Le Loop is run by a dedicated team of brilliant individuals who return year on year to ensure that the event continues to be the roaring success that it is. They work tirelessly and cheerfully, always starting well before our riders and finishing their working day long after them. The staff are constantly asked ‘what’s it like’ to work on such an intense and gruelling event as Le Loop and so we asked them to share their insights:
The Physio/Massage Therapist – Claire
Claire is one of a team of therapists provided by the brilliant ‘Athletes’ Angels’. They keep our riders in physical shape and often make the difference between whether a rider can climb back on their bike the next day … or not!
“The therapy team is made up of 4 team members: 2 ‘day’ therapists and 2 ‘evening shift’ therapists. As one of the ‘day’ team members, my day typically starts around an hour before the cyclists are up and about. The morning duties commence with cutting strips and shapes out of brightly coloured physio tape in preparation for the cyclists descending with niggles and anxieties. After dishing out lots of reassurance, taping and advice to keep tired bodies pedalling, we head off in hot pursuit of the cyclists to make it to the first feed stop of the day.
At feed stop one, I become a master of multi-tasking. Demonstration of useful stretches for newly warmed-up muscles, re-taping of sweaty, sun-creamed limbs, and ensuring a glorious spread of morning snacks are laid out are but a few of the normal duties. We treat any minor niggles to prevent more significant problems. Feed stops teams alternate, so while my colleague manages feed stop 2, next I’m off to feed stop 3 – Lunch!
We aim to get well ahead of the cyclists at this point to ensure plenty of time to prepare for our gourmet roadside restaurant! After peeling, chopping, mixing and seasoning is complete, my physio duties resume until the last cyclist has made it safely through feed stop 3. Then it’s a quick coffee and straight to the hotel to help with post-ride massage. Bike, shoe and saddle adjustments often also take place at this point to resolve any biomechanical issues for the following day.
After dinner, our working day is complete, and the evening shift therapists take over to make sure everyone who would like massage or advice has access to treatment.
For me, being part of the incredible team that make Le Loop possible is a privilege I take great pride in. To see the results of the hard work of the team – riders getting to Paris having raised an outstanding amount of money to help children live a better life all over the UK – is addictive!
There is also something very special about seeing cyclists achieve what they never believed they may be able to. Spectating as 40 tired riders manage an epic HC category climb in 40 degree heat having already ridden hard for many days is tear jerking”.
The Tour Manager – Sarah
Sarah works throughout the year on all the operational logistics of the Tour and much more. Sarah eats logistics for breakfast. She’s a fluent French speaker, can charm the pants of the gendarmerie if needed (sometimes it is!), and if only she were in charge of Brexit it would all have been sorted out last Christmas in a timely and cost-efficient manner and none of the melodrama. Once on the tour itself, she runs the show. She is, quite frankly, a Tour de Force.
I’m up at 5.30 most mornings: there are often already texts from the signing car (who left even earlier) with notes about the route so I check that before heading out to see the other staff, checking the vans have everything they need for the day, that the cyclists have enough calories at the hotel breakfast, that the doctors and physios are managing to keep everyone happy and (relatively) pain free…
Once the cycling starts, I’m towards the front of the group, doing 2 or 3 supermarket sweeps each day (each one can easily be two overflowing trolleys) and delivering supplies to the feedstops. If I’m lucky, I catch feedstop 2 just as ‘Coffee’ Ian has brewed the first pot of coffee. Ian’s coffee isn’t just a cyclist highlight; the staff rely on it too!
I try to get to the evening’s hotel at around 4pm, just ahead of the first cyclists, to make sure that everything is organised and well set up for action once the cyclists arrive: bike storage, massage, room keys, dinner… there’s lots to organise and lots of hotel staff to make friends with!
On tour, time absolutely flies and with newly arriving cyclists, plans for the next day and staff to check in with, it’s normally dinner time, briefing time and bedtime before I know it.
For me, the best bit of my job is seeing cyclists (fast, slow, experienced or not) arrive at a hotel buzzing, telling everyone that it’s been their best day ever on a bike. As I drive between supermarkets, hotels and feed stops, I see groups of cyclists riding along, chatting and laughing – and that makes me smile to myself too – just knowing that everyone’s having such a good time.
I’m really proud of the fact that people come back year after year, that we’re running a great event that contributes to something bigger and more important than just a fun holiday.
But it can also be tough – for me the sleep deprivation is the hardest bit. I’m pretty wired all day long with so much going on and although I’m asleep the moment my head hits the pillow, my head isn’t on that pillow for quite as long as I’d like each night! I do a lot of sleeping in the week or 2 after the tour though.
The Lead/Assistant Lead Cyclist – Gareth
A key role on the tour, our Lead Cyclist and their assistant are responsible for the enjoyment and safety of our cyclists. They ride in and amongst the group, providing guidance and support wherever needed. Gareth has worked as both over the past 6 years.
My day normally starts early, while everyone else is eating breakfast, loading all the main luggage for the late shift team to take straight to the next hotel. If it’s a good day, I manage to grab a coffee and croissant on my way to the van. Once we’ve loaded luggage, put day bags in the feed stop vans and everyone’s had breakfast, it’s time for a quick group briefing before we set off cycling and then the fun really starts.
Tour days vary enormously as does the sort of cycling it involves for me… Sometimes I’m up at the front chatting with the faster guys and making sure everything’s okay with the route, sometimes I roll along with one of the small groups that form and enjoy the banter, the perfect tarmac and views – as well as the obvious chat that starts after the first week about how the pros are getting on with the real tour (that’s one of the highlights for me – knowing that we’ve been everywhere they are) and sometimes I cycle towards the back with the slower cyclists, encouraging those who are having tough days or enjoying the chat with those who are doing really well but just have a slower pace – this is definitely not a race: the challenge is to get through each day with a smile on our faces and my job is to help as many people achieve that as possible.
At the end of the stage my tasks are much the same as all cyclists – massage, clean water bottles, eat something, chat about the day and then dinner at 8. During dinner I talk to the group about the next day’s cycling – often to a sea of apprehensive faces but my tour experience means that I know they can all do it even if they don’t know that yet.
Cycling into Paris is always a huge highlight for me as well as all those who have cycled the entire route, or the 2nd half of the route. It’s something they’ve worked very hard to achieve – not just over those last few weeks but for months before that with training, fundraising and hours of commitment. It’s such a privilege to see them enjoy this moment together. When you watch the Pros cycling in to Paris you can see how much of an achievement it is for them and how they use the last day to soak up the atmosphere and reflect on what they’ve achieved – and it’s no different for us. I’m proud of every single cyclist.
The Bike Mechanic – Andy
Andy is a seasoned mechanic who has worked on Le Loop every year, bar one, since 2012 (and even worked on the 2010 ride that was for friends and family of the Wates – before the event was opened up to the general public).
On a typical day we start by getting the bikes positioned so they were available for the riders around 6am. If there is a transfer it means setting off an hour before the coach to the start point and unloading the bikes off the vans. Once the peloton leaves the race is on to get to the first feed stop and set up. ‘Second breakfast’ normally consists of French pastries, cakes, nuts and the cyclists’ favourite…..bananas….lots of them! Up to 15kg a day! I address any mechanical issues that arise with the bikes during the day; gear tweaks, creaks, saddle adjustments etc. We keep cyclists going on their own bikes as long as possible but if we need to, we put them onto one of our brilliant back-up bikes (provided by our bike partner France Bike Rentals – FBR) until we’ve fixed the problem.
The role of night mechanic is a bit different. This is more of a background role, shuttling the 80 or so suitcases from hotel to hotel, buying the huge amounts of bananas and fizzy drinks that are required every day and getting the hotel set up to accept the riders. As the group rolls in the therapists fix the riders and I get to work fixing the bikes. Mechanicals are wide ranging from broken springs in pedals to dead batteries. The number of ‘sad’ bikes varies from day to day so sometimes work rolls on until the early hours.
Being a cyclist myself of many years it is incredible being on the tour and being so deeply immersed in such an epic event. The achievements witnessed by the participants day to day are fantastic to watch and it’s great to know that with every pedal stroke money is being raised for an amazing charity.