A slice of the Tour de France comes to the Chiltern Hills this Bastille Day (14th July) when 3,000 riders roll out for the 2019 edition of L’Etape UK from Penn House stately home just outside Amersham.
Not only does the event promise some pretty lumpy riding - with a choice of four routes and an exclusive climb guide by climbs guru Simon Warren (more on that later), there’s also full-on Tour de France fan park - like the one on the Champs Elysee which will be showing Stage 9 of the Tour from St Etienne live on a big screen so you can watch the pros having their own traditionally lumpy Bastille Day ride after you’ve finished yours, or indeed you could go just for the fan park as it’s open to all.
Once there was just one L’Etape Du Tour, nowadays the people behind the Tour have produced a whole series of L'Etape rides across the world from California to China and lots of exotic places in between.
What characterises them all is that like the original they are hard. The UK edition doesn’t stray from that template either – the Chilterns may not be the Pyrenees or the Alps but they are a beautiful place to ride and they are hard. As most grand tour riders will tell you it’s not the mountains it's the lumpy days that are the hardest and the three route options certainly fall into that category with barely any flat sections at all – so you’re going to be in for a test.
At 161km the long route delivers 2085m of climbing while the 109km medium route chips in with 1,358m and even the shorter 52km has 550m of climbs.
Do the long route and you get to enjoy 10 named climbs – Simon Warren of 100 Climbs fame has produced an excellent mini-guide to them all – Cycling Climbs of The L'Etape United Kingdom). Names to look out for include The Crong (Warren’s favourite), Whiteleaf Hill, Wardrobes, and Kingston Hill. Simon Warren's hill climb guide is downloadable on the link above and is well worth the read even if you just want to know about the climbs the Chilterns have to offer.
If you’re tackling the long or medium routes you also get the chance to test yourself on the closed section Rapha Timed Climb up WhiteLeaf Hill – just outside Princes Risborough. From the top you then drop down from Whiteleaf via Kop Hill, the only hill on the course anyone from road.cc has ridden (not our neck of the woods) and that was up it – going down “could be quite scary” was our in-house 'expert's' summing up – worth noting that Warren uses the word “hurtle” to summarise this descent in his guide – so worth covering the brakes.
Like all Tour de France fan parks this one is open to all, whether you’re riding or not. Not only that there’s also a French food market and vintage bike display. So if you just want to go and soak up some gallic atmosphere you can do it without having to head all the way over to France… where everything would be shut anyway cos it’s Sunday, and it’s Bastille Day.
Entries for L'Etape UK are still open and are £54 for the short route, £55 for the medium, and £57 for the long route. Entry includes free mechanical support, free energy products at the feed stations…, feed stations, timing chip, and that all important medal - oh, and the chance to have your photo with it on a real Tour de France podium. You can find out more and enter via the event website at www.letapeuk.co.uk
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.