No one tells this story better than the riders themselves.
We show all the riders’ blogs and vlogs (that’s a video blog, to anyone over the age of 40!) from the most recent year (or at least, the ones they tell us about!), and the best blogs from earlier years. So if you haven’t already done so, settle down with a cup of tea and a biscuit and catch up on a few.
This will be the Tour that is remembered for just how tough the first half was. With a huge amount of climbing, long (regularly over 200km) days and temperatures that tipped 35 degrees on more than one occasion, the opening stages from Brussels into North West France made for a challenging first week…
Though however tough it was, the cycling was glorious and the Le Loop peloton quickly found its feet with plenty of banter and new friendships.
Riding through the vinyards of Champagne was an early highlight, followed by the unexpected fun of perfect weather for stages 4, 5 and 6. We cycled through Alsace-Lorraine with its Germanic architecture and language, quiet roads, perfect tarmac, vinyards and gradually tougher climbs and by the end of the ridiculously hilly (for the first week of the Tour) stage 6, found ourselves summiting the Planche des Belles Filles with its extra, super-steep finish, new for 2019.
Onwards we rode through Macon and St Etienne (more vinyards and more time for group riding, relaxed feedstops and tour routine to set in) for what the tour calls the sprinter stages. You learn quickly on tour that ‘tout est relatif’: if you count 215km with 2500m of climbing as ‘flat’, it makes everyone in the group describe 170km with only 1500m of climbing as ‘an easy day’.
By the time we reached our first day in Albi, we’d completed 10 full stages and were more than ready for a break; to rest, recover, eat, have a massage, tinker with bikes, clean our clothes and treat ourselves to a long lunch, an afternoon nap and a wander around the beautiful town. This is no doubt not dissimilar to what the pros get up to on their rest days, minus the media interviews!
South we continued on stage 11, heading for Toulouse and still battling the heat but knowing that cold days or wet days are way harder, and this was a tour that saw neither. Stage 11 was incredibly picturesque, with some in the peloton nominating it as the most beautiful stage of the tour.
Once out of Toulouse on stage 12, the Pyrenees came into view, giving us amazing views and a small shudder at what was to come, namely the Col de Peyresourde and then the Hourquette d’Ancizan (both over 1500m) before descending into Bagneres de Bigorre for dinner. Now we were happily settled in the Pyrenees, the Tour gave us the brief respite of a time trial stage (a leisurely morning out in Pau with a surprisingly rural and gentle ride) before we took on stages 14 and 15, designed to test the pros and certainly providing at least as much challenge and trepidation for us…
This is Le Tour – and what the pros do, we do. For the riders who joined us for Pyrenees and Pyrenees Lite loops as well as those cycling for longer, it was a unforgettable few days. These stages provided plenty of glory, first in the form of the Tourmalet under clear skies and with breath taking views (a rarity for us on this epic mountain top that is all too often clouded in mist and rain), which is where we slept for a night in ‘La Mongie’ ski station. The next step of the glory-double was the epically big task that lay ahead: stage 15…
The day started with a 2.5hr transfer to Limoux (even the pros muttered about this big a transfer between mountain stages) which meant starting a near-200km mountain stage at 9.30 rather than 8am). Some took the Lite option and arrived at 7pm in Foix smiling, laughing and proud of their achievements. Others took on the full, brutally hard stage, the first arriving in Foix at 6pm and the last just after 10pm. This was a day to remember for everyone and a perfect way to finish a Tour challenge for all those who came to experience the Pyrenean stages.
A short transfer the next morning took the Mountain Week, Second Half and Grand Loop cyclists to the second rest day in Nimes for the usual launderette visits, enormous lunches and bike tinkering – helped along by a hotel swimming pool and a well stocked bar.
New riders and our two charity visitors from the Youth Adventure Trust joined us for these beautiful Provencal stages filled with sunflowers, lavender and fabulous Roman architecture – a real Tour treat.
And so to the final stages in the Alps. Stage 17 started with the holiday-feel of Provence and finished with a testing Alpine climb: a stage that reminded us of the ‘Tour’ in ‘Tour de France’. This is an incredible journey through various landscapes and with various challenges and treats as we roll along.
Stage 18 – the Queen Stage – was as huge as we anticipated, with the final riders heading down off the Galibier climb into Valloire as the sun set, to a very late pizza dinner and all too short a recovery time. This stage had loomed in most riders’ minds for some time and for many, the pressure was off to some degree having got that ride behind them. For others, the prospect of 2 much shorter but still very mountainous days ahead of them reminded them that the Tour isn’t over until it’s over.
Stage 19 was memorable not just for the roads and views, but also for the finish in Tignes at the nicest hotel of the three weeks: A nice way to rally for one last mountain stage, the Etape du Tour stage 20… It took us from Albertville, over the beautiful Cormet de Roselend and ultimately up to the ski resort of Val Thorens and an interminably long (33km) climb to the finish that felt like it might never end. For many, it was a stage that allowed time to reflect on all that had gone before to reach this point.
Paris, as ever, got a bit emotional. It always does – and rightly so! This is the culmination of months and months (for some, years) of training, planning and preparation. It’s a moment to savour and share with friends, family and fellow riders; many of whom have become life-long friends along the journey. WWMT Trustee and Will’s brother Monty Wates and their mother Sarah joined the celebrations and Monty reminded us all just why Le loop is so special and so important to his family, the extraordinary charities they support and to each rider, who has achieved more than perhaps they ever dreamed was possible. To have raised over £335,000 in the process is perhaps the greatest achievement of all – one that goes beyond our own sense of colossal achievement and leaves a legacy that inspires so many others and gives desperate young people opportunities to live rewarding, happy and fulfilling lives that might otherwise be denied to them.
Congratulations to all our brilliant riders, their families and supporters – and thank you for helping to make 2019 yet another massively successful year of Le Loop.
With a stunning coastal Grand Depart, our first weekend of the Tour had a holiday feel, and temperatures that made that Atlantic look all the more welcoming – but we had some cycling to do! These first 2 stages were the perfect opportunity for less experienced riders to join the peloton for a big challenge. In particular we were delighted to welcome back the Alitex Team for their 3rd Tour with us, proving that you don’t have to be a mad keen roadie when you sign up to Le Loop … but with sensible preparation and a big heart, it’s still possible ride a couple of stages of the Tour de France!
North we continued, in slightly cooler (and occasionally damper) weather, through Brittany, which was shown in all its glory. There’s a reason this part of France has a strong cycling culture; the roads are glorious! During these stages, it was noticeable how strong the camaraderie had become. The ‘class of 2018’ proved to be one of the most welcoming, supportive, inclusive and delightful groups, remarked upon by all.
A small group of game Loopers joined us for a weekend of flattish and charming northern French countryside, paying homage to Roubaix as we reached the daunting, but ultimately satisfying cobbles of stage 9 before our first rest day.
Beholden as we are to the route designed by A.S.O, who organise the pro tour, our rest day was dominated by a long train and coach transfer to the Alps, but at least the legs got a rest!
This rest day welcomed a big group of new Loopers, as well as our first charity visitors (William and Jordan from Regenerate), eager to tackle the 3 big Alpine stages. Sun and blue skies showed off the stunning mountains in all their glory. These were gruelling but beautiful stages that would really test our mettle, but fortunately we had the luxury our aching limbs needed with two particularly fabulous hotels in La Rosiere and Alpe d’Huez.
Stages 10 and 11 were everything you’d hope for; dramatic, beautiful and exhausting (!) – but the memories that stick with us from these days in the Alps are the fun, chat and amazing feedstops as our Le Loop peloton laughed their way up and down the spectacular Alpine roads. What a way to experience climbs (such as La Rosiere) that would prove to be so pivotal in the pro race one week later!
Their culmination in stage 12 ensured that this would be 3 days of riding that would never be forgotten. It took us on a true cycling journey; the infamous Col de la Madeleine, the alarming switchbacks of Les Lacets de Montvernier, then Col de la Croix de Fer and ultimately, the iconic 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez. We had our longest day ever on tour, with our final heroic riders pedalling into the hotel at 1am, having started riding at 8am. Determination like that is quite something to witness and all our riders did themselves proud that day.
Next we headed South into the Cevennes and on through the Massif Central, enjoying beautiful villages, vineyards, sunflower fields and gorges. It’s easy for others to overlook these middle mountain stages but for us the beauty of the tour lies in the hidden corners of France that are best viewed from a bike. Stages 13, 14 and 15 which took us to our second rest day in Carcassonne were a joy from beginning to end and left us smiling from ear to ear: pure, southern French, cycling joy!
Stage 16 took us to Luchon, high in the Pyrenees with a little foray into Spain en route. Then stage 17 was a particular highlight: only 65km, but packed with climbs, leg-licking sheep, cows in pitch-black tunnels and views to die for. It was a day with time and energy spare to take photos, have fun and really enjoy this beautiful, craggy, atmospheric mountain range.
We were joined on stage 17 by Sarah and Skye from Access Sport and it was an absolute pleasure to share the Pyrenees with them and to watch them rise to the challenge of the Tour like absolute heroines. Chapeau!
An interesting flat stage 18 was a chance to ride in groups and chat as we ate up the miles (and baguette sandwiches). At just over 100 miles, this was the final challenge for some of our Loop cyclists, whilst also being a chance others to anticipate what was to come…
Stage 19 was the final big sting in the tail of the 2018 Tour. 200km that took in the Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aubisque, the rain and low cloud stole the views, but perhaps saved us from searing heat and dehydration. It was a huge day on the bike that marked the end of the serious stages of the Tour.
From here, we only had a time trial (a short but fascinating glimpse of Basque culture), flight to Paris and the glory ride down the Champs Elysee to complete. The sunshine, arrival of friends and family and sipping champagne on a private diner cruise down the Seine made this a very special day – a celebration – of a really fantastic tour.
The 2017 Tour de France route saw a German Grand Depart and a very ‘European’ tour, with riders gathering in Dusseldorf to cycle on through Belgium, Luxembourg and finally into France. After the gruelling first half of the tour in 2016, we were grateful for kinder stages as we dealt with plenty of damp and chilly days in the more Northern stages. In spite of this, morale was buoyant and excitement built up to the first big climb up the infamous Planche des Belles Filles.
A highlight of the first half of the tour was a visit from Tour de France rider Frank Schleck who joined us for breakfast. His words rang in our ears for the rest of the tour:
“After a few days on Tour, at about the point where you are now, you start feeling worse and worse until it can’t get worse anymore because you are totally *****d”.
… Sage nods/nervous laughter all round!
On we went to the Jura for 3 epic (route and weather) stages taking us up to the first rest day. One of the big features of the tour this year was that it passed through all 5 French mountain regions (Vosges, Jura, Alps, Pyrenees, Massif Central) with the Jura being just as tough and fantastic as the Alps. None of the cyclists who were there will forget the Grand Colombier or the Mont du Chat for a while!
Our first rest day was dominated by a 6 hour coach transfer from the Northern Alps across to the North Dordogne – not ideal, but what the pros do, we do! As ever, riders showed great ingenuity in finding ways to sleep on a coach. But the journey also marked a change in the weather – not that it was forever dry, but the temperatures rose and with the fast, flat transition stages to the Pyrenees lined by fields of sunflowers and we really knew we were riding the Tour de France!
Up into the majestic Pyrenees for some chunky stages and late-night finishes for many. These are character-building mountains and we learned what it means to suffer … and to be triumphant in the face of adversity. Down once more onto the windy Southern section before heading back up into the Alps for more huge stages that included iconic climbs up Telegraph, Galibier and Izoard – ticks in boxes for our col collectors. And finally, a spin down to Marseille and a time trial for the penultimate stage of the tour, followed by a TGV transfer to the outskirts of Paris for the final glory ride into the city and the Champs Elysees (one lap is enough for anyone on those cobbles with that traffic). A job well done.
We pride ourselves on our reputation for incredible camaraderie between riders. Every year is a good year and yet still some years stand out. 2017 was one of those years, with friendships forged for life. Of course the tour is challenging, but there was a lot of fun and laughter out there on the road too, with riders working hard to support each other with generosity, humour and humility.
We were joined on tour this year by 3 charity visitors: Dequane and Martyn from Westminster House Youth Club rode a stage with us and Dequane did himself proud by cycling further than any charity youth visitor on tour with us to date. Our new French charity, Sport Dans La Ville, came and helped our support crew for a stage, buttering baguettes and cheering on our riders. And finally, Josh and Julian from Chaos Theory joined us in the Pyrenees for a calf-popping ride into the mountains. The feedback from all 3 charities has been fantastic and we’re excited to be able to continue bringing charity visitors to the tour with us, thanks to the on-going generous support of one of our Alumni riders who covers all the costs of this project.
“Taking part in the Le Loop has taught me to be more prepared. I feel a bit disappointed that I didn’t finish the stage completely and I now realise that I should have been more serious about training. I think this will help me to be more prepared in other areas of my life like study and work … the charity visitor project is worthwhile and any young people you can help in this way will really benefit from the experience.” Dequane (WHYC)
This has been an impressive year for fundraising, with the average amount raised punching well above the minimum required to participate as well as a few really impressive fundraisers helping to boost the total figure up to over £385,000. A huge achievement that enables the Trust to continue to go from strength to strength, supporting brilliant charities with larger grants to really make an impact on young lives. As ever, we couldn’t be more proud of all our fundraisers and grateful for their massive commitment to all aspects of taking part in Tour de Force.
2017 was our last year riding under the banner of Tour de Force. While the riders celebrated their achievement in Paris, our website flipped over to become Le Loop in readiness for sales for 2018 opening just 3 days later. As we finalise the paperwork with ASO, we are excited to have their approval and support as we continue to provide our winning formula of following the Tour de France route, one week ahead of the pros, while raising funds for the William Wates Memorial Trust. Only the name has changed – we will continue to run the event in exactly the same way, with the same staff and trustees at the helm. With sales off to a cracking start for 2018, the future’s bright!
Departing from the iconic Mont St Michel, the 2016 tour was dominated by the first week – the longest and highest stages for a first week of the tour in memory. With some long transfers between stages too, those who took on the first half of the tour proved themselves to be real heroes. This was tough … really tough!
But it was also beautiful, and character building, and humbling, and just the challenge that our riders were looking for. By the time we reached the Pyrenees we’d experienced all that is usually thrown at us during all 3 weeks of the tour, and we were still riding. Our first stages into the wild and savage Pyrenees cheated us of the views, but by the time we reached Andorra it was steaming hot and the llamas in the mist on Tourmalet seemed a bizarre dream. On through the heat of the South and Mont Ventoux – the bald mountain – was a bucket list ‘tick’ for our riders (unlike the pros who stopped short with dangerous winds on the top reminding us why her name is so appropriate!).
On into Switzerland and the Alps – a tough, wet and cold stage 17 was followed by the very best that the Alps have to offer – glorious stages to be savoured by all as we gradually pedaled closer to Paris.
Visited by 2 young people from charities supported by WWMT and our riders, we were reminded that the Tour is bigger than any of us. Both Johnny and Tyrese did us and themselves proud while on tour and we are so pleased to be able to offer this opportunity to both them and our riders – a chance for everyone to understand each other better. 2016 sees in excess of £330,000 raised for the William Wates Memorial Trust, bringing us almost to the £3 million mark for funds raised by the Tour de Force event. 2017 will see us far exceed this enormous target and we cannot wait!
Tour de Force 2015 was largely about heat – lots of it! Our riders travelled from Utrecht to Paris under glorious sunshine which caused its own challenges as our riders battled with heat exhaustion.
For the second year, we were joined by 2 Charity Visitors – youngsters from 2 of the charities supported by the William Wates Memorial Trust. Callum and Ruqiya both cycled a stage each with us and they or their key worker spoke to the group in the evening. The experience is immensely rewarding in equal measure to both the kids and the riders.
Our charity visitor project is funded entirely by a 2013 Lifer who wanted to remain involved with both the event and the charity. We’re enormously grateful to him.
In 2015 we raised £385,000 for the William Wates Memorial Trust.
The 101st Tour will forever be remembered … not just because it commemorated the start of the First World War, taking in many of the battlegrounds in the North of France, but also because this was the year that Yorkshire claimed the tour for it’s own. The welcome there was extraordinary, as was the weather: fair! Which is more than can be said for our time in the Alps (very cold, very wet – biblical downpours) and the Pyrenees (searing, debilitating heat, enduring Category 1 and HC climbs in 40 degrees centigrade) where the weather tested us all to our limits and made this a very tough tour for those riding the mountains.
But the tour will also be remembered for the participation of Monty Wates – the first of William’s brothers to complete the entire route as a ‘Lifer’ (his brothers and father all take part each year for at least one stage each) and the extraordinary fundraising tally which took us to £515,000 this year alone – a staggering achievement made possible by the phenomenal dedication of our riders and their commitment to the WWMT.
Over 180 riders took part, with 39 Lifers completing the tour. The sun shone on the epic route of the 100th Tour de France route and we had a ball!
Most importantly, our riders raised an enormous amount £425,000 for the William Wates Memorial Trust. Thanks to this, the charities supported by the Trust are able to launch new projects, support existing resources and continue to make a fundamental difference to the lives of young disadvantaged people. We are immensely proud of our riders who did us, and themselves, proud.
2012 was the first year that the Tour de Force (now Le Loop) operated for the general public, (previous participants were all friends and family of the Wates Family). Around 125 riders took part and raised a phenomenal £300,000 for the William Wates Memorial Trust. It was a tremendous tour that has set the tone for this unique event.
The Tour de Force (now Le Loop) was run in 2006 and 2010 exclusively for friends and family of the William Wates Memorial Trust. Due to its overwhelming success and interest from everyone we told about it, we have decided to open the 2012 event to anyone who loves cycling, is ready for a challenge and would like to support WWMT. Here is a short article about the 2010 event.
What is it about the Le Tour that makes it so special? I have pondered this on many occasions and, of course, it is not one single factor but a combination of many.
To ride in Le Tour is a huge commitment. It is not just the physical endeavour required on the chosen stages but also the months of training beforehand. All of the riders are amateur and are fearful of the challenge that lies before them, be that a single stage, a few stages or the whole 3600 km Tour route. This creates an atmosphere around the event. Nervous laughter abounds at our pre-tour get togethers and training rides. We shake our heads at our own stupidity for taking on the challenge. And yet on we go, training through the rain and snow, sacrificing family time and pushing ourselves in the knowledge that what is to come is truly terrifying. So the preparation and anticipation forms a vital part of what makes the Le Tour special. Will the hard work be rewarded?
Like all big events the devil is in the detail. The event organisers ran it like clockwork. The correspondence before the event was timely, informative and friendly. It created a sense of security for riders to know that accommodation was booked, meals were arranged, bike transport facilitated and all of our needs thought through and taken care of. The foundations were in place and we just needed to get ourselves to France and ride what we had set out to do.
On the Tour itself the staff were exceptional. No stone was left unturned to make our journey as stress free as possible. Phil, Sarah and the team understood that the physical requirements of the Tour left very little energy for anything else so they organised us with military efficiency.
Our bags were laid out for us on arrival at each destination, every new rider was greeted personally and shown the ropes, bikes were sorted, food stops were a highlight and problems were solved which most of us never even heard about. It was an awesome performance on their part carried out with flair and humour and a huge contributor to the happy vibe around the tour.
So to the Grand Depart in Rotterdam where the stage was set for the next 21 days. There was a sense that something extraordinary was about to happen but we didn’t know how that was going to manifest itself. We knew about the physical demands but what about the social demands of touring with strangers, new arrivals coming in every day and good friends departing.? What about the differing abilities across our groups? Would the routines work?
Somehow it did all work. Every rider showed a selflessness and generosity of spirit that belied the exhaustion they felt. The camaraderie we had never diminished and friends were made for life. There was laughter and tears, pain and triumph and it was a heady mix. Many had personal issues from home but through a combination of individual will power and collective strength the vast majority achieved what they set out to do.
Without this team spirit it would have been an awful lot harder to realise our dreams and that was special.
France is a beautiful country to cycle through. There were moments of extraordinary peace on lonely mountain roads, wonder at the richness of the agricultural areas, fascination as we wound our way through the iconic Bordeaux vineyards, elation as we reached the top of Tourmalet in the stunning evening light and joy as we rode into Paris. There were so many highlights and France never disappointed. The people were charming, hospitable, encouraging and curious and the country left its mark us on all. France, and its people, made Le Tour special.
Much has been said of our physical endeavours but many would agree that our fundraising efforts were equally awesome. To have raised £450,000 says an enormous amount about the qualities of the riders on the event and their supporters. This figure tells you that they went the extra mile and were not satisfied with raising the minimum but wanted to go on and really make a difference.
The money raised will go to charities that help young people who have their own incredibly difficult challenges to overcome and with the experience the Trust has built up, since 1998, there is a confidence that the money will be well spent. £450,000 is a special amount to raise and the sense of achievement of all concerned should be profound.
So we cycled huge distances over fearsome terrain. We were supported by an amazing team, we achieved our goals, we made friendships for life and with a fair wind we would love to do it all again!! For our family though this was also about remembering Will and celebrating his life. So on behalf of us all I would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for helping to keep his memory alive in such an inspirational fashion.