9 days cycling. 1534km
Cycle all the way from Nice to the Pyrenees through France’s most beautiful regions and experience the magic of the Tour
With a Grand Depart in Nice and thus the first two stages in the Alpes Maritimes, this is surely the year to ride the first half of the Tour!
After these two stages (designed to unsettle the pro-peloton) it’s a long and winding road to the Pyrenees which will feel like it’s whizzing by in a blaze of colour and glory. We head north west through Provence with its backdrop of craggy rocks, lavender fields and neat vinyards… nipping up into the Alps for a ski station summit finish… then back to Provence for more legendary cycling and another summit finish (with views)… on towards the gorges and farmland of south west France… before hitting the Pyrenees for two spectacular mountain stages.
The unusual move to put the Pyrenees before the first rest day means that the 2020 First Half Loop will be a mini Tour in itself, with its own momentous finale and plenty of reason to celebrate when you arrive in Laruns.
Joy and luxury also lies in not having any morning transfers until stage 5, three nights in the first hotel (Nice), two nights in the last hotel (Pau) and the tastiest fresh fruit at every feedstop (along with plenty of other local produce).
This is as treat-filled and non-stop as 9 days of cycling can be. Don’t just watch it… Ride it!
Arrival day. Friday 19th June. Nice.
Arrival at Nice hotel by 5pm under own arrangements (the hotel has a free shuttle from the airport)
Stage 1: Nice-Nice. 156km. Sat 20 Jun.
The first stage of this year’s adventure is an unconventional one, formed of three loops around Nice and jaw-dropping views for at least 80% of the 156 kilometres. The first two identical loops take us up shallow gradients, past olive groves and fig trees, to the fortified village of Aspremont, a back-drop of Mediterranean sea all the while. From there we’ll descend to Carros and fly back into the city along flat roads, to wave at the Promenade des Anglais before heading off again. On the third loop we’ll venture a little further, with an eight-kilometre climb up to Levens, before descending, back to the by-now-very-familiar finish line and on to our beach hotel.
Start: Nice hotel
Finish: Nice hotel
Loop payments include a Friday arrival with the rider briefing at 5pm followed by dinner. You can buy an extra night of accommodation in Nice if you’d like to arrive on the Thursday rather than the Friday.
Stage 2: Nice-Nice. 187km. Sun 21st June
It’s unusual to find a mountain stage so early on, but the beautiful scenery surrounding Nice has enticed the Tour into the hills much sooner than usual. This challenging ride takes in almost 4,000m of climbing, including the Col de la Colmiane, via a picturesque road that winds through small mountain hamlets and feels a world away from the Cote d’Azur, and then the steeper Col de Turini, with its photogenic switchbacks and magnificent views. We’ll admire the Mediterranean as we descend to the Col d’Éze (ruined 17th century chateau perfectly positioned above a sparkling sea) and wearily ‘enjoy’ a cheeky extra Loop that the pros do (but the Etape du Tour doesn’t) before we roll back into Nice, full of the joy of cycling.
Start: Nice hotel
Finish: Nice hotel
Stage 3: Nice-Sisteron. 198km. Mon 22nd June
This is a relatively hilly stage with a flat finish, full of Provencale charm. We start our day at the seaside, and finish it among the low mountains, bidding a fond farewell to Nice and heading north-west via the historic town of Grasse, world-renowned for its perfume industry. Then we ride along the Route Napoleon (stunning, stunning scenery; a Tour highlight), over a series of moderately steep climbs and on towards the imposing citadel and vast serrated cliffs of Sisteron (and a hotel swimming pool!).
Start: Nice hotel
Finish: Sisteron hotel
Stage 4: Sisteron-Orcieres Merlette. 157km. Tue 23rd June
This stage takes us from the spectacular rock formations overlooking Sisteron to the heights of Orciéres-Merlette, almost 2,000m above sea level. We’ll spend the morning in the Dévoluy mountains, with a long steady climb up the Col du Festre, before descending into the Souloise valley. Then we’re ready for the big one: Orcières-Merlette, a little-used and stunningly beautiful climb. There’s something very cool about cycling into a ski station having pedalled up from sea level, especially when the hotel has a pool and spa to greet your weary legs.
Start: Sisteron hotel
Finish: Orcieres Merlette hotel
Stage 5: Gap-Privas. 183km. Wed 24th June
This stage will show why Provence is one of France’s most sought-after cycling destinations. After leaving the mountain town of Gap, we’ll roll out towards Nyons, passing olive groves and lavender fields. We’ll cross the magnificent Rhône river at Montélimar (nougat at the feedstops today!), and finish the stage in the Ardèche, an area that shouts ‘sunny French holidays’ more than anywhere. Overall, it’s a downhill stage, as we finish the day much lower than we started – but the Tour never makes things easy and there’s a slight uphill finish into Privas as well as a few stiff climbs along the way.
Start: Transfer from Orcieres Merlette to Gap
Finish: Short transfer to Le Teil/Montelimar hotel
Stage 6: Le Teil-Mont Aigoual. 191km. Thur 25th June
Showcasing some of France’s wildest and most remote scenery, this stage will take us from the vineyards of the Rhône Valley into the beautiful Cévennes National Park. If you haven’t heard of the Cevennes before, think quiet, rolling roads through, rocky landscapes and far reaching views baked in sunshine. Add in picture postcard villages, roadside fruit stalls and the odd small forrest and that’s where stage 6 takes us. It culminates with an ascent of Mont Aigoual (famous for monitoring wind speed – fingers crossed we have a calm day) via the Col des Mourèzes and the Col de la Lusette (the toughest bit of the whole stage). If we’re lucky, we’ll have a view all the way to the Pyrenees from the top where we’ll have dinner together before heading off to our hotel.
Start: Le Teil/Montelimar hotel
Finish: Dinner at the summit restaurant followed by a transfer to the Millau hotel
Stage 7: Millau-Lavaur. 168km. Fri 26th June.
This is billed as a ‘flat’ stage, and there are no significant cols, but we’re still in for a fairly bumpy ride. We start close to the famous Millau viaduct (the world’s tallest bridge) and spend the day cycling on quiet roads made of perfect tarmac from gorge to plateau to gorge, alongside fast flowering rivers and through small, agricultural towns (should you wish to buy a tractor, today’s your day). Towards the end of the stage, the landscape opens out and we’ll find ourselves in a world of tree-lined avenues and rolling fields of sunflowers.
Start: Millau hotel
Finish: short transfer to Toulouse South hotel
Stage 8: Cazeres-Loudenvielle. 140km. Sat 27th June.
One of those special here-come-the-mountains stages, today’s ride will take us from gently rolling lowlands into the high Pyrenees, with ascents of Col de Menté, Port de Balès, and our old favourite, the Col de Peyresourde. Each has its own character – Menté is leafy, with satin-smooth hairpins on the ascent; Balès is wild and windswept; Peyresourde offers picture-perfect mountain views and heroic photos at the top. With a downhill finish into Loudenvielle, this stage is a Pyrenean classic to remember. To make it even more memorable, we’ve booked dinner in the Loudenvielle thermal baths and spa complex and you’ll have time to spend an hour or two in the pools (small charge) or having a beer in the spectacular surroundings before dinner and the transfer back to Pau.
Start: Transfer from Toulouse South hotel
Finish: Dinner in Loudenvielle and then a transfer to Pau
Stage 9: Pau-Laruns. 154km. Sun 28th June.
Pau is one of the Tour’s most frequently visited towns, but the rest of this stage will be a voyage of discovery, as our route takes us over a number of lesser known Pyrenean cols, including the magnificent Col de la Hourcere (making its Tour debut) and offers us eye-watering gradients to go with the breath-taking views. We’ll finish our day with a descent into the Ossau valley, but not before we’ve taken on the Côl de Marie Blanque from its (much steeper) western side. These are the back roads with their wild landscapes that the Pyrenees are loved for – and this is a very fine opportunity to ride them.
Start: Pau hotel
Finish: Transfer back to Pau hotel (2 nights)
Departure day. Mon 29th June. Pau
We’ll transfer back to Pau at the end of stage 9 so you’ll be in a town with airport and train station and free to leave the hotel under your own arrangements on Monday 29th. (See travel advice below for more info)
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Emily, Lead Cyclist:
“I just cannot wait! It’ll be a tough first week but if you want to test yourself, 10 days non-stop on these roads will be the best!”
Sarah, Event Organiser:
“Throughout the week, there will be marked changes in landscape, architecture, cycling heroes (and cheese). This is the way to get to know France, and the Tour de France, better.”
Annabel, Alumni Cyclist:
“I cycled the first half because I was happy with the challenge of long stages but decided the second half mountains were just one step too far. I remember a couple of the stages being pretty brutal but it was so memorable and sooooo worth it. Just take your time and you’ll get there!”
Le Loop is known for its camaraderie and inclusiveness and we strongly believe that there’s a Loop for everyone. We have no cut off times and cyclists will always be supported as far as safety and daylight hours allow. However, there is a speed and a level of training required for some of the longer Loops and the Grand Loop because we have limited space in our support vehicles and this event is not designed for cyclists who cannot complete full stages.
We need to be clear about how tough the Tour can be in order to help you pick the right challenge…
As with the Grand Loop, the First Half Loop is extremely testing. You should be able to complete full stages which will sometimes involve over 10hrs cycling and we do not expect you to take any of the Lite options.
You should be able to complete 200km stages with 2500m of climbing in under 10hrs (including stops). Assuming a total of 90 mins stopping, this equates to an average cycling speed of 23.5 km/h (14 m/h) or faster, day after day over relatively hilly terrain.
On a mountain stage of 180km with 4500m of climbing, we expect you to take between 8 and 12 hours, including stops. Assuming a total of 90 mins stopping, this equates to an average cycling speed of 17km/h (10.5 m/h) or faster.
If in any doubt, please get in touch to discuss. Or consider joining us for a shorter Loop with a view to completing a longer Loop once you have tested yourself over 3 to 5 stages.
Whilst we have back up vehicles for injured or exhausted cyclists, this is intended as just that: a back-up plan should something go wrong. If there is a reason why you cannot complete one or two stages (injury, illness, one-off extreme fatigue), we will of course help you and offer you space in a support vehicle. But if you are not able to cycle full stages without medical or equivalent reason, we will have to ask you to take public transport or find alternative arrangements to travel between stage starts and finishes.
Included in all Loops
- Accommodation (Mostly twin share. Single supplements are available to buy in January)
- Food (3 meals and the best feedstops you’ve ever seen)
- Fully signed route, the stuff of legend
- Mechanical, medical and moral support
- Luggage Transfers
- Coach transfers to the next stage start where applicable
Not included in all Loops
- Travel to and from France (but we’ll give you advice on the best travel routes)
- Bike Transport (£30 each way if you want us to drive your bike there and back)
- Evening massage (£10 per massage)
- Beer/wine/dinner drinks!