The Tour de France is normally reserved for the fittest of the fit. Le Loop is a fully supported cycling challenge that follows the full route of the Tour de France, one week ahead of the pros, and proves that the grueling challenge can be possible for most of us mere humans. Riders sign up to one of a choice of ‘Loops’ that tackle anything from 2 to all 21 stages.
The event supports the William Wates Memorial Trust, helping the UK's most disadvantaged young people to avoid a life of crime and violence and fulfill their potential. Riders commit to fundraising a minimum target depending on which Loop they choose. For the majority, this will be £1,200. To date, Le Loop has raised over £3.5 million. Their goal is to raise £400,000 a year.
Le Loop participant and fundraiser Nicole Davison tells us about her 21-day journey. Warning - you may finish reading this and want to make immediate plans to start training...
When I stood with my bike in front of the Eiffel Tower in the summer of 2016, after cycling the entire 2016 Tour de France route nearly 3,500 kilometres across France, one week ahead of the pros with Le Loop, I never imagined that this “once in a lifetime” experience would leave so lasting an impression that I’d be inspired to do it all again in 2018.
Frankly, it wasn’t going to be easy. Just because I’d done it once, did not mean I could rest on my laurels. This was going to be a whole new challenge … a brand new course over brand new miles of road.
Fortunately, the experience from the 2016 tour helped me gain valuable perspective and thankfully knowledge of how to prepare and what to expect. I remember the look on all the new riders' faces before stage one. Fear, excitement, trepidation … we just didn’t know what the next 21 days in the saddle were going to have in store for us. But in time, we learned to trust in our abilities, in each other and most of all in the incredible Le Loop team. The road really is the best teacher and whatever we lacked in experience and training, we slowly gained as the kilometres wore on. The first pedal stroke was the hardest.
You might be thinking how on earth anyone with a full-time job and modern-day responsibilities could possibly train for 21 stages of the Tour de France. It’s a reasonable question and one I asked myself over and over…I ask it still. The most honest answer is that they can’t. No one, save for a professional cyclist, can commit to the kind of training it takes to race the Tour. But we aren’t racing, we’re riding. The goal is simply to arrive at the start in as best shape as you can manage, having ridden as many miles as your busy schedule can allow. Saddle time is the most important factor. That doesn’t necessarily mean hammering hills or doing intervals or turning yourself inside out every time you ride. It just means sitting on your bike for as long as you can budget at a pace that is sustainable and appropriate for your level of fitness.
You don’t have to be a bike racing superhero to ride the tour. You just have to love riding your bike a lot!
And don’t forget about all those rest stops. Knowing there’s plenty of food and water and smiling faces to refill an empty tank along the way, really helped to break the stages down into manageable pieces. Instead of letting the enormity of nearly 3,500-kilometres overwhelm me, I just worried about one stretch of road at a time and before I knew it, the day was done.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from the 2016 tour was to prepare for any eventuality … I know at times that year I certainly wasn’t. Never underestimate the fickle French weather, especially in the mountains. Fortunately, the support crew is always there to lend a helping hand or a warming blanket but this year I paid better attention to the suggested packing list and took a softshell jacket. It took until Stage 19 for me to need it, but the chilly fog throughout the big Tourmalet stage made me very glad I had it! Instead, 2018 was notable for its searing heat but this time I was prepared for that too. Being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses can mean the difference between completing the tour or coming up short. Riding 21 stages or, quite frankly more than just a couple (which you can do by choosing another of the ‘Loops’ on offer), is just as much about being detailed as it is disciplined. It isn’t just the exciting challenge of riding all those miles but also the beauty of experiencing a dramatically changing landscape.
Of all the experiences from both tours, the most cherished often came from spending time with my fellow cyclists. I never expected to rely on the group as much as I did during some stages or have other riders rely on me. Initially, it seemed daunting to ride all those miles alone or as a pair with my husband Scott, who was also riding the full routes. Little did we know how much we’d bond with other riders and spend so much time working together with them as a team. We learned to trust one another and share the load of a long day in the saddle. Whatever kind of rider you are, there’s always going to be like-minded cyclists in the group happy to share the miles. If you prefer the solo approach, there’s plenty of time and space for that too but even the soloists found solace in the bunch from time to time. It’s a wonderful dynamic of trust and camaraderie and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the kindness and generosity of my riding fellows.
An event like Le Loop draws a special kind of cyclist, one with gumption and determination and a whole lot of heart. Heart to accomplish the riding as well as the fundraising and doing both for an incredible cause.
It's early Winter now and this past summer feels like a lifetime ago. I'm still amazed at how three weeks can simultaneously move at a glacial pace and be over in the blink of an eye. Yet in that short span of days, myself and dozens of other cyclists, completed the adventure of a lifetime. Why did I choose to ride more than 3,500 kilometers around France...AGAIN? Because it is an amazing experience. And as a bonus, it benefits an amazing cause. Le Loop was created back in 2012 by the wonderful William Wates Memorial Trust (WWMT) as their principal fundraiser. All riders commit to a fundraising target depending on how many stages they ride, enabling WWMT to award grants to fantastic charities helping some of the most disadvantaged your people in the UK by engaging them through sport, arts, music and mentoring.
Is it easy? Of course not, but it wouldn't be worth the effort if it were. In 2016, the Tour was all about the magic of the journey; what would I see? What would I smell? And eat? And experience? Would the climbs be hard? Would I even make it to Paris? It was like a first date with France and all the wonder it might hold. Spending three weeks on a bike in the company of a supportive staff and a like-minded group of fellow cyclists taught me so much about determination and courage and community.
In 2018, the faces may have changed but the message was the same: to challenge ourselves over the mightiest of terrain with nothing but our bikes and our wits (along with expert staff and excellent feed stops...though they still can't do the pedalling for you). The first-date magic may have gone but was replaced with something better, a little like the familiarity of hanging out with an old friend. Trust me, riding all 21 stages of the Tour de France is never easier the second time (or the third or fourth like some others have done) but it does come with the satisfaction of defying the "devil you know" and being able to help others less fortunate when once in a lifetime of giving doesn't feel like enough.
At the end of the long day, it really is that simple. Helping others achieve their goals, as well as achieving your own, just by pedalling your bike. There's just nothing in the whole world quite like this experience. You may ask yourself if you could ever ride the Tour de France. One stage, five stages, all 21? You absolutely could. The better question is how many times?
NB - since completing the 2018 Tour de France route, Nicole has relocated to Biarritz where she and husband Scott are busy setting up a new bike shop. She hasn’t discounted a 3rd tour!
Le Loop follows the Tour de France route each year, one week ahead of the pros. Riders sign up to one of several Loop options, from 2 to all 21 stages. There are still a few places left to be snapped up to ride 2019.
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