Tour Report 2023
Bilbao – the jewel in the crown of Basque country – what an iconic city for a Grand Depart! Our first 3 stages of the 2023 Tour were a huge amount of fun, with the highest numbers we’d have on tour. Joined by Rick and Jonny Wates (William Wates’ brothers), we had a strong sense of what Le Loop is all about, right from the outset: it’s not just about cycling, friendship, camaraderie and challenge … it’s also about family, support, and helping those we can – whether that’s out on the road cycling multiple stages of the Tour de France route, or by raising funds to help young people who are struggling to keep their lives on track.
After the rolling emerald green hills and azure blue waters of Basque, we entered France and said goodbye to those who’d joined us for the Grand Depart Loop, while welcoming new arrivals for the Pyrenees. But the highlight here was the outstanding talk by youngster James from the STAR Scheme (one of the projects supported by a WWMT grant) who left us in now doubt that what we are achieving here with Le Loop is so much greater than the sum of its parts. His tenacity, bravery, determination and grace were a lesson to us all. Humbled, we headed into the majestic climbs of the Pyrenees. Having been practically boiled alive here in 2022, this year we rode through chilly mist and fog, turning the meandering cattle, sheep, donkeys and llamas into slow moving obstacles! Denied the glorious views from the Top of Aspin and Tourmalet, the sense of satisfaction on summiting was no less. These are big, challenging mountains to climb and a huge achievement whatever the weather.
Once down from the mountains the sunny weather returned as we headed across France through lovely countryside and pretty villages. By now, those faster flatter stages were flying by as we worked in teams with fast moving, efficient pelotons that ate up the miles until we reached our first, much-anticipated rest day in lovely Clermont Ferrand. Nothing beats a day of eating, cleaning and resting!
We said goodbye to all our ‘First Half’ Loopers here and soon welcomed a big contingent of riders tackling the Middle Mountains (3 stages) and Mountains Week (7 stages), as well as our ‘Second Half’ Loopers. Nothing beats fresh legs on tour and it was wonderful to welcome familiar faces along with lots of new Loopers. We love the way that our Alumni are so welcoming to new riders – no impenetrable cliques here!
We rode in the heart of the Massif Central with high temperatures but beautiful rolling climbs, culminatin on stage 13 at the top of the might Grand Colombier. We’d been joined the night before by our Alps Loopers for their first of 3 ‘big climb’ stages into the Alps.
It was a huge pleasure to be joined by William Wates’s father, Andrew, for a couple of days on tour – he rode with us, cheered us on and got stuck into helping the team at feed stops. He epitomizes the huge commitment and enthusiasm from the Wates family for Le Loop – something we all appreciate immensely. With every rider raising funds for the William Wates Memorial Trust, to meet Andrew is an opportunity to really connect with the origins of the Trust and our goals. Andrew shared stories from 1 or 2 of the projects he personally champions, where he sees the effects being ‘transformational’ on the lives of these youngsters. Once again, we are humbled by both the Wates’ family story and the many individual success stories achieved by the charities we support through grants. We all ride with a bigger, greater purpose as a result.
Stage 14 was huge – but the breathtaking scenery and glorious sunshine made this an unforgettable stage. With 4,200m of climbing, this was always going to hurt, but the rewards were immense. Does cycling get any better? Then on to stage 15: another monster, made almost criplling by the heat well into the 40s (one rider clocked 43.9 degrees – oof!). But the breathtaking views of the Mont Blanc Massif as we approached our stage finish in lovely St Gervais filled us with awe and made the achievement all the sweeter.
And so we arrived at our 2nd rest day. St Gervais has a long history as a spa town and we were lucky enough to be in one of the more lovely hotels of the tour. Accommodation on tour is very varied – we like to think of it as an ‘eclectic mix’ that only adds to the sense of adventure! But it does mean that the more luxurious hotels are a massive treat and to be savoured!
With just 1 more week to go, we started with a super-fun time trial (treated as a race by some, but as a chance to loosen up the legs by others) before waking up to the Queen Stage in torrential storm the likes of which you only get in the high mountains. Despite not boding well, the day miraculously cleared – the Tour gods were with us! After a huge stage that culminated on the Col de la Loze above Meribel/Courchevel in sunshine for the early birds and thick cold fog for those who took a bit longer, we actually just felt lucky to have ‘got away with it’ on such a foreboding day!
The Mountains Week Loopers left us here and it was a much smaller band of riders who took us through stages 18 to 21 – just the 2nd Half Loopers and our heroic Grand Loopers. These were a mix of fast days, energy-sapping rolling climbs through the Vosges, fabulously-decorated villages celebrating Bastille Day and a final killer climb up to Le Markstein for ice cold, celebratory beers. Job, very nearly, done.
And finally! Paris! Just over 3 weeks of cycling had taken us from Bilbao on a beautiful adventure where great friendships were made and ur riders supported each other through all the highs and the inevitable occasional lows. They don’t call the Tour de France the toughest cycle race in the world for nothing.
But this year has been even more special than usual, because this year has been the biggest fundraising year for Le Loop to date, and by a significant margin! Thanks to our extraordinary riders and their wonderful supporters, the 2023 Tour raised an astonishing £551,669 for the William Wates Memorial Trust. Not only is that a record-breaking figure, it also taken our grand total for fundraising on the Tour de Force/ Le Loop to over £5 million!
Since 2006, this event (originally the Tour de Force and operated just for the Wates’ friends and family) has made it possible for WWMT to support the best charities offering young people a safe haven, life skills, a network of people who care, mentoring, physical and emotional wellbeing and the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Alongside our Loopers’ incredible achievements on the bike, this is what they should be most proud of. What a year 2023 has been! Chapeau to you all.
Vive Le Tour!