In mid-October every year a glitzy function room in the Palais des Congrès in Paris sees the world’s greatest cyclists come together looking more awkward than they ever do in lycra. Not known for their panache off the bike, this peloton of eclectically dressed professionals eagerly awaits the biggest announcement of the year. The Tour de France route for 2020 is revealed on October 15th and we’re all counting the days.
The World Championships signals two things to me, the end of the road season proper and the beginning of the short wait for the greatest race on earth to spark back into life. The end of each Tour de France is a strange time for me, always filled with great memories and hundreds of kilometres in the legs but rarely any time to properly reflect on the experience. Our Trip Calendar at Thomson doesn’t end with the Tour; trips back to the Pyrenees and Alps follow in late July and August and then a flurry of Calendared and Private trips across Europe all come ahead of the Vuelta.
By the time October comes around each year my post-Tour diary will have included multiple trips plus reconnaissance of new destinations for the following year. Only when the pre-announcement rumours start to appear do I really get time to reflect on the year’s Tour de France. This year was particularly special, many have said that 2019 was the greatest Tour for a generation and it’s difficult to disagree. With exciting racing from start to finish we seemed to have turned the page for a new chapter in Grand Tour racing. Personally speaking, our Thomson Trips to the Tour for both cyclists and Spectators were incredibly rewarding with countless highlights.
The Highest Highs
2019 saw the highest Tour route in history with Christian Prudhomme declaring “to win you’ll need to be a climber, clearly” ahead of the race. Being avid climbers this was music to our ears, there’s nothing to compare to the cresting of a huge climb and the reward of a long, winding descent. What was most impressive was how this didn’t turn the race into a pure climbers event. Julian Alaphilippe enjoyed 14 days in the yellow jersey in a resurgence of French cycling. Thibaut Pinot’s win on Stage 14 was universally enjoyed ahead of his unfortunate early departure.
I’ve become a huge fan of Colombia and Colombian cycling over recent years. We have a sister company, Brivido, to cater for the burgeoning market of passionate cyclists in South America. Every time we ride our Trans-Colombia trips or Colombia Training Camps I’m amazed at the unique attitude and enthusiasm of the Colombian cycling community. The altitude is clearly an advantage for riders training ahead of European races and that proved the case this year with Colombia’s first Tour de France win with Egan Bernal. It seems that Colombian riders will play a big part in stage races for years to come.
Ineos — Luck or Judgement
We’re used to seeing Team Ineos, or Team Sky as they were, controlling a Grand Tour but despite winning, they didn’t seem the steam rolling team of old. With two leaders it was never clear who was working for who, although not quite to Movistar levels of confusion. I am fascinated by their tactics on stage 19 – the day that Bernal took the yellow jersey for the first time, helped in no small part to a landslide. Did Ineos know the race would finish on top of the Col de L’Iseran and send Bernal off for the win, or did they send Bernal off the front to force others to chase on the climb to Tignes, leaving the door open for Thomas to attack in the final kilometres? Whatever the thinking, it made for exciting viewing and the inevitable handing over of control from reigning champion to young pretender.
What Next for Ineos?
Judging by his sporadic posts on social media, Chris Froome is enjoying a speedy recovery from his terrible injury which leaves Team Ineos with an interesting dilemma. They now boast four Grand Tour champions in Carapaz, Froome, Bernal and Thomas in their squad and surely each will want to be considered leader for at least one of the big races. Who gets to be number one for the greatest race on earth? Who is most likely to win and who is most deserving of the chance to shine? Perhaps the unveiling of the route will shed more light on that decision, it’s a problem many a rival team would love to have!
Three is The Magic Number
Whilst three team leaders didn’t really work for Movistar, yet again, from our own perspective three really was the magic number. For each day we offered three different rides, designed to offer the best route for every rider – whatever their level. The Sport, Performance and Extreme groups covered roughly the same route but with increasing distance and difficulty, each of these then sub-divided into pace groups. Following our daily ride briefing the riders chose their route for the day, able to switch between them every day. I’m very proud of how successful this format is at providing the perfect environment to enable everyone to achieve their goals. We were lucky to have incredible groups with us in both the Pyrenees and Alps, making 2019 a very special Tour indeed.
Inside the Race
As the Tour’s No.1 Premium Tour Operator we are able to get our guests as close to the action as possible and this year we couldn’t have been closer! Thanks to our long-standing good relationship with ASO (the Tour de France organizers), we were able to join the race caravan in the evacuation of the Col du Tourmalet. Our vans had police escort to the summit, following just a few yards behind the last rider of the day – Marcus Burghardt. With finish line finishes and podium photographs at Bagneres de Bigorre and Valloire we enjoyed a special relationship with this exciting race that our guests will never forget.
The Icons of the Tour
Thanks to our private VIP race-viewing marquees our guests can ride the most famous climbs of the Tour ahead of the pros, then settle in to watch the race unfold. The reward of the ascent is all we want as cyclists, but who would turn down cold beers and great food as the race is beamed live to the mountainside! The tension builds throughout the day until the race speeds past our vantage point, something we enjoyed on Tourmalet and the Col de L’Iseran this year.
When it comes to icons, are there any bigger icons in the Tour than Alpe d’Huez and the final stage in Paris? Climbing the Alpe is always a popular highlight for our guests, with the climax of the race viewed from our VIP booth in Paris opposite the finish line – the perfect way to bring the race to a close.
Reflections and Expectations
With just two weeks to go until the 2020 route announcement I have finally had a chance to reflect on one of the most enjoyable Tours I’ve ever experienced. We had a truly remarkable 2019 trip which has served only to make me more excited for 2020. I will be counting the days between now and October 15th in eager anticipation of old favourites and new challenges. Advanced Reservations for our 2020 Tour de France trips are open now. With a no-risk $100 deposit you can secure your place in the team for next year.
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