skills. Our lead cyclist Emily writes a monthly training blog for all our riders to help them build up mileage and endurance (physical and mental) through the winter and spring so that they’re in great nick for the start of the tour.
7. What are your top tips for anyone thinking of taking part?
Embrace the winter training – buy the kit you need to make that as comfortable as possible and for every mile in the cold and wet you can visualise the sunny roads of France in the knowledge that the miles you’re putting in now will pay off in spades on tour.
Come on the training weekends in the Spring – they will fill you with confidence and you’ll go home even more excited than you already were.
Embrace the fundraising aspect of taking part in Le Loop just as much as the training – don’t put it off – just throw yourself into it with enthusiasm and you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll hit your minimum sponsorship requirement AND how rewarding the experience will be.
Part 2: Your charity
8. Why do you organise this event?
Le Loop was created by the William Wates Memorial Trust as their principal fundraiser and as a way to remember William (who was killed during his gap year in Honduras in 1996 in a bungled street robbery).
Le Loop was first run in 2006 and 2010 for William’s friends and family, it was opened up to the general public in 2012 and hasn’t looked back. It's operated every year since and is going from strength to strength.
Each year our riders raise on average £390,000.
They pay the full cost of their ‘holiday’ to Le Loop, then have a minimum fundraising requirement that goes directly to the William Wates Memorial Trust.
On average, 28% of funds raised cover the Trust's overheads for running Le Loop. Our goal is to get our fundraising to cost ratio down to below 10% and we’re working hard to achieve that through corporate sponsorship.
Funds raised are given in grants to charities that work with some of the UK’s most disadvantaged young people, helping to keep them away from a life of crime and violence. They use sport, music, mentoring, the arts and education to engage with young people.
We give all our riders opportunities to visit the charities we’re supporting so they can see the work for themselves. This never fails to inspire them and redouble their fundraising efforts.
We also invite two young people from the projects to join us on tour – either to ride a stage (or as much of it as they can) or work with our support team. They and their support worker tell their story to the riders in the evening, giving our riders a chance to really understand what life is like for these young people. It is humbling and massively inspiring in equal measure: we all appreciate just how lucky we are to be doing something we love and that we have opportunities that we should never take for granted. Many of our riders tell us that meeting these young people is a highlight of their tour.
9. How much does it cost to enter?
The cost and fundraising depend on how many stages you will be riding. It ranges from £495 to ride two stages, with £800 fundraising, to £4,060 to ride all 21 stages of the tour with £3,000 fundraising. The majority of our riders are somewhere in between with a minimum fundraising requirement of £1,200.
Cost to cyclist
10 (including 1 rest day)
21 (including 2 rest days and a Paris supplement)
What’s not included?
10. Where can people find out more?
A big thank you to Kate for sharing these insights on the event. We think it sounds fantastic fun - and a brilliant charity to be raising money for.
Have you done Le Loop before? Or planning to do it this year? Drop us a comment below to let us know!
Want more event ideas?
If you're seeking inspiration for your next cycling challenge, but Le Loop isn't quite what you're after, check out our guides to these events which might suit you better:
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UK + Europe 2021
the Trans Andean Coast to Coast from Rat Race