The Tour That (never) Was

Bonjour!

The 2020 Tour that should have been would have rolled into Paris on Sunday 13th July, having left Nice 23 days earlier. It still hurts just to think about that, knowing that we couldn’t ride this Covid year.

But we couldn’t let those 24 days (including the eve of the Grand Depart) go by without finding something uplifting and positive to do. So! We posted a photo a day from our archives to celebrate each stage of the Tour. We hope it inspires you to jump on your bike (or turbo) and head out for a spin … or maybe just to eat some camembert (it’s not ALL about the feed stops, but …).

All photos are here in this blog as well as on our social media. Feel free to comment and share to your heart’s content. This is a celebration of Tours that were … and that are still to come.

VIVE LE TOUR!

Stage 21

And so another Tour draws to an end (even this virtual one!). We have hundreds of group photos at the Eiffel Tower in Paris – but how to choose the right photo for this blog?
 
We’ve gone for one of our most recent: our 2019 line-up of just some of the women who rode with us into Paris (thank you Carmen!). We’ve said before just how proud we are to have more and more women each year riding Le Loop with us – and we’ve never felt this more so. While the pro race struggles to catch up, women ride the Tour with us each year with style and grace. We know our numbers will continue to rise year on year and everyone is welcome.
 
We have LOVED looking back over just some of our favourite photos and best memories of 12 Tour years. So many of our wonderful alumni have been in touch offering messages of support and sharing their own best memories too. It’s been a blast … but it hasn’t been quite the same as the real thing.
 
The youngsters we support by raising funds for WWMT have taught us a great deal – not least, how to pick yourself up when you’ve been knocked down. We’ve been devastated not to be riding the Tour with you all this year – but we will be back for 2021 and together we’re going to make it a stellar year!
 
All our 2020 riders have a guaranteed place to ride the 2021 Tour with us if they want it – but there will be plenty of places for new (and old!) riders too. We’re doing sign ups a little differently this year, so make sure you visit the website to understand exactly how we’re going about it.
 
Vive Le Tour … Vive Le Loop!

Stage 20

Whatever the tour throws up for this stage (time trial, mountain stage followed by huge transfer to outskirts of Paris, or anything in between), this stage is usually bitter sweet. With this stage, and only the glory ride into Paris to come, folk are starting to think about life after the Tour. Many will have friends and family in Paris to meet them and celebrate their epic adventure – everyone is realising that they’re about to be spat out of the bubble that is the Tour – not everyone is ready for it.
 
We made it this far by working together, as a team. And together, we’ve achieved something incredible. We’re better people for it … and better cyclists. And by raising funds for WWMT we’ve helped young people who don’t enjoy the same advantages in life that most of us do. Personal commitment and hard work are needed by every individual – but offering and accepting help when needed is important too. That goes for those kids we’re helping, but it goes for our riders too. So today’s photo, I hope, captures that sentiment.

Stage 19

A flat stage for the 2020 pros. After 3 days of up (and down!) this would be an efficient stage of group riding. These days are Type 1 fun with the banter coming thick and fast.
 
Paris is practically in sight – but there’s still one more stage to go before the virtual ride down the Champs Elysee!

Stage 18

Stage 18 – our last of the mountain trio (if we were on the tour this year, that is). Big mountain days get emotional. Tears are not uncommon. Even remembering sharing many of those moments with our riders still brings tears to our eyes.
 
We’ve seen a lot of brilliant, fun, entertaining blogs from our riders over the years, but Neill Kemp’s blog in 2013 remains my personal favourite (it’s day 21 of this blog – I’m allowed to show favouritsm!). But his post that described his ride up Mont Ventoux beats every post I’ve ever read on the experience of climbing a huge mountain. I urge you to read it (and defy you not to then read the whole of his 2013 Tour blog):
 
 
Today’s image is not in fact of Neill, or the Alps – it’s of another of our awesome Alumni; Chris Ward on the summit of Ventoux in 2016.  Along with Neill’s blog, it encapsulates what it means to ride one of France’s most infamous climbs – to dig deep into the darkest of your emotions, to strive to overcome the physical pain of your body – and to experience the extraordinarily emotional reward of sumitting. This is a nod then to all our incredible Alumni who have overcome the biggest cycling challenges of their lives while riding Le Tour with us. We salut you – chapeau!

Stage 17

Today would have been the 2nd of 3 big mountain days – and when they’re really big, it’s not unusual for some of our riders to finish in darkness. We stay out there with them, supporting them, for as long as it is safe for them to continue. It means that their recovery time before the next stage is shortened, making things progressively tougher – but we know how much is at stake. Our riders have trained long and hard for months to get to this point. If we can help them to realise their cycling ambitions, we do!

Today’s photo was in the Alps on stage 18 last year – 2019. Galibier is a tick box for any self-respecting roadie. It just had to be done.

Stage 18 – summiting in darkness. 2019.

Stage 16

We should be in the Alps, with the first of 3 monster stages back to back. So today’s photo needs to be about big days in the mountains … there are so many to choose from, but we’ll go for this stunning view of Mont Blanc from the top of the Joux Plane, 2016. This was the penultimate stage of that year – a night in Morzine followed, then a hellishly early coach transfer to the outskirts of Paris for the final glory ride. It’s important to stop, look up from the road, and take a moment to appreciate the beauty of France as we ride through it.

2nd Rest Day

2nd rest day. For 48 hours now we’d have all been hallucinating about our final rest day before Paris. It means more kit washing, more eating, more resting, more tinkering with bikes.

But instead of another photo of launderettes or a washing line of kit, this is a good opportunity to give a shout out to our superb team of staff. From mechanics, to drivers, medics, physios and massage therapists to lead cyclists – they work tirelessly on tour for us and quite honestly they’re the difference between whether you guys can climb back on your bikes the next day … or not.

Right now, these guys are finding ways to fill the gap (both in earning terms, and in fun terms!) left by the 2020 Tour.

Of course – they’ll all be back with a vengeance in 2021!
Vive Le Tour!

 

Stage 15 – The Wates Family

We can’t talk about Le Loop (of the Tour de Force, as we used to be called) without talking about the Wates Family. This event is their brainchild – created as their main fundraiser for the William Wates Memorial Trust.
 
Each year, Will’s parents, brothers and extended families join us on tour for a stage or more – riding with us, cheering us on, supporting us and sharing stories from the charities supported by WWMT.
 
All our riders fundraise for WWMT as part of their participation. It becomes a motivator and an inspiration for them both in their training and out on the roads of France.
 
Without the incredible support of the Wates family, we simply wouldn’t exist. So today is a chance to say ‘thank you’ to them, and a huge chapeau for the work they do to support some of the most important charities in the UK today – helping young people facing disadvantage. We’re so proud to be a part of that.
 
Photo of many of the Wates family, including the youngest generation on arrival in Paris, 2018:

 

Stage 14 – Dance with the Devil

 
Stage 14 would have been a relatively flat (but long) stage this year, taking us to Lyon and the foothills of the Alps. Time to start getting our heads around those massive climbs and the huge challenge ahead. 2 weeks into the tour, we’re really starting to experience the scale of this epic adventure. It’s the perfect time to bump into Didi the Devil because it just wouldn’t be the Tour de France without him!
 
Photo from 2017 Tour:

Stage 13 – FOOD!

If an army marches on its stomach, then so does a peloton! For stage 13 we’re celebrating feed stops – all 84 of them! (4 a day for 21 stages). Not only does the location have to be perfect, but the food has to be superb too.

Each feed stop is carefully tailored to the needs of the riders at that point in the stage. Healthy snacks at feed stop 1 (nuts, dried fruit etc), bananas and baguette sandwiches at 2, lunch proper at feed stop 3 (masses of fresh fruit and vegetables with a big portion of carb and protein too – and pudding) and the final feed stop is about whatever will get you through that last 40 or so km – cans of coke, chocolate bars, crisps – treats!

Oh yes – and whenever possible we include the local specialities and occasional unexpected indulgences.

This photo from 2013 in Corsica is a great example. (it was Corsica wasn’t it? Someone is sure to correct me if I’m wrong!).

 

Stage 12 – Of course women can ride the Tour de France!

This is a big shout out to all the awesome women who have cycled with us over the years. We’ve been really proud that the ratio of women to men in our peloton has gradually climbed over the years and now over 20% of our riders are female. Some ride a couple of stages, or the mountains stages … plenty ride the whole tour. Our oldest rider to date also just happens to be a woman (and still held her own, age 71, over all 21 stages! Hell yes!).
 
Chapeau to each and every one of you – we can’t wait to be riding with you all again very soon.
 
This photo is from back in 2013 (a particularly sunny tour that, you’ll remember, started in Corsica). Lovely to see those familiar smiling faces again

2013 – one of our sunniest Tours to date

Stage 11 – Charity Visitors

Stage 11. Every year we invite 2 youngsters from the charities we support through the William Wates Memorial Trust, to join us for a stage on tour. It’s an opportunity for them to have a real adventure, and for our riders to hear their story and gain a better understanding of just what challenges they face in life.
 
Our riders are always humbled by these stories, and it gives them great perspective on their own Le Loop challenge – it motivates them both in their ride AND in their fundraising.
 
This photo from 2017 – Alumna rider John Griffiths (centre) took Dequayne from charity WHYC under his wing – his job being to support Dequayne in his ride both before and during the tour. It was a proud day for everyone.

2017 Charity visitor: Left to right, Mike (support worker from WHYC), John Griffiths and Dequayne

Stage 10 – crossing the country

With the first rest day under our belts, we’re revived and rejuvenated and raring to go. This part of the tour often sees us crossing the middle of France – transition stages to reach either the Pyrenees or the Alps. For many riders, this is unchartered territory, but they’re in for a treat! Beautiful towns and villages with fast roads through glorious French countryside await. It’s a chance to explore a part of France that you probably haven’t visited on your holidays.
 
And of course … when we see the perfect feed stop location …

Photo from 2019, stage 10 en-route to Albi. Feed stops don’t get much more picturesque than this!

 

First Rest Day

Rest Day! At last! After 9 big days of riding, we’re always desperate for a day off the bikes – a chance to re-group, wash kit properly, clean and tinker with bikes, sleep, rest, eat, sleep a bit more, rest a bit more and eat a LOT more.
 
The launderette is THE place to be. Word soon gets out about where the best pizza/steak frites/ice creams in town can be found. The hotel balconies are draped with drying cycling shorts and the physios are working throughout the day to massage aching bodies.
 
Tomorrow … we go again!
 
This photo from 2019.

2019: Ice creams while you do your laundry? Very efficient!

Stage 9 – countdown to 1st rest day

By stage 9 we’re hanging on by the skin of our teeth. It’s hard to think of anything much more than the upcoming rest day. Everyone needs a rest – time to properly wash kit, give the bikes some tlc and eat as much food as a human can reasonably consume in the hours of daylight.
 
But first … there are a few more mountains to climb.
(told you the Pyrenees are stunning!)

2017 in the Pyrenees. Breathtaking (in more ways than one!) Photo credit Megan Manzi

 

Stage 8 – The Pyrenees

Ahh … the Pyrenees. While many of our riders have visited the Alps to ski or cycle, for many the Pyrenees are new terrain. Some say they’re wilder, more savage. They’re certainly tough, but beautiful with incredible lesser-known climbs alongside the classics. The Nice stages were definitely hilly, but the Pyrenees are serious, handle-bar-chewing mountain climbs. Today would have been the day that the pros had their Grand Depart, in Nice one week behind us …

 

2013 was a stunning year in the Pyrenees with snow still lurking on the cols

 

Stage 7 – Viaducts

Stage 7 in 2020 was due to depart from Millau. The last time we were there was back in 2018 (stage 15). Le Tour organisers love a dramatic backdrop for the tv footage, and we do too! They also love a good viaduct – last year it was the ancient Roman viaduct in Nimes – this year, an ultra-modern one in Millau.
 
Our thanks to Capra Velo for this photo from 2018.

Viaducts and backdrops – We should have been here today … the last time we were here was back in 2018.

Stage 6 – The Feed stops

Location location location.

By stage 6 we’re well and truly into the swing of things. Riders have got into ruthlessly efficient regimes to maximise their recovery time – bike faff has reduced. Our days are broken up into 40km chunks, punctuated by feed stops.
 
Finding a great location for feed stops roughly every 40km is one of our big challenges as organisers. Some stand out as being particularly idyllic.

 

2016 – the perfect combination of shade, space to sit/lie, running water to cool feet in and a lovely view.

 

Stage 5 – The Sunshine Stages

Stage 5 would have been a flat stage from Gap to Privas this year. We call these the sunshine stages – notable for the fields of lavender and sunflowers that are so typical of the Tour de France.

With the heat that’s forecast across the UK today, this seems entirely appropriate!

Our photo today is from 2016 (remember those amazing images of Mont St Michel on the Grand Depart?). Don’t you just love it when your bike matches the flowers?

2016 was a hot year – but a beauty.

Stage 4 – The transition stage

Stage 4 is usually a transition stage – luckily the group has already bonded and understands the need to work together to get through longer, flatter stages. Nothing beats a fast-moving peloton for banter and fun, and this just helps build the camaraderie even more.
 
Even those with limited experience of riding in groups will soon get the hang of it, supported by more experienced fellow riders. Everyone is looking after each other to make sure we all get to the end of the stage safely and swiftly.

2015: Stage 4 took us from Belgium (after a Dutch Grand Depart in Utrecht) into France.

Stage 3 – The Yorkshire Grand Depart

Back in 2014 we had the pleasure of cycling the Grand Depart through Yorkshire and then down to Cambridgeshire and London for stage 3. It was a rare chance for a thoroughly British feed stop on a village green.
At the end of the final UK stage we all piled onto coaches for the long and late transfer to France, arriving in Le Touquet in the early hours to continue the Tour back on traditional turf.

2014: A rare chance for a British feedstop.

Stage 2 – settling in

With the first nervous stage under our belts we can settle down and start to find our rhythm. New friendships are already forming and the tone has been set for the Tour – team work! How do you ride the Tour de France route? Together.

P.S. this photo also beautifully captures the morning ‘bike faff’. Taken in 2012 (the first fully public TDF/Le Loop) – this is Dave and Sandy – the ‘Scottish contingent’ … memorable for celebrating each evening by sampling whatever was the local tipple … Epernay was a highlight! And for judging their hydration by the colour of their pee – in the fashion of wine-tasting notes. Ahh … there have been some great blogs over the years!

 

2012 … team work and bike faff in equal measure.

 

Stage 1 – The Grand Depart

After all the waiting, the time has come to get this Tour underway. There’s always a risk that folk will race off ahead and blow up too soon – anxious to prove that they are capable of riding this challenge … but it’s a game of hare and tortoise. Afterall, it’s an awfully long way to the end of the stage, let alone Paris for our Grand Loopers! The wise riders take time to mark the occasion with a carefully chosen photo stop.

 

Grand Depart 2018 – a run up the West coast of France in glorious sunshine.

 

Eve of Grand Depart

Everyone  is nervous. I mean … really nervous, at the first full team briefing. Riders are eyeing-up each other’s bikes, calfs, and tans, terrified that everyone else looks fitter and leaner than they do. Everyone is hoping they’ve done enough training and that they’ll get through the next few stages (and for some – all the way to Paris). Most just want to get this thing started now, after months (even years) of training and preparation.

Smiling, but also nervous!