The Tour De France is the absolute gold standard of endurance cycling, with competitors completing just over 100 miles every day for 21 days. The routes they travel take them through some of the most beautiful, and challenging, hills of France, and the event as a whole is one of the toughest endurance challenges in existence. If that sounds awesome, then stick with us for the next few minutes and we’ll show you how you can take part even as an amateur cyclist.
First up – How about a little history?
The Tour De France actually began in 1903 and was originally intended to increase sales of L’Auto newspaper, which was being out-competed by its major rival Le Velo. The race was to take place from the 1st to the 19th of July, with all racers who averaged over 20 kilometers per hour being offered a daily allowance equivalent to what they would have earned working.
To make the race even more enticing the organizers also offered prizes of 3000 francs to each stage’s winner, as well as 12’000 francs to the overall winner. At the time, this represented about six times the average worker’s yearly salary! During its first few years it was only French riders who competed, but as the race’s popularity grew, so did the number of people around the world who wanted to take part.
The actual routes taken tend to vary from year to year, but there are three distinct sections that make up the race’s format. These are the time trials, the mountain sections through the Alps and Pyrenees, and the finish on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. From 1954 onwards the tour has also had starting points in various countries outside France, ranging from Spain, Germany, and Belgium through to the UK and Ireland.
The Tour Today
It’s pretty safe to say that the tour has grown massively over the past century. From its humble beginnings, it is now the 12th most watched sporting event in the world, with some of its more popular stages being viewed by more than 50 million people around the globe.
The company that organizes the Tour now has more than seventy full-time staff, as well as over 500 contractors to help with general organization and set up. It’s safe to say the prize money has also increased, with the overall winner receiving 500’000 euros, and the winner of each stage receiving 10’000 euros (for those of you in different parts of the world, that’s £440’000 or $560’000).
What does it take to get into the Tour?
Today, individual riders can no longer enter the Tour. They have been replaced with teams, and 20-22 teams compete in the tour each year. Therefore a rider must secure their place on a team in order to take part in the tour.
A lot of this is due to the rising costs of being competitive in the race. Across a single tour, each rider will need multiple top end bicycles, each costing tens of thousands of pounds. They will also need strength and conditioning support, cycle coaching and physiotherapy support. In other words, the costs of developing and supporting a rider capable of winning the Tour can end up in the hundreds of thousands.
To make matters even tougher, being part of an elite cycling team isn’t enough to guarantee you a spot on the Tour. Teams are only allowed to bring 9 riders out of dozens, so in order to be picked, riders have to outperform the others in their team in other races throughout the year.
So how fast would you need to be?
The fastest Tour De France in History was in 2005 when Lance Armstrong rode a total of 3592km in 86 hours and 15 minutes. This means that he achieved an average speed of 41.6 kilometers per hour.
And if you’re looking for the fastest time trial, then you’ll be looking to beat Rohan Dennis’ stage 1 from 2015, where he hit an average speed of 55.4 kilometers per hour!
How can you take part?
At this point you’re probably thinking, “well I’m not on that level so how on earth do I actually take part?” Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Introducing The Tour De Force, an awesome company that allows amateur cycling enthusiasts to ride stages of the Tour de France.
You will get the chance to cycle the actual Tour stages one week before the professionals hit the course. The stages will be fully signposted and marked out, and the company provides five support vehicles plus ten support staff to look after all your medical and mechanical needs.
Even better, they also sort out all your accommodation, as well as 6 meals per day to keep you fuelled for cycling (2 meals in the hotel, 4 meals as mid race snack breaks). Oh, and they bring along a sports masseuse to help you recover from a tough day’s riding.
The Tour De Force also caters for a range of time availability and cycling ability, offering anything from single stage trips through to the full Tour experience. Prices are around £140 per night all inclusive, which is extremely reasonable for the level of support you get. In exchange, the company asks that all entrants raise a given amount for the William Wates Memorial Trust, a charity that helps to keep disadvantaged youths out of crime and violence.
*Top Tip: Just because the company caters to amateurs, don’t mistake this for meaning they cater for beginners. If you want to enter you need to have trained enough to be able to complete the distances you have signed up for in reasonable times (cycling in the dark isn’t fun for anyone and the organizers will have to stop you and drive you onwards). So make sure you train hard in the months leading up to the event.
Ready to get cycling?
If you’re a fan of the Tour and you’re an avid cyclist then this is an amazing opportunity. Not only do you get to cycle the exact same route as the professionals but you get to do it with all the support you need, surrounded by enthusiastic and like minded people.
And if you really want to get the full experience, you can learn some French before your trip.