Are you Eddy Merckx enough to ride the 1972 Tour de France? Grand Velo Tours is offering the ultimate bucket-list bike ride
British company invites you to channel your inner Cannibal and ride the whole of the best Tour route in history
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If you thought L’Etape du Tour gave you a little taste of what it’s like to ride the world’s biggest bike race (opens in new tab), here’s something that serves up a humongous great casserole of it.
Grand Velo Tours is offering not just one mountain stage out of next year's route but the entire route of the 1972 Tour. Why 1972? That year’s race was considered perfect in every way with its neat, precise loop of France taking in every iconic climb and won by the great Eddy Merckx.
It’s a total of 3,500km and Grand Velo Tours will ride it in three weeks over 20 stages just like Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Raymond Poulidor and co did. It will be a once in a lifetime adventure, promises the British company, and takes place between June and July 2023.
Sounds easy, right?
Well, Grand Velo Tours co-founder Chris Lewis told Cycling Weekly that he’s convinced it’s within the reach of any fit rider who has put in the requisite amount of saddle time in advance.
“It’s like doing London to Brighton and back every day for three weeks,” he says. “Except you’re going down the Atlantic coast, across to the Pyrenees, back up to the Alps and finishing in Paris.
“The first week is in your legs, the second week it’s up here in your head and the third week it’s in your heart, getting to Paris,” he enthuses.
Lewis, along with the other founders of Grand Velo Tours, Ian and Carly Coop, has ridden multiple long-distance events himself. He's also half French and his wife Leslie, who looks after French-speaking arrangements for the company, is native French.
“Between the five of us we have about 500 days of stage events experience - road, mountain bike, gravel, about four Cape Epics in there. We know what it’s like from the rider’s experience - what’s good, what’s not so good… so gradually we’ve built up what we’d like ourselves. We’ve done this because we think this is the best version to get a maximum of 40 people round," says Lewis.
The company trialled the 1972 Tour trip in 2019 pre-Covid, says Lewis, and he explains that the route they finalised is about 85% of the Merckx version and the other 15% has been tweaked in order to make things easier logistically, with hotels in the right places where possible, taking the most suitable roads and and with no transfer miles.
"The route takes us deliberately though some national parks. Every day the landscape changes slightly. You’re really close to France."
However, the parcours still includes all the climbs including Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, Izoard, Tourmalet, Galibier, Croix de Fer and Peyresourde.
There’s the option of a ‘demi tour', whereby riders join for the last 10 days, with the first day heading up Mont Ventoux.
Grand Velo Tours provides three or four-star hotel accommodation, meals (half board), luggage transfers between hotels, mechanical support, feed stops via the support van on the road so that all you’re required to do is ride your bike… a lot.
But tell us again, can absolutely anyone really do this?
Lewis explains that Grand Velo Tours will set up a call with a rider before they sign up, chat about their background and raise any concerns with them. “It’s not impossible but you need to start training,” Lewis says.
“You need to put aside time. You need to be able to go out and do a six-hour ride. It doesn’t have to be very fast, but you’ve got to work on your saddle time. That’s the most important thing.”
And how does the inevitable mix of abilities work out on the road?
“In the first week stronger people are always wanting to smash it. But in the second week they’ve chilled out a bit and are talking to the people who are last in, helping them, giving them a tow if they need it or going ahead and ordering them a beer at the hotel for when they get in.
“It’s very much about the route, the ride and the riders and it’s not a race. We ask people to seed themselves in the morning. The fast people will have time for another espresso and leave at nine o’clock, then by the time they’ve gone through feed stops one and two they’ve probably caught everyone.
"In 2019 we did a test version on the route and we took about 15 riders to trial it. One of them came for his 60th birthday plus his mates from Dorking CC, who are 60-plus, and a lady who was in her late 50s."
Lewis says Grand Velo Tours doesn’t operate a broomwagon, “but if your legs or wheels fall off there are four or five vehicles at least on the route. So you’ll never be too far from someone. If your crank shears we should have a couple of spare bikes.”
And finally - dare we ask how much it costs?
“£5,500 for the whole route - the Classic Tour,” says Lewis. “And £3,500 for the Demi Tour. But in 2019 we found that the people who rode just 10 days were wishing they’d been brave enough to take the whole 20 days off work and do the whole tour. “It’s not the sort of thing you’re going to come back again to do,” he points out.
Does Lewis think people will be brave enough/rich enough to sign up?
“Le Loop (opens in new tab) [which also offers the Tour de France but the current, not the 1972 route] sold out their 2023 full route version for a maximum of 40 people - like ours - in two minutes. Having also ridden Le Loop's before we started Grand Velo Tours, I think ours offers something different. We can take people beyond what they think they can do. It’s a fabulous experience. We just want to share it with more people and that’s why we set it up.”
Grand Velo Tours' Classic Tour runs from Nantes to Paris from Saturday 17th June 2023 to Sunday 9th July (22 nights) and costs £5,500, while the Demi Tour runs from Thursday 28th June also to 9th July (10 nights) and costs £3,500.
Check out Grand Velo Tours' website (opens in new tab) for more details.
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Simon Smythe is Cycling Weekly's senior tech writer and has been in various roles at CW since 2003. His first job was as a sub editor following an MA in online journalism. In his cycling career Simon has mostly focused on time trialling with a national medal, a few open wins and his club's 30-mile record in his palmares. These days he spends most of his time testing road bikes, or on a tandem doing the school run with his younger son.
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