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    The Route

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    Next year  – Don’t Just Watch it … Ride it!

    2019 Route

    From Brussels we roll out through the busy Flemish countryside towards the iconic Muur Geraardsbergan, a cobbled climb made famous by the Flemish Classics, whose gradient reaches 20% at its steepest. Then, after tackling the lesser Bosberg, we’ll turn south, and follow flatter (and smoother) roads through Enghien and Charleroi, passing the site of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo (you can choose whether to doff your cap/helmet to Napoleon or Abba) before re-entering Brussels via Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, Eddy Merckx’s childhood home. In 2019 the flags will be out for Eddy, it being 50 years since he first won the maillot jaune in the 1969 Tour.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Brussels hotel. Finish: Brussels hotel.

    Loop payments include a Friday arrival with the rider briefing at 7pm followed by dinner. You can buy an extra night of accommodation in Brussels if you’d like to arrive on the Thursday rather than the Friday.

    Stage 1. Credit letour.fr

    A smashfest for the pros, but an easier day for us, as we’ll ride a mere 27km (plus a few kms to and from our hotel) along the majestic avenues of Brussels, finishing at the park Ter Kamerenbos in the north of the city, close to the Atomium. With a high point of 109 metres, and no gradient stronger than 4%, this will be an opportunity to rest our legs, save our energy for what’s to come and maybe make time for some local produce (frites, biere, or both!)

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start and Finish: Brussels hotel.

    Image credit: Letour.fr

    We leave the medieval ramparts of Binche, finally arriving on French soil as we head south through the ancient forests and hedge-trimmed lanes of the Avesnois national park. This will be great for group riding with the second half of the stage in a particularly picturesque part of northern France. The landscape will open out as we find ourselves in the rolling Champagne region (cue vineyards and chateaux), and the afternoon will feel almost hilly as we enjoy a series of short punchy climbs in the final 30km, before a short warm-down along the Marne valley into Epernay.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer to Binche. Finish: Epernay hotel.

    Stage 3 profile. Credit letour.fr

    This slightly flatter stage will be a showground for the sprinters, and for us a wonderful day out, enjoying a good deal of ‘Tour Tarmac’ whilst swapping the wide open skies of the Champagne region for the pretty lake-filled landscape of the Lorraine National Park (home of the quiche). This is a lesser-known part of France for tourists, but absolutely worth a visit for the Germanic architecture and crisp white wines! Expect a fast-ish, flat-ish run into Nancy, though after 215km, will anything feel particularly fast or flat?

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer to Reims. Finish: Nancy

    Image credit letour.fr

    It’s time to engage our uphill muscles, as this stage includes two categorised climbs and has a much spikier profile than the preceding stages. These bigger climbs sit alongside some more-minor-but-still-significant bumps as the Tour showcases a stunning corner of the country (this stage is one for the TV helicopter).

    Expect leafy climbs and descents, open farmland, and some spectacular views as we make our way north and then south, alongside the German border. There will be plentiful chateaux towards the end of the ride, to reward us for the hills (‘Trois Epis’ and ‘5 Chateaux’) we must ride up to reach them!

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer to Saint-Die. Finish: Colmar hotel.

    Stage 5 Profile. Credit Letour.fr

    This will surely be the defining stage of the Tour’s first week, and one we’ll all remember, for its beauty as much as its difficulty. We finish on la Planche des Belles Filles, which this year features an extra section with a 24% gradient. But… lets not get ahead of ourselves… before that we must tackle (and admire panoramic views from) the Markstein, the Grand Ballon, the Col du Hundsruck, the mighty Ballon d’Alsace (the first official mountain climb to feature in the Tour de France, back in 1905), and the Col des Chevreres which is short but very sharp.

    The roads are quiet and rural which will help us enjoy what amounts to over 4000m of climbing. It’s a tough, gem of a stage with all the ingredients (including some defining manoeuvres from the pro peloton) to make it a tour highlight.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer to Mulhouse. Finish: Transfer to Belfort hotel.

    Stage 6 profile. Credit Letour.fr

    It doesn’t matter how you cut it, 230km is a long, long way! Fortunately this stage will be flattish in the morning and actually flat in the afternoon – providing the perfect opportunity to team up for group riding as we roll south-west through wooded slopes, fields, forests and river valleys. Save some energy for the final kilometres into Chalon-sur-Saône, where British rider Brian Robinson won his second Tour stage in 1959, with a gap of 20 minutes.

    If you pace yourself and enjoy the company, there’ll be plenty to enjoy on stage 7 – and plenty of bike-time to enjoy it!

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Belfort hotel. Finish: Chalon hotel.

    Image credit letour.fr

    This will be a decidedly bumpy day, with 3,800 metres of ascent, and five categorised climbs, though never more than 6km of uphill in one go. We’ll warm up our legs with a gentle climb out of the Saône valley, through Beaujolais vineyards and forested valleys, before tackling the Col de la Croix Montmain and then swooping down into the Azergues valley.

    For every up, there must be down and we’ll be rewarded with some spectacular (and not too technical) descents: cycling joy, TDF style! The second half of the day will take us through an enchanting landscape of winding lanes, wooded climbs and spectacular views, before we descend to Saint-Étienne, home of bike wheel manufacturer Mavic.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer to Mâcon. Finish: St Étienne hotel.

    Stage 8 profile. Credit Letour.fr

    This is another hilly stage, with barely a kilometre of flat road, through the Auvergne region which, with its ancient stone farmhouses, open pastures and glorious pine forests, will feel like we’ve gone back in time to another world. The main challenge will come a couple of hours into the day, in the shape of the Mur d’Aurec sur Loire, a 3km climb with a leg-busting average of 11%: this is proper mountain climbing!

    The worst (best?) is over at that point, though the road carries on up and down all the way to the final descent into Brioude, Romain Bardet’s birthplace (a stage to watch a week later when pressure on the poor French man will be at fever pitch).

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: St Etienne hotel. Finish: Transfer to St Flour.

    Stage 9 profile. Credit Letour.fr

    This stage ends 700m lower than it begins, but don’t be fooled – there’s still plenty of climbing involved and plenty of kilometres to spread it over. We’ll start the day exploring the ancient volcanic region of Cantal (famous for its cheese and associated calorific delights), before a long descent from the plateau (woohoo!).

    The relatively fast kilometres of the first 100km will be countered by a more measured afteroon, when the route takes us through the Gorges de la Truyère (spectacular rock formations and the cool breeze of a rock-shaded road) and then up onto the lofty Aubrac Plateau. The quiet, narrow roads of the Massif Central will open out as we descend towards Albi: It’s a gently descending last 30km with our destination visible in the distance, and although you’ll be pedalling the whole way, you won’t have to work too hard for these last, heroic kilometres.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: St Flour hotel. Finish: Albi hotel.

    Image credit letour.fr

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    A day in Albi, a second night in the same hotel and time for laundrettes and cafes!

    A gentle day today, which will feel relatively short as the kilometres speed by. It’s a chance to take our time and savour the southern sun, since the Pyrenees are just over the horizon. This stage should fulfil all your South-of-France dreams of wheeling past fields of sunflowers, admiring ancient fortified villages and wondering if the wine on tonight’s menu will be from one of the vineyards we’ve ridden through. Imagine the perfect long weekend training ride: This is it!

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Albi hotel. Finish: Toulouse hotel.

    Image credit letour.fr

    A day of two halves: we’ll spend the morning gradually gaining height as we head south from Toulouse, with the Pyrenees in view in the ever-decreasing distance! The roads look like they’re flat, but they’re not flat and we’ll be wise to take them gently and save energy for what’s to come. The lovely town of Luchon is at 124km, and it’s here that the climbing begins in earnest.

    First up is the Col de Peyresourde, a classic Pyrenean climb with the pass visible from a long way off, stunning views of the surrounding peaks and a creperie just over the top! We’ll make our way down a fun descent of hairpins into the Louron valley and then it’s time for treat number two! We head up the shady eastern side of Hourquette d’Ancizan, which is similar in gradient and length to the Peyresourde but has a totally different atmosphere. The landscape opens out at the top of the pass and now, at 170km, you’re rewarded with a full 30km of cruisy descent to the finish.

    * Pyrenees Lite: A transfer will take you to the 100km point, leaving you all day to tackle the two big climbs without the pressure of a late finish.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Toulouse hotel. Finish: Transfer to Tarbes.

    Stage 12 profile. Credit Letour.fr

    This short time trial will be a delightful ride, taking us south of the Tour de France’s most popular city (after Paris). Pau has a lot going for it: it’s an ancient royal city, a modern day student stronghold and gateway to the Pyrenees. The highest point of this route is 380m and the lowest 179m so you’re looking at a couple of moderate climbs on small country roads, through forests and farmland. And all of this with the mighty Pyrenees as your backdrop. The photo moment comes at 21km as we pass through the Jurancon vinyards – then it’s back into town for lunch and an afternoon of sunshine!

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer to and from Pau, so two nights in the same hotel in Tarbes.

    Stage 13 profile. Credit Letour.f

    It’s Tourmalet day! The Pyrenean monster has long dominated the Tour, and this year it gets a stage more-or-less to itself – though don’t underestimate the Col du Soulor, which we climb first, from its scenic northern side. It’s a little over half the length of the Tourmalet, but slightly steeper with the summit marking this stage’s half way point.

    We then have 20km of descent (wheeee!), followed by 19km of steady ascent, up the more beautiful western aspect of the Tourmalet for a summit finish. The climb averages 7.4% with just a couple of extra-steep bursts in the closing kms. This will feel really tough, and it’ll be no different a week later for the pros, even if they do manage it in half the time! The Tourmalet is the ‘oldest’ of all the Tour climbs, now appearing for the 87th time (although the times it has provided a summit finish can be counted on one hand). We’ll celebrate this mighty achievement with a night in a mountain hotel under the Pyrenean stars.

    * Pyrenees Lite: You may choose to cycle the full stage as it’s ‘only’ 117km, but if you’d prefer to save your energy for the climbs, you can join a transfer from Tarbes to the first feedstop at 40km, making this a two-climb, 80km stage.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Tarbes hotel. Finish: Tourmalet hotel.

    Stage 14 profile. Credit Letour.fr

    The most challenging and very original stage of this Tour’s Pyrenean visit takes in almost 5,000 metres of ascent, via four categorised climbs. One third of the way in, at 60km, we have our first summit where we’ll be treated to the spectacular Cathar castle atop the Col de Montségur. The next third of the stage takes us to the Port de Lers at the 120km mark, which is the highest point of this stage at 1517m and is followed by a stunning lake just over the summit. It’s a sweeping 17km descent from there into the quirky little town of Massat, and immediately, without hesitation or hint of flat, it’s straight up the eye-wateringly steep Mur de Péguère. Cue legs of fire but smiles of joy and enough inspiration to fuel you on to the spectacular finale atop le Prat d’Albis, from which, on a clear day, we’ll be able to see much of what we’ve covered today.

    * Pyrenees Lite: A transfer will take you to the second feedstop at approx. 90km, leaving you all day to tackle the Port de Lers and Mur de Peguere. On arrival in Foix, it’s up to you whether you carry on for the final climb to Prat d’Albis, or whether you sit back and soak up the atmosphere at a café in the town square of Foix.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer to Limoux. Finish: Transfer to hotel near Carcassonne.

    Stage 15 profile. Credit Letour.fr

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Morning 2hr drive to Nîmes and afternoon ‘resting’.

    This will be a super-scenic, gentle stage, showing off the finest features of the Gard department before doubling back for a second night in Nîmes (big treat!). This city is so full of ancient architecture that it’s known as “the most Roman city outside Italy”. And what surrounds it is pure Provence: expect sun-baked countryside, pretty stone villages, fruit markets and a flat, speedy finish.

    The stage never goes above 250m so this is one for for the pro sprinters to anticipate as they crawl through the Pyrenees: for us it’s a smile-making, holiday-feeling, Tour treat.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Nîmes Hotel. Finish: Nîmes hotel.

    Image credit letour.fr

    We’ll start the day from a Roman wonder, setting off from the 2,000-year-old Pont du Gard, an aqueduct built as part of a 50km channel bringing water from the river Eure to the growing Roman population of Nimes. A gentle start (passing Orange’s amphitheatre and triumphal arch) belies the true nature of this stage because once we’ve crossed the Rhône, and skirted Vaison-la-Romaine’s ancient hilltop stronghold, we enter the hills and there’s no more pretending! For much of the day we’ll climb steadily up and east, climbing 800m over 60km, so while this is no mountain giant, your legs will feel it and the kilometres won’t be fast.

    This is all topped off with the very pretty Col de la Sentinelle and a short descent to Gap, marking the end of a delightful stage which, by crossing from Provence and the Rhone into the low Alps, is a beautiful stage in the Tour’s 2019 journey.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer to the Pont du Gard. Finish: Gap hotel.

    Image credit letour.fr

    We’ll be heading into thin air on today’s ride, which takes us up above 2,000 metres on three separate occasions. First comes the 2,109m Col de Vars which is technically ‘only’ 9.3km but in reality the road climbs (very) gently for a full 50km before that! It’s a lovely road though, and a lovlier climb, followed by a great smooth descent into Guillestre.

    And so to the toughest and most spectacular climb of the day: the Col d’Izoard. We climb via the otherworldly Casse Deserte where you cannot but imagine the pros passing a week later. Tour history in the making! From here the Galibier takes us higher still (2642m to be precise), but mercifully via slightly kinder gradients, for which most of us will be grateful by then! The last 18km of the stage are a pedal-free downhill to Valloire where glory and high fives await.

    *Alps Lite: A short 25km transfer from Embrun takes you to Guillestre, bypassing the Col de Vars and taking you straight to the 100km marker, which gives you a fantastic 106km stage including both the Izouard and Galibier climbs.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer to Embrun. Finish: Valloire hotel.

    Stage 18 profile. Credit Letour.fr

    This is a relatively short mountain stage, but it still packs in plenty of climbing and will take most of us all day. The Col d’Iseran (at 85km) will be the high point of the whole Tour – and indeed, it’s the highest paved pass in Europe, at 2,764 metres. This is only the second time in Tour history that the peloton has climbed from it’s hardest (and most impressive) side – there are few places as dramatic and beautiful as this to ride one’s bike.

    Before that we’ll already have gained 1,000 vertical metres via the Montée d’Aussois and Col de la Madeleine which will afford us Alpine views left and right and up and down! These mountain roads will be a feast for the eyes as we climb deeper into the Alps, finishing the day with another 8km climb to the ski resort at Tignes, itself over 2000m and a fabulous place to spend the night!

    * Alps Lite: You may choose to cycle the full stage as it’s ‘only’ 123km, but if you’d prefer to save your energy for the climbs, you can join a transfer from Tarbes to the first feedstop at 40km, making this an 83km stage complete with the Iseran climb and the Tignes summit finish.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer to St Jean de Maurienne. Finish: Tignes hotel.

    After a steady climb up the Doron Valley, we’ll ramp up towards the picturesque Roselend lake from Beaufort, slowing down to admire the isolated stone chapel on its northern shore which is all that remains of the village that was submerged when they built the dam in 1960. After negotiating the hair-raising descent from Cormet de Roselend, we’ll roll along the Isère Valley, before ascending the Côte de Longefoy.

    And then, after a sweeping descent, we have more than 30km of steady climbing, gaining over 1800m to get us up to Val Thorens for a summit finish. This climb is the last of the Tour so it’s a good thing it’s a big’un. As the temperature drops and you notice the landscape changing around you, you’ll be sure you’re ending the Alpine trilogy on a high!

    *Alps Lite: Your option here is to take a transfer to the first feedstop at the top of the Cormet de Roseland. Removing just under 40km and 1500m of climbing leaves you all day for the remaining 94km, comprising a warm up climb and the big, glory summit finish to Val Thorens.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Albertville. Finish: Celebration dinner in Val Thorens followed by a late transfer to Lyon hotel.

    It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for! As if it were all a dream, here we are on the outskirts of Paris. But before we live out our maillot jaune fantasies on the sacred cobblestones of the Champs Élysées (one lap only for us – one is enough!), we’ll enjoy a relatively gentle roll in from the suburb of Rambouillet – a few hours to savour the highs and lows of the last three weeks, and look forward to celebrating our achievements that evening.

    Le Loop Practicalities:
    Start: Transfer from Lyon to Rambouillet. Finish: Paris hotel with Seine boat ride party this evening (friends and family welcome).

    Image credit letour.fr

    What are you waiting for?…      Don’t just watch it, ride it!

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