Alex Gunby

Name: Alex Gunby
Age: 50
Location: Sussex

Experience:

I built up from doing 40km loops round the Surrey Hills to managing a 145km Sportive in Snowdonia which was brutal but brilliant at the same time. It made me want to see if I could do more so riding 6 stages of the Tour De France was the obvious next step.

He Says:

If you have a chance to take part in Le Loop, do it without hesitation.

It’s difficult to do write down what an amazing experience riding Le Loop is and to do it justice because there are so many aspects that make it one of the best things you’ll ever do.

For me, I think it was all the little things that I wasn’t expecting to be so rewarding, like the fantastic people you get to ride with, chat to and make friends with, or the way that everyone’s there for each other when it gets tough or when mechanicals happen, or the fabulous crew who work so hard and are always, always jolly and smiley and have fresh coffee for you at just the right time, or being cheered on the big climbs by people camped out waiting for the Tour to come through, Add to that riding through beautiful scenery on great roads pushing yourself to achieve more than you thought possible, being the fittest I’ve ever been in my life (by the end of the ride), ticking off iconic alpine climbs, and all the other normal cycling-related good stuff; you have goodness & fun coming in from all sides, all the time.

I rode six stages through the Alps and the Massif Central and although each day was harder than anything I’d ever done before (either twice as much ascent in a day than I’d ever done, or further than I’d ever ridden, or both) I found I could do it. Part of that is down to training hard, but a lot of it I’m sure is because of being part of this bigger thing raising money to help out such a wonderful cause and being surrounded by people who are finding it equally difficult but are still positive and happy and supportive.

At the end of my last stage I didn’t want to stop and my only regret is that I didn’t sign up for more stages. I think some of my fellow riders have already written that a large part of it is mental and that once you’ve done a day or two you realise that you are an unstoppable machine, albeit not as fast a machine as G Thomas.

For all that, definitely the best bit was the welcome home I got from my family. My wife and girls were so fantastic throughout my training and fundraising and I would never have done it without them. I owe them everything.

Top Tips:

  • Follow Emily’s Training advice, it works
  • Think about having a decent bike fit if you can afford it. Being in the saddle for so long, day after day, will reveal niggles that you don’t notice on normal rides
  • When you’re doing your long training rides, get used to stopping and eating real food. It makes the training more enjoyable and prepares you for the excellent food stops
  • Start raising money for WWMT as soon as you can
  • If you’re doing mountain or hilly stages you won’t regret having bigger sprockets than you think you need. If you like numbers, my watts/kg was about 3.8 and I found 50/34 with 11-32 was just right. Grinding is ok for a couple of km but not on four 20km climbs in a row
  • Buy properly decent bib shorts. You won’t regret the extra spend

Where are you now?

When I go out on group rides with my local club now, I’m always a little disappointed that the rides aren’t longer and harder. I’m definitely planning on doing Le Loop again and at some point I’ll do a Grand Loop (full TDF course). I’ve also got my eye on other challenges and I’m trying to work out how to fit it all in around family and work. A key enabler for this is persuading my wife to start cycling; that’s a work in progress but I think some of the seeds are starting to germinate…

Having done Le Loop I’m also re-thinking what I’m doing with my life. I’m a bit of a slow burner so it may take a while for things to change; I’m sure they will though, just got to keep turning the pedals no matter how slowly.

Rory Watson

Name: Rory Watson
Age:41
Location: Devon

Experience:

Before I signed up for Le Loop the first time, I had a road bike but I didn’t use it regularly. I’d bought it a couple of years before for the London to Brighton ride which had almost killed me. So I’m not really sure what made me first agree to cycling 8 stages of the Tour de France – probably enthusiasm and bloody mindedness!

He says:

One of my biggest motivations was to raise money for the William Wates Memorial Trust. I knew William and wanted to do something in his memory and contribute to the amazing work that the charity does to help disadvantaged young people. Over the years I’d heard a lot about how the money that the cyclists raise is spent and I wanted to be a part of that.

My training plan was more ad-hoc than it should have been. I went out cycling with mates quite a bit in the 6 months leading up to the Tour and I started going to spinning classes. I also did the Le Loop training weekend and the Tour of Wessex but that’s probably as ordered as the training plan got: there was no strategy but I put in quite a bit of time and effort and made sure that the long rides happened.

The event itself was everything I’d hoped and more. I had a couple of mates who signed up with me and one of them brought some colleagues along. The banter all day every day is the best. I had more of a laugh taking part in Le Loop than I’ve had doing any other group activity ever. It’s great fun beginning to end, whoever you’re cycling with.

If I had one piece of advice for anyone else taking part, it’d be to pack more clothes. 98% of my time in France on a bike was sunshine and summer but the 2% when it rained is the 2% you remember if you don’t have all the layers (and I don’t mean just one posh cycling jacket – if I went again, I’d pack a fleece, a goretex hiking jacket and five pairs of winter gloves!!).

Where are you now:

With a new baby! I still manage to get out on my bike a bit and I’d love to do Le Loop again in another year or two but for now it’s memories of sunny mountains in the knowledge that a few Saturdays on Dartmoor is my limit for now.

Ella Green

Name: Ella Green
Age: 36
Location: London

Experience:

Before Le Loop I had completed Ride London twice and a few sportives around London’s south west. But never the distance of a single stage of the Tour de France and never two days in a row! One of the rides I’m most proud of was the C2C from Whitehaven to Tyneside with just myself, my bike and 2 panniers. I’d also cycled solo from London to Margate earlier this year, which was the longest I’d cycled solo in a day. For me I wasn’t afraid of the long distances but 102miles was my mental barrier, what happens when the garmin ticks over to 103… turns out you just keep pedalling J

She Says:

After completing my loop I realised how much of the challenge was just mental and not physical. Now that I’ve done it I honestly feel like there isn’t a cycling challenge I wouldn’t be up for. But it’s also been a lot more than this. It’s filled me with such confidence that I am now seeing changes in other parts of my life, this has been unexpected but very rewarding.

For anyone considering Le Loop, I would say “stop considering it and just sign up”. Don’t think about being the slowest or cycling on your own or what happens if you don’t complete a stage (heck even the pro’s miss the cut offs #Cavendish #Kittel #Renshaw) but in Le Loop there are no cut off times only support to get you through.

Best (and worst) moments:

  • I loved riding out in the morning with all the riders as Le Loop has a wonderful rule where no one can leave the first stop until the last rider has arrived. This gave me a chance to ride and chat with some of the faster riders about their cycling experiences.
  • Riding with Emily Chappell, Emily is a phenomenal cyclist and astute ride leader. It was so inspiring to have her lead the ride, ride along side her and then follow her online while she completed the whole tour.
  • Stopping under a sprinkler by a corn field and getting absolutely soaked, I can still hear Annabel laughing at me (it was 35 degrees btw)
  • Knowing there were 4 feed stops to keep you going, just focus on the next one, only 40km away…
  • On the second day it was thought that Chris Froome was out of the Tour, for many miles all I could think was “I’ll finish more stages than Froome this year” sadly short lived but it got me through a few miles
  • Getting back on that saddle on day 2
  • Not getting back on that saddle on day 3
  • Riding through villages that felt deserted due to the heat but that also had all the TdF bunting up in preparation for 7 days time
  • Riding what felt like long roads that never end with a head wind that made them even longer
  • A week later watching the real TdF and seeing where I had been and knowing I had cycled those stages was just so exciting (and I was super proud of everyone)
  • Being back in London and following Le Loop, knowing they were out there doing every single stage one day at a time

Advice:

  • Sign up!
  • Sudocrem is your friend
  • Break the stage down into chunks, focus on the next set of miles rather than the whole thing
  • Pack for all weathers (including super hot, Summer base layers do keep you cool)
  • The team at Le Loop are there to support you, they are some of the most capable people I have ever met, they are there to help you achieve your TdF goal

Where are you now?

Well if I thought cycling was a huge part of my life before it’s even bigger now! Before Le Loop I thought there were rides I could never do, now I just think how am I ever going to do them all!

On returning to London having done the first two flat stages of the Tour de France, I then decided to take on some Alps and headed back to France in August. I climbed 7,627m over 5 days and went from an extremely nervous descender (like crying downhill nervous) to a… well lets just say less nervous! I fell in love with the mountains, the gradients and the switchbacks and cannot wait to go back.

Now that I’ve achieved what seemed unachievable I have so much more confidence in my cycling and what’s even better is this is filtering into other parts of my life.

I’m learning a lot more about bike mechanics, having built my own single speed and doing a lot of my own bike maintenance. I’m also very much involved with BellaVelo (the women’s cycling club I joined only months before Le Loop). I’m doing my ride leader training, assisting with our beginner sessions and general club organisation.

The most exciting thing for me (with the help of Emily Chappell) has been banding together BellaVelo’s to ride Le Loop next year! Le Loop 2019 here we come!

Katy Hebditch

Name: Katy Hebditch
Age: 28 (birthday on tour!)
Location: Kent, UK

Experience:

Unconfident but determined plodder! First mountains tackled in Tenerife in same year, but that was only one in a day so how would I really cope with the Alps?!

She Says: 

This year I’ve been challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone, both personally and professionally. It’s an amazing feeling to prove yourself wrong! Le Loop is simply a fantastic environment – with inspiring, supportive people, right from the get go.  Huge thanks go to Emily & Kate for the numerous emails challenging my perceptions of failure, persuading me to take part and supporting me through a bit of a hectic 5 weeks of training! I chose to ride the Alps, due to work schedule and the prospect of champagne at the top of Alpe d’Huez on my birthday (now that’s motivation!). However, as a solo woman, with little time for training (late sign up, London commuter blah blah) and very little experience in mountain climbs, I was pretty nervy.  I put on a 11-40 cassette (Yes, it’s possible!) for the Alps, and that was the best decision I could have made.. I spun up the mountains at my own snail pace, but kept going and enjoyed the view. It was perhaps one of the toughest things I’ve done physically, but also mentally and emotionally.  Going on my own was the best thing I could have done for me, for my confidence, as it meant i was totally open to meet new people and have made some incredible friends (you’ve already got cycling in common!), yet could also take some time out on my own when I needed to have space or thinking time (plenty of that available on some of those climbs!).

Remember, whatever you sign up for, it’s your ride, your challenge, don’t compare yourself to others. You can achieve SO much more than you think – don’t be afraid to take a leap and see what happens. Kudos for even putting yourself out there and considering taking on a challenge! Above all, enjoy the ride and enjoy the view.

Where are you now? 

The Tour came at a pretty epic time for me – I was in between work travels and interviews for a new job (which also was a bit of a leap). I am pleased to say I got the job offer whilst on the Eurostar en route to the Alps! Le Loop has really changed my outlook and given me a new found confidence and zest for pushing my boundaries, and I’m now looking forwards to roughly planning some travel (with a bike!) for the next few months before the next big challenge starts.