Imagine rolling out of your comfortable bed in a five-star chalet, spending the day cycling through the famed French Alps and pulling up at the side of the road to watch the Tour De France whiz by just metres from you all whilst dining on a gourmet picnic lunch.
That’s exactly what happens with UK based cycling company Just Pedal who take cycling tours through some of the most famous mountains (cols) in France to coincide with The Tour every year.
The Tour De France is the oldest and most well-known cycling race in the world. The prestigious race was established in early 20th century France, by Géo Lefèvre, a journalist with L’Auto magazine who conceptualised the mammoth 2,500 kilometre long event featuring around 60 cyclists racing through France’s spectacular towns and countryside – only 21 of whom actually made the distance.
The French public were soon enraptured with the epic event and the roadsides became packed with people each year turning out to cheer on the determined cyclists, often considered mad but courageous by their French supporters.
In 1910 the spectacular mountains were added, and the beauty of France (as well as neighbouring countries at times) was thrust onto the world stage. It has survived two world wars (when it was stopped), and economic challenges and social changes, but continues to grow in global popularity.
Many people don’t realise how close you can still get to the action. Usually held in July, the route changes each year, but always includes hill stages, flat stages, mountains and time trials. There are 20-22 teams, each with nine riders. Every stage is timed and the rider with the lowest aggregate time is the leader of the race and gets to don the coveted yellow jersey when they are presented with French champagne. The atmosphere is electric.
“Our trip based around The Tour is always very popular with cyclists from all over the world and booked well in advance,” Just Pedal founder Rob Hawkins explains. The chance to be a part of this world event is one of the unique selling points of the trip, and he ensures cyclists are right amongst the action. “Our Alpine Tour de France Experience runs for seven days and we cycle along sections of the exact route of the Tour at different times,” he says. “Plus participants have the chance to watch two to three Tour stages metres from the professional cyclists, and they get to ride through the crowds, which can be awesome. As far as event interaction goes, no other professional sporting event gets close to the Tour de France. Being able to ride through the crowds on a world famous Alpine col hours before the pros is the cycling equivalent of batting in front of a boxing day crowd at the MCG.”
He says the cycling is tough at times, but well worth it. “The Alps are certainly not for the faint hearted and the climbs in this year’s tour (and every other year) were some of the hardest in the world. However with a good level of fitness and some focused training, most people will be able to take on the challenge,” he explains.
As a cyclist, the sense of achievement when you reach the top of a famous Alpine col is a thrilling experience, as is the descent and the spectacular world-class scenery. It’s often busy when riding up the famous cols and it’s not uncommon to befriend fellow riders in other groups as you join forces to conquer nature and support each other.
Whilst an intermediate level of fitness is a prerequisite, and the cycling can be tough, the trip itself is luxurious. Support vehicles travel with cyclists to ensure safety at all times and to provide regular refreshments and energy food during long rides.
Accommodation is in two five-star traditional Savoyarde alpine chalets, which are recipients of the Meribel Tourist Office’s five-star Label Meribel awards, catering for up to 10 people each. They feature large bedrooms, ensuites and a jacuzzi.
Specially selected in-house chefs prepare organic meals using fresh local produce sourced daily. Local wines are also included. Cyclists can bring non-cycling partners, as the accommodation is in the centre of Meribel Village, and there are numerous activities to enjoy close by.
As far as event interaction goes, the thrills just don’t stop. “Our guests are surprised at how close to the action they get as well as the speed of the pro-riders. Even the slowest professionals ride uphill at around 30 kilometres an hour which seems a lot quicker when they are right next to you. It is an inspiring, once in a lifetime experience,” Rob says.
A surprise of The Tour is a procession of sponsor’s pageant-style floats which drive through the streets before the cyclists appear entertaining the crowds with everything from music to dancers and spectacular shows, many throwing promotional material into the crowds.
Just Pedal can even arrange bike hire and have the bike adjusted to your own settings before you arrive, so you don’t have to bring your own from Australia. Rob says the demand for these tours is only going to increase. “We have also done bespoke trips for groups who want a particular focus of The Tour and they can run from one day to the full three weeks of the event.”