Bucket List Ride: How you can ride the Tour de France
Le Loop is one of the most iconic rides in the sportive calendar, giving us regular folk the opportunity to ride the entire route of the Tour de France a week ahead of the pros. Emily Chappell shares her journey from fearful participant to ride leader, and tells us why more women should follow hers and Marie Marvingt’s lead
“Just arrived in Périgueux for Le Loop and I'm hiding in my room because the hotel is full of tall, athletic men and I’ve never felt more short, dumpy and inadequate in my life.”
I laugh when I look back at the text I sent to a friend in a typical moment of pre-ride self-doubt.
I turned out (yet again) to be a better cyclist than I expected, and (yet again) the intimidating men all turned out to be friendly, welcoming and non-judgmental. But I’m still troubled by that erstwhile self-doubt. I’m one of the most experienced riders I know, and if I still feel nervous about joining in, what hope is there for anyone else?
And, more to the point, what can I do to change this and help more women get over their fears, sign up for rides, enter races, and challenge what they think they’re capable of?
I’ve realised that, no matter how nervous I sometimes am, I owe it to all the other nervous women (and perhaps some of the nervous men too) to put myself out there. We all do – not just the superheroes.
We need to see women who aren’t professional athletes, who aren’t necessarily that fast, who might have a few extra love handles or grey hairs, but who are still riding their bikes and are as welcome and as readily accepted as any of the men.
My work with The Adventure Syndicate has shown me that one of the most important contributions we can all make for giving more women confidence is to get out there, do it and be present and visible... which is why I will be rejoining Le Loop in 2018, not just as a rider, but as Lead Cyclist.
The few days I spent riding this year’s Le Loop reminded me what a joy cycling can be. With my new friends I battled up soaring Pyrennean cols, gaping at the spectacular scenery and marvelling at the middle-aged Germans who already had their camper vans in position to watch the pro peloton come through a week later.
We paced each other up the climbs, sheltered each other from the wind on the flats, shared food when we bonked (though Le Loop provides a very generous four pit stops per day, so any calorie mismanagement was entirely our own fault), took triumphant selfies on the passes and sat around grinning exhaustedly at each other in the evenings, as we laid waste to a series of typically French banquets and swapped stories of how we had ended up here.
No two stories were the same. There was Mike, who was doing the ride for his 60th birthday. He'd saved up for it for a decade, and was quite clearly having the time of his life.
There was EA, a woman of about my age, and a veteran of two hip replacements, who’d ‘warmed up’ by cycling across Africa and seemed amusingly unconvinced that any of this was a big deal.
I got to know Julia, who had bought her first road bike less than a year previously, trained assiduously to ride two stages of Le Loop, and was quite openly delighted with the progress she had made. I chatted to Lottie, a star of the mid pack, who was riding a few stages with her father as their annual summer bonding session. And I rode alongside Jacqui, a former professional from the US, who was overjoyed to be riding European cols for the first time, and giving the fast guys a run for their money.
I suppose it’s obvious that I should be excited about riding Le Loop again. After all, it’s a chance to ride the entire route of the Tour de France, with all its cols and sunflowers and flawless, silky tarmac. I’ll get to share endorphins, in-jokes and croissants with over 100 new friends. I’ll be part of a family of riders, mechanics, physios, doctors and drivers that has existed for over 7 years.
But what I’m going to enjoy most about my new role is the opportunity to make a difference – to be living, breathing, riding proof that events like this belong to women as much as to men, and to encourage and support all the other women who sign up to ride a couple of stages or the whole thing, from the grand départ in the Vendée all the way to the Champs Élysées in Paris.
In 1908, Marie was refused permission to cycle the Tour de France, so she did it anyway (on the same course, just slightly later) completing the whole tour in a year when only 36 of 114 men managed the same.
In 2018, 110 years later, we’re encouraging as many women as possible to take on 2 or more stages of the Tour de France ith our support and camaraderie, plus a little bit of Marie’s determination, we can all share the amazing feeling of cycling multiple Tour de France stages.
Every woman who rides all or part of Le Loop is automatically a member, and will have access to a dedicated Facebook group in the run-up to the event, where they can make friends, swap training tips, compare tan lines, arrange get-togethers and social rides, and support each other towards their eventual goal – be it completing the whole Grand Loop, riding a couple of spiky mountain stages, or spending a week on the bike in glorious scenery and good company.
Le Loop isn’t an easy ride, but it’s a challenge we can all rise to, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting to the top of a mountain you didn’t think you’d reach, and realising you were capable of more than you thought.
Many of us come home from trips like Le Loop feeling invincible, with the strength to take on their problems, make positive life choices, and change the world around them in their own particular way.
One of my aims in life is to share this feeling with as many women as possible. Now, thanks to Team Marie, you can share it with each other as well.
Sign up for this year’s Le Loop and be part of Team Marie
Photography: Megan Manzi (main image)