What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Bookshelf: Le Loop—How to Cycle the Tour de France

“La Grande Boucle,” or “the Big Loop” is how the French affectionately refer to the biggest bike race on the planet, travelling as it does alternating clockwise and counterclockwise turns around the country. “Le Loop,” on the other hand, is a UK-based organization that brings amateur cyclists to France each year for the opportunity to ride the route of that year’s Tour, in whole or in part, a week before the pros come through. This not only gives enthusiasts a real sports challenge, but serves to raise funds for the William Wales Memorial Trust. The Trust helps disadvantaged young people to avoid a life of crime and violence, providing grants to charities engaging youth in arts, sports and education.

As author Ceri Stone self-deprecatingly describes himself in his account of riding the 21 stages of the Tour de France in 2019 in his book “Le Loop,” he is “an unremarkable human being.” He writes: “I have no special skills talents or abilities. I am an ordinary guy. I desperately wanted to do something remarkable, just once in an ordinary life.” His book is an entertaining bouillabaisse of autobiography, social observation, and a self-help guide. It is an account of a MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lycra), the Managing Director of a company selling education materials, participating in an event so difficult that professional cyclists half his age are not always able to complete it.

One reliazes that “Le Loop” is not just an account of a big hard bike ride in the opening chapter as Mr. Stone begins with his “Steps to Success,” what he describes as “Ceri’s 7 (and a bit) rungs on the ladder to success.” The first of these is “to Dream Big and Commit.” This dream is what sets everything in motion and his dream, which required lots of physical work as well as mental focus, also led to an appraisal of a life not leading in the direction he wanted. In planning this extraordinary athletic goal, the author draws heavily on his experiences in the business world as well as his accomplishments in Ironman triathlons, in which he first competed in 2013. Maybe not such an ordinary guy as he lets on…

His inspiration was fellow Welshman Geraint Thomas, winner of the 2018 Tour de France, and Le Loop would provide the structure to allow him to ride the full 21 stages and 3,500 kms. The organization provides an impressive level of support for participants and the price of entry is surprisingly modest as it is only at cost. It includes accommodation, three meals a day plus food stops en route, a fully signed route, luggage transfers, mechanical support, and bus transfers where stages are not contiguous. To this must be added the fund-raising requirement for participants which, in 2023, is a minimum of 3,000 GBP (around US$3700/C$5000).

Mr. Stone is an accomplished storyteller and his recounting of his preparations for Le Loop, including two Ironman events in 2018, one in Nice and the other in Tallinn, which provided some hard but useful lessons, with the Estonian interlude being one of those times when everything that could go wrong does go wrong. The Tour of Wessex, a three day cycling event, taught him the importance of pacing compared to the single day competitions he had done before, vital if he was to last for the three weeks of Le Loop.

So he arrives in Brussels for that year’s Grand Départ, perhaps a little less trained than hoped-for (but isn’t that always the way?) and meets up with his fellow Loopers. Some are only doing a weekend or a single week but there is a hardcore coterie of Grand Loopers doing the whole thing and the author, clearly a very gregarious person although claiming to be shy, strikes up acquaintances with many. Some are very accomplished fast riders and manage pacelines easily, while others are less organized. The early days of Le Loop seem to result in an ordering of riders as their strengths, and weaknesses, are revealed. Mr. Stone seems to like them all—Handsome Nick, Stuart the incomprehensible Scotsman, the Canadians, with their amusing accents (writes someone from Wales!), French Eric looking for ice cream…he is not so keen on Buddy, however.

The author skilfully describes what is going through someone’s head when riding the great climbs of France, the crises when things fall apart physically and the mental games you play to keep going, as well as the moments when the bicycle seems to disappear beneath you, when the gradient rolls on before you, when the descent exhilarates. And, as anyone who has done a multi-day ride will know, there is the element of living in a bubble. Eating breakfast, getting out on the road with bike and kit in order, following the route, feeding properly, arrival and more food, prep for the next day, and collapsing into bed early. Nobody down in the disco on a trip like this! You forget what day it is or even where you are except on the road ahead.

There is no question riding for 21 days with two rest days on stages that run from 180 to 250 kms, with altitude gains of up to 6,000 m in a day, is very, very hard. Even with the excellent support of the organization, there is lots of the suffering that the pros need to take in stride and Ceri Stone does not shy away from the bad moments, although one would have one liked more details about the worst hotel on the trip than the mere mention of its awfulness, which seemed to have bound the Grand Loopers together even more.

The author’s Big Dream was in two parts: to ride every meter of the 21 stages and get to Paris, no matter what, and then to write a book about it. “Le Loop” is the result, a thoughtful and humorous look at one man’s journey around France and but also through life. Ceri Stone offers warm encouragement for you to Dream Big too. And you know the author is a character when the portrait image on the cover of his book, a book that means inspire, shows him sporting a black eye!

le loop

“Le Loop—How to Cycle the Tour de France” by Ceri Stone
352 pages, softbound (also available as an e-book)
Pitch Publishing, Worthing, Sussex, UK, 2022
ISBN 978-1-80150-115-6
Suggested Price: 12.99 GBP/US$ 22.83/C$26.95

For more information about Le Loop, go here: rideleloop.org/

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