Expect the unexpected

Riding multiple stages of the Tour de France is a massive undertaking – not only athletically, but also logistically and, perhaps most importantly, mentally. With an experience as all-encompassing as Le Loop, there will always be a few surprises lying in store. Riding back-to-back 200km days sounds daunting, but riders often find the real challenges are rather more subtle than that – or that aspects of Le Loop they’d been dreading turn out not to be so bad after all.

I always try to ask riders, after a few days on the road, if there’s anything that’s surprised them – they almost always have an answer on the tip of their tongue. If this is the first time you’re riding a multi-stage event like Le Loop, here are a few of the things you might not be expecting.

  1. You’ll get stronger as you go. It doesn’t seem to make sense – after all, you’d assume that tiredness is cumulative, and the more days you spend in the saddle, the more exhausted you’ll feel. This is true to an extent (you’ll appreciate those rest days). But most riders also find that they settle into the ride, and if riding for a week or more, the later stages start to feel like a breeze. This is worth remembering if you have teething problems– the first 2-3 stages are often the hardest.
  2. The real struggle is mental. “The emotional side came as a bit of a surprise to me,” said more than one rider after the 2019 tour. And quite a few others reported that they’d been temporarily knocked sideways by some intense feelings they didn’t know were there. Riding long distances over multiple days has a way of stripping you bare emotionally, and it’s quite common to end up facing life’s big questions halfway up a Pyrenean col. This can ultimately be a positive experience – many riders go back to their lives having found clarity, made big decisions or worked through issues they’d been avoiding – but it can be difficult to get through at the time. Remember that your fellow riders will have had similar experiences along the way, and that what you’re going through is a completely normal part of riding Le Loop. And although it can be hard to remember it at the time, all things pass, and if you keep going, you’ll eventually ride out from under your dark cloud, and back into the sunshine.
  3. You probably won’t be the slowest (but if you are, it really won’t matter.) This is something that everyone worries about – even people who end up at the front of the pack most days. In reality, riders will sort themselves into groups fairly quickly and organically, and no matter what your speed, you’ll find a bunch to ride with that will keep you ticking along at a comfortable pace. Most riders realize within a couple of days that the only way they’re going to get through this is by setting a sustainable pace – speed is less important than just keeping going, and even if you’re a very ‘steady’ rider, there are massive gains to be made by setting off promptly and not hanging around at feed stops. And if you actually are the slowest? No one else will care – they’ll be far too worried about their own progress to think about yours. Keep riding, and keep enjoying yourself.

4. You might have trouble sleeping … or you might fall asleep in your bouillabaisse.
You wouldn’t expect trouble sleeping to be a problem, would you? Eight or more hours in the saddle, followed by a big meal and perhaps a glass of wine, sounds like the perfect recipe for a long refreshing night’s sleep (and for most, it is!). But some riders find they just can’t doze off. It’s likely to be a combination of an unfamiliar sleeping environment, and the unsettling chemical effects of pushing your body hard every day – you’ll be flooding your system with stress hormones, and possibly a bit too much caffeine as well. There’s lots you can do to help this and we’ll give you plenty of advice. But the majority of riders learn to sleep at every possible opportunity – particularly on any morning bus transfers, but they’ve also been spotted sleeping in car parks using cycling shoes as a pillow!

5. You might have fun! One of my happiest memories on tour was watching a small group of riders roll into Feed Stop 4 (the last of the day), a while after most people had departed, with huge grins on their faces. “We’re having such a nice time,” they told me, giggling like schoolchildren as they shared stories of eating ice creams in the last town, then stopping in a field and playing in the sprinklers to cool off. A lot of riders get so wrapped up in their pre-tour nerves that they forget what an enjoyable experience it can be, cycling round France in summertime, in the company of dozens of like-minded souls, being handed excellent food every couple of hours. Yes, it will be hard at times (you didn’t want it to be easy did you?), but most riders will end up remembering their tour as a true high point of their life.

And if you need any more reassurance – just look at the large number of Le Loopers who come back year after year (over 30% each year). If you’re one of these serial offenders, is there anything you wish someone had told you the first time you rode Le Loop? Drop us a line and let us know – your summer riding buddies will thank you for it.

Emily Chappell (lead cyclist)

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