The Route 2023: Bilbao to Paris

Fri 23rd June - Mon 17th July

For individual stage descriptions, scroll down

Starting off with a bang, this punchy stage explores the magnificent hilly countryside around Bilbao. It has 3,300m of climbing and five classified ascents, three of them within the last 45km. Our first hour’s riding takes us straight up into the wooded hills that surround the city, before heading north to the spectacular jagged coastline of the Bay of Biscay. Expect a scenic and windswept ride as we approach Guernica (famous for the 1937 aerial bombardment that inspired Picasso’s painting of the same name). From here we set out on a 35km loop back towards the coast, past the picturesque Laga Beach, and up (vertically) to the village of Nabaniz, before passing through Guernica for a second time. The route back to Bilbao takes us through green countryside, scattered with red-rooved houses. There’s a final steep climb up Pike Bidea (look out for the 15% section), panoramic views of the city on the descent, and a 5% uphill drag to finish your legs off at the end.

Lite: Two short cuts are possible today: first from Gatika to Unduliz and then again much later in the stage in Guernica. You remove 55km and 800m of ascent, making the day a more manageable 130km with 2500m of climbing whilst still being in and amongst the other Le Loop cyclists.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Bilbao hotel
Finish: Bilbao hotel

Departing from the medieval city of Vitoria-Gastiez, this stage explores the forested plateau that surrounds the Basque region’s high-altitude capital. We skirt the Zadorra reservoir system, which provides most locals with drinking water, and then after passing our highest point so far (just short of 700m), we descend quickly to the town of Arrasate, nestling among the peaks of the Alavese mountains. Then we go back up into the remote green landscape of the Basque interior and enjoy some switchbacks as we tackle the first two classified climbs of the day. This is the longest stage of the 2023 Tour, and the route is another punchy one, with around 3,000m of climbing but gradients rarely above 6% should make it feel manageable. After crossing the Gipuzkoa region on quiet winding mountain roads, we’ll reach the true showpiece of today’s ride – Jaizkibel. This prominent peak, just outside the city where we finish, features annually in the Clásica de San Sebastián, and offers breathtaking ocean views as we ready ourselves for the final descent.

Lite: This will still be a long stage at over 100 miles but a short cut towards the end of the stage direct to San Sebastian relieves you of 40km and 750m of climbing, making it a more palatable 170km with 2300m of climbing.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Transfer to Vitoria-Gastiez
Finish: San Sebastian hotel

This is a contender for most spectacular stage of the Tour with over 60km of coastal views… We start inland, crossing the leafy Côte de Trabakua and descending among forested hills to the sandy beaches of Lekeitio with spectacular views of the Bay of Biscay along undulating roads with such good scenery that it’s joy filled cycling. We ride along a winding balcony road overlooking the blue Atlantic, occasionally turning inland to tackle the formidably steep Côte d’Itziar, and the similarly challenging Côte de Benta. We pass through San Sebastián once more and gaze up at yesterday’s Jaizkibel as we head for Irun (passing by its historic port with boats and restaurants looking out to see) and cycle over the border into France. Crossing into the French Basque country, we enjoy a few more kilometres of quiet coastal roads, then turn inland for a few disruptive hilly kilometres before we approach Bayonne, a gorgeous, relaxing town, famous for its ham and its laid back vibe.

Lite: For anyone cycling the Grand Depart, you can opt to have a lift to the first feedstop in Lekeitio, giving you all the coastal pleasure of this stage but over 140km instead of 185.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Transfer to Amorebieta-Etxano
Finish: Bayonne hotel

Proving once again that there is no such thing as a flat Tour de France stage, today’s ride will take us from the former bullfighting capital of Dax through the shady pine forests that fringe the nearby coast and into the rolling hills of the thinly populated Gers department. Expect undulating fields of corn and sunflowers and distant views of the Pyrenees hovering over the vineyards. We may even have a tailwind as we ride away from the coast – though we turn west again in the final kilometres on our way to a stage finish at Nogaro’s motor-racing circuit. This stage won’t be as hard on the legs as what lies ahead, so this is a good opportunity to warm up, enjoy the scenery, get to know your fellow riders and get ready to support each other in the mountains that lie ahead.

Lite: A short cut at the end of the stage very easily takes 40km from the stage distance and it’s already relatively flat. So your first day of cycling will be a pressure-free 140km.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Transfer to Dax
Finish: Transfer to Pau hotel

The first few hours of this stage will feel like a French cycling holiday (oh, hang on, it is!); a pleasant roll through the fertile countryside south of Pau, as the mountains draw ominously closer and the landscape gradually tightens around us. The uphill drag begins with the magnificent karst gorge of the river Uhaïtxa, which leads us to our first pass of the day – the 1,540m Col de Soudet (15km at just over 7%). This  climb, which steepens as it gains height, will take us out of the leafy valleys we’ve enjoyed thus far and up above the treeline where we’ll be treated to views of distant mountain tops, stretching away towards the Spanish border. From here it’s a rock-lined descent, a brief climb over the quiet, pastoral Col d’Ichère, and then our final ascent of the day: the Col de Marie Blanque (7.7km at 8.6%). From here it’s a relatively easy roll downhill and around 7km up the next valley to Laruns. The total altitude gain today is 3400m; a tough day without anyone needing to worry about being late for dinner.

Lite: If you want to save your energy for tomorrow and enjoy a manageable day, you can take a short cut after 50km which bypasses the Col de Soudet and takes you straight to the Col d’Ichere and Col de Marie Blanque. Your day becomes 110km and the climbing is halved.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Pau hotel
Finish: Transfer to Tarbes hotel

Leaving the popular Tour city of Tarbes, we gain height steadily during the morning, following the pretty river Neste to the charming village of Arreau where we swing right off the main road and head straight up the Col d’Aspin, a 12km ascent whose summit is in sight from quite far down, so you can see what you’re aiming for (and how quickly you’re gaining ground). From here we descend, through a lovely remote valley, to Sainte-Marie de Campan, universally known as base camp for the Tourmalet. Then it’s the famous 17km climb, up through the trees to the 70s-feel ski resort of La Mongie, and then past the ski lifts and the llamas, to one of this year’s only cols above 2,000m. The Tourmalet! You’ve ticked off a bucket list climb!

Our reward is a full 30km of downhill before the relatively sedate but absolutely stunning climb to the Plateau du Cambasque, which averages 5.4% over 16km, features some spectacular switchbacks and gives us the opportunity to explore a road less travelled after the big names we’ve visited earlier in the stage.

Believe it or not, this stage manages to pack 3750m of climbing into 145km; we’ll get you there but it will hurt!

Lite: Our hotel is in Cauterets which is the ski town 500m and 10km below the actual stage finish (at the slopes) so the Lite option is to stop at the hotel – you’ll still have climbed the Col d’Aspin and the Tourmalet and you’ll feel a huge sense of satisfaction at having climbed just over 3000m.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Tarbes hotel
Finish: Cauterets hotel

This stage takes us from woodlands to vineyards along some fast, often straight roads that are made for group riding. We spend the first few hours enjoying the shade of Europe’s largest man-made forest before emerging into the fertile wine country that surrounds Bordeaux, then following the Garonne Valley towards the city. If you haven’t experienced the joy of cycling through French vinyards before, get ready to be wowed – it looks like holidays, feels like holidays and with the sun shining, there’s nowhere you’d rather be. There aren’t any big climbs to trouble us on this stage and the forest offers shelter from the coastal sidewinds, leaving us to enjoy the flawless French tarmac and the company of our fellow riders.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Transfer to Mont de Marsan
Finish: Bordeaux hotel

This is French cycling paradise, starting with vineyards and chateaux, giving way to medieval villages and flower-filled market squares and finishing with wooded hillsides and agricultural splendour as we ride north east through the Gironde and then Dordogne regions; history is rich here and you sense that as you ride. The Dordogne is home to more of France’s 160 “Most Beautiful Villages” than any other region and today you cycle through the spectacular landscape, villages and views that draw tourists from afar.

However, despite a flattish looking stage profile which only goes above 400m once, this is described by the Tour as ‘hilly’ which is a warning to look further into the detail; after a long morning of constantly undulating roads with occasionally uncomfortable gradients we hit a 40km section with 600m of climbing and almost no downhill. Christian Prudhomme, the Tour Director has also spoken of “a short but difficult climb” towards the end which, added to the overall distance will make for a surprisingly leg-sapping day out (good job the views are incredible).

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Transfer to Libourne or cycle from Bordeaux hotel (TBC)
Finish: Limoges hotel

We’re in the remote heartlands of France for most of today, leaving the beautiful medieval town of Saint-Léonard and climbing up to the Plateau de Millevaches, which is populated mainly by cows and beach trees. Quiet roads, and a couple of degrees’ drop in temperature (since we’ll be higher up) make this an extremely pleasurable ride despite over 3000m elevation gain that we’ve been promised. Heading east, we move into the dramatic landscape of the Auvergne, towards the Chaîne des Puys – a line of ancient volcanoes, which you may recognise from the packaging of Volvic mineral water. We first cross the chain at the northern end, climbing up to almost 1,000m and passing between two of the lesser pimples. Then we double back, skirt Clermont Ferrand, and approach the imposing Puy de Dôme, from the east. We’re not allowed to cycle up to the very top – the last 4km are closed to anything on wheels – but summit or no summit, it will be a (replacement) finish line to remember as we take a road to the south of the Puy de Dome up to the Col de Seyssat (and for those with time and inclination today or tomorrow, there’s a walking trail to the top). It drops the day from 3600m of climbing to 3200m – you won’t feel like it was too easy!

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Transfer to St Leonard de Noblat or Limoges hotel (TBC)
Finish: Clermont Ferrand hotel (a 3 night stay for Grand Loopers)

Rest Day! Your chance to eat 9,000 calories and visit the launderette.

Le Loop Logistics
Overnight: Clermont Ferrand hotel

The Tour just can’t stay away from the volcanoes, providing spectacular scenery at every turn. And while these Puys have been dormant for millennia, stage 10 is expected to be an explosive stage for the pros (so pretty challenging for us). Christian Prudhomme even promised that “it will never be flat.”

A morning of 2 to 4 kilometre ascents and descents lead us to the pretty spa town of Le Mont-Doré and a more significant climb of the Croix Saint Robert (1,450m), a 6km ascent with some sections approaching 10%. By the time you reach the col, It is 100% sure that you’ll want to return; the cycling is enjoyable, challenging, rewarding and completely different from home.

The stage continues in a similar vein (a few shorter climbs plus one more chunky 6km number) but the net descent of today is more than 600m and most of that comes in the afternoon – so it’ll be a quick fast-feeling hero-ride into Issoire with ancient troglodyte caves lining the fast road that approaches town.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Clermont Ferrand hotel
Finish: Transfer back to Clermont Ferrand hotel

The Tour has promised “recurrent leg-breaking climbs” for stage 11 – good good!

So although the route doesn’t pass through any mountains as such, it’s still far from flat. That said, it’s an absolute gem of a stage with super quiet roads, sweeping descents, plenty of visual interest and a lovely finish town.

Expect steep ups and downs as we leave green and spiky volcanic terrain of the Auvergne, and expect a variation on the same theme as the landscape evolves and we find ourselves in a region of quiet farmland and ancient oak forests. We pass through Montluçon (birthplace of 1956 Tour winner Roger Walkowiak and also home to some splendid medieval architecture) to remind ourselves what cities look like… and then, the icing on the cake is a 25km super-fast run in to Moulins which has never before hosted the Tour; expect festivities and excellent street decorations as you reflect on another unexpectedly gorgeous stage.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Clermont Ferrand hotel
Finish: Moulins hotel

Today’s ride winds its way through Charolais countryside (as in Charolais cows and Charollais sheep; today’s photos will be animal-heavy) and ends up in beautiful Beaujolais where we’ll be treated to vineyards, wild flowers and views as far as the eye can see. Seeing out from historic Roanne, the climbing begins almost immediately – relatively gentle at first but soon the hills get steeper, the climbs get longer, and before you know it, we’re in wine country. Although few of today’s roads will be flat, the big showpiece climbs will be the afternoon triple; 3 climbs, all with gradients of around 6-7% (but sometimes 10-12%) and all on quiet roads with lovely tarmac. The last of the three is the col de la Croix Rosier which is a 7km joy-climb with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside at the top. Your reward for making it up all those climbs is the cruisy descent into the Saône valley, intercepting the “route des vins” a few times and spotting plenty of famous Beaujolais vineyard names as we pass by Julienas, Fleurie & Chiroubles to name but three. Surely this evening you’ve earned your glass of red?

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Transfer to Roanne
Finish: Belleville en Beaujolais hotel

This is a Big Name Day but don’t let the excitement (trepidation?) of the Grand Colombier distract you from the beauty of the preceding 120km…

To start with Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne is a charming medieval town, also the Jura are genuinely breath taking mountains and top that off with some of the nicest descents of the Tour. If you cycle this stage, you’re in for a lot of lovely surprises.

Happily, on this stage we get to warm up gently, crossing the Saone valley as the Jura get ever closer. The green meadows and dramatic rocky outcrops lead us to the first (of two) big climb of the day -up onto the Hautville-Lompnes plateau (it’s high – you can ski here), famed since the 1920s for its health-giving fresh air (seriously). A long descent sweeps us down towards Culoz, the starting point for our second (massive) climb. Grand Colombier is always a treat when it appears in the Tour de France – it’s a steep, challenging road (17.4km at 7.1%, but touching 12% in places), with some of the most photogenic hairpins you’ll find anywhere and views out over the Rhône river and Lac Bourget (plus Lac d’Annecy, Lake Geneva, the Alps and even Mt Blanc if you’re lucky). Stunning!

Lite: This stage is a great way to start a Loop; not too long and focused on just two big climbs. However, if you’re really worried about managing it all, we’ll give you a lift to the first feedstop at 35km and your day just became a 100km beauty.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Belleville en Beaujolais hotel or transfer to Chatillon sur Chalaronne (TBC)
Finish: Transfer to Annemasse

This stage packs an almost unbelievable 4,100m of climbing into its relatively short length, with six major cols, and barely a kilometre of flat road. There’ll be views of Lac Léman (that’s Lake Geneva to the anglophones) as we pull away from Annemasse, but we’ll more likely be focused on the climbing ahead starting with the relatively benign Col de Saxel – it’s a gentle ascent through forests and meadows and nice warm-up for what’s to come. Next up is the Col de Cou (7km at 7.4%), quickly followed by the Col du Feu (5.8km at 7.8%) and the relatively trouble-free Col de Jambaz. We then enjoy a long descent, with a scenic balcony section (will you interrupt the descent to top for photos?), down to Mieussy – and then it gets serious, with a 14km ascent of the Col de Ramaz, which claims an average gradient of 7.1%, but definitely has a 12% section in there somewhere. This monster climb takes us up above the treeline, before sending us down into the busy valley of Samoens, where we embark on our final challenge – the 1,691m Col de Joux Plane (11.6km at 8.5%). Some might find it difficult to relish this final ascent because your legs will be weary, but there’s a beautiful lake at the top, a blessed downhill finish into Morzine and the knowledge that you just cycled stage 14 (the Etape du Tour stage) of the actual Tour de France.

Lite: Start out the day with everyone else but at 87km you can take a short cut direct from Mieussy to Taninges, cutting out 25km and all 1000m of the Col de la Ramaz climb. Your day is now 127km with 3100m of climbing.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Annemasse hotel
Finish: Morzine hotel

There are some tricky gradients in today’s stage (few of us will enjoy the 17% section during the final climb up to Saint-Gervais for example) but they are amply compensated for by some of the finest scenery the Alps have to offer. We have an easy start, with 30km of downhill or flat before we tuck into the 920m Col des Fleuries, which takes us over the hills to Annecy. Once there we roll alongside the heavenly blue lake for 10km, en route to the first serious climb of the day – the Col de la Forclaz. We have gorgeous views of the lake as we catch our breath at the top, and then it’s onwards (briefly downwards), and upwards over the Col du Marais and the Col de la Croix Fry, lined with pretty wooden chalets that will make you want to park your bike and live here forever. There’s a shallower drag up to Megève from Flumet, and then the real fun begins – a fast descent down to Domancy, and then a really steep climb up towards Saint-Gervais, with the hardest section coming early on, to ensure that, after 4,300m of climbing, your legs really are finished by the time you reach the top. One week later the pros will be here, making history on the exact same climbs and their legs will be finished too!

Lite: A double short cut in the middle of the day takes you along the valley (with a 500m climb over 28km instead of 3 up/down climbs) from Bluffy to La Praise, removing 28km and net 1100m of climbing. So your day is now 152km with 3200 of ascent. This is probably a 2hr saving.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Morzine hotel
Finish: St Gervais hotel (3 night stay for Grand Loopers, 2nd half and Mountains Week)

Bike tinkering, clothes washing and eating … lots of eating.

Le Loop Logistics
Overnight: St Gervais hotel

This stage is short but significant and still involves over 650 metres of ascent (which actually ends up being 850 due to our ride starting and finishing at hour hotel – that also adds 15km to the distance). After a meander through the ski town of Sallanches in the shadow of Mont Blanc, it’s a short sharp climb up the Côte de Domancy (just 2.5km but at an average of 9.4%). The road is pretty and winding and the mountain views get better and better. We end the stage in Combloux admiring the jagged horizon that surrounds the town – and then enjoy the short cycle back to our hotel in time for lunch.

Whether you go for it so that you can compare your strava time with the pros next week, or take it easy and chill out in the mountains, it’s a great ride that will definitely feel like a cycling day, not another rest day.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: St Gervais hotel
Finish: St Gervais hotel

If ever there were a headliner, this is it – more than 5,000 metres of climbing, and Le Loop’s first ascent of the awe-inspiring Col de la Loze. (The Tour went over it for the first time in 2020 when we couldn’t). But before we reach this 2,304m behemoth, we have three other long climbs to enjoy. After a gentle roll past the meadows of Megève (views, views, views), we have the beautiful climb of the Col des Saisies – 13.3km at 5.3% (honestly, 5.3% is quite manageable; you’ll be moving happily rather than griding slowly) – and a descent to the pretty little town of Beaufort. From here it’s a Tour de France classic: the glorious Lac de Roselend, with its iconic waterside chapel, and the road zig-zagging on up the mountain to the 1,968m Cormet. After a rock-and-roll descent down to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, we cruise along the Isère valley for a bit, ascend the Côte de Longfoy, whizz down a ridiculous number of hairpins, and steel ourselves for the big one. Col de la Loze involves almost 30km of ascent, the gradient varies constantly, and there’s a stretch of 24% in the final 5km – but it’s open only to cyclists, the tarmac is perfection, and it’ll be a high point in more ways than one. You’ll be smiling all the way down to Courchevel.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: St Gervais hotel
Finish: Courchevel hotel

This stage offers a lot of bang for relatively little buck, as we’ll spend most of it surrounded by spectacular mountains, but we won’t have to ride up them. Instead we roll along the valley from Moûtiers to Albertville, where we skirt the craggy bulk of the Bauges Massif, pass through the historic city of Chambery, and encounter the glistening waters of the Lac du Bourget. (If you were around for Stage 13, this is the one we saw from the top of Grand Colombier.) One of our more significant climbs of the day is the Col du Chat, which will lead us away from the lakeside via a punchy 6km ascent with a 5.9% average gradient, ramping up to 13% at one point, before delivering us into the green and pleasant Jura region. With a bit of climbing to keep our legs nimble, we roll through the crags and high pastures of this lesser-known mountain range, before descending into the Rhône Valley at the end of the day.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Cycle 15km downhill to Moutiers
Finish: Bourg en Bresse hotel

It is a theme of this year’s Tour that even the flat stages are quite hilly, and this one is no exception. We start riding in the heart of the Jura, and although there are no enormous passes to ride up, there’s still be a mountain feel during the first half of the day as we leave Moirans (the capital of wooden toys!) and skirt the beautiful Lac de Vouglans, France’s third largest reservoir. For the rest of the day we’re out in the countryside, passing more lakes and a fair few hills – as we make our way towards the 8km finishing straight that leads into Poligny, the capital of Comté cheese (the cow tally will increase as the day goes on).

Don’t be fooled into overlooking this stage and what it has to offer. It’s position on stage 19 means the route is designed to encourage attacks and high drama. For us, that means a constant change of pace and gradient – some to enjoy and some that will come as a bit of a shock. And sticking with the Tour influence, this stage is made for the helicopter shots; on the last Friday of the Tour, they’ve pulled out some near-perfect cycling scenery to help us along.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Transfer to Moirans en Montagne
Finish: Transfer to Belfort

One of the great love stories of cycling seems to be playing out between the Tour de France and the Vosges. In recent years we’ve seen Tadej Pogačar and Annemiek van Vleuten ride to glory in these mountains – now we get to play out our own grand finale, with a swashbuckling 3,600m of ascent, along winding roads, shaded by trees, and opening out to magnificent mountain vistas. First up is the Ballon d’Alsace, (11.5km at 5.3%), which was the Tour’s first official mountain climb back in 1905. The middle section of the stage boasts two categorised climbs, among a total of five cols, as the route meanders through ski areas and past high-altitude lakes. There follows a smooth and scenic descent to Munster, with its Germanic architecture and smelly cheese, and then we’re into the final sequence of climbs. First comes the Petit Ballon (9.3km at 8.1%), with its shady lower slopes which open out 2km from the top for panoramic views across the Rhine valley to Germany. And then the unremitting slopes of the Col du Platzerwasel (7.1km at 8.4%), taking us up to our magnificent finish line at Le Markstein, where the route levels out for the last 3km giving us the opportunity of a victory lap and a few minutes to reflect on what we’ve achieved.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Belfort hotel
Finish: 5hr transfer (with dinner en route) to St Quentin en Yvelines

Time for our lap of honour and the moment we’ve all been waiting for! 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 suburbs. The national velodrome in St Quentin en Yvelines will be our send-off and approx. 100km later after a photo stop at the Eiffel Tower with friends and family there to cheer us in, Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe will greet us. We stick as closely as possible to the Tour route but may have to change some portions of the stage in order to avoid roads that can be closed for the pros but not for us.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: St Quentin en Yvelines hotel
Finish: Paris hotel

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