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What TDF means to Trek Travel

As traveling staff members schedule their out-of-office replies and guests call in to finalize their trips to the Tour de France, I sit here wanting to go with. Then I realize I have little idea what is about to even happen.

I’m the new intern here at Trek Travel. So when people around the office start talking about the tour, I can’t begin to imagine everything that goes into it from Trek Travel’s point of view. I know that it is a huge collective of hours and hours of work put in to make the trips happen flawlessly. But along with the hard work comes a trip of a lifetime. I want to be in their shoes, experience the tour, be surrounded by cycling-fanatics and take in the biggest cycling event in the world from stunning views. Until then, I’ll listen to their stories and daydream. Read about the Tour de France from the eyes of the Travel Travel team here in Madison.

Featured in this story:

Meagan Coates, Trip Design Manager
Brie Willey, Guide Manager
Mark Thomsen, Marketing Manager

Briefly, describe how Trek Travel is involved in the Tour?

Meagan: Trek Travel offers the premier trips in the industry at the Tour de France, hands down. From trips that allow guests to ride the routes on the same day as the pros, to trips and spectator vacations with Official Tour Operator VIP passes and Trek-Segafredo team access to Paris finish packages, and even supported trips at the Etape du Tour, we have something for every fan of the race. We put a lot of effort up to a year or more in advance to the race being announced to source the prime locations for on course viewings and hotels and overall we have a team of designers working on Tour de France year round.

What would you say is one of the “I can’t believe this” moments for a Trek Travel guest?

Meagan: This is very personal for everyone and depends on the drama that unfolds throughout the race. But I think nearly all guests have a moment during their trip–perhaps while sipping a glass of champagne at a perfectly-situated on-course viewing spot looking out over the French Alps–and they realize they are actually there in person and not watching the Tour footage from the helicopters as broadcast on tv.

Trek Travel Tour de France Paris Finish Photos

What’s going through your mind on your way to the tour?

Mark: Typically trying to learn as much as I can about the areas of France the Tour will visit for that year. I like to find fun facts that are not obvious. Also I like to have a solid understanding of the top cyclists that could podium or win a green jersey. Guests love talking shop, so I have to keep up.

Brie: Study! It is imperative to study maps, regional highlights, trip materials, pro riders and more. You want to be as prepared as you possibly can be heading into any trip. The TDF takes it to the next level. All guides have to be firing on all pistons to make these trips successful and awesome! Other thoughts always include daily back-up plans and what ifs! Our job is to deliver a Trip of a Lifetime, in order to do that, we have to be prepared for absolutely anything. A saying we use often: “It is the Tour. Anything can happen. Always have a Plan B!” Roads close earlier than they are supposed to, thunderstorms roll into the mountains in a matter of minutes, bridges give out weeks before a stage causing a complete reroute. You name it, it can happen at the Tour. “Fun and Flexible” is the name of the game and Trek Travel guides are the masters!

How many times have you been on this trip, and how does it change year by year for you?

Mark: I’ve guided it four years’ worth. Personally I always looked forward to the mountain stages as I love to climb. I loved the variability of the Tour as well, always having to think on your feet was fun to me. Road closures, crazy fans, our incredible viewing sites halfway up mountains. It’s always hectic, but I tend to thrive on that. I also always love going into Paris at the end. It’s a great party at the Automobile Club where all the guides and guest come together for one last big party. It’s the perfect way to wrap up three weeks of crazy Tour de France trips.

Brie: My first year guiding at the Tour de France was in 2012 in the Alps. I’ve guided TDF trips every year since and head to France in a few short days for the Etape this time around. Each year the route changes throughout the beautiful Alps and Pyrenees mountain ranges but always ends in Paris. From the most challenging days on a bike to the utmost breathtaking views I’ve ever laid eyes on, the Tour de France has been a real pleasure to experience with Trek Travel over the years!

How do you prepare for the tour?

Mark: Ride, Ride and Ride. See above, love to climb. Also we do a lot of pre-trip research as guides. We’ll go out for a couple weeks prior to our first group, to review all routes, hotels, meeting locations, etc. As guides we like to know as much as possible before any guests arrive.

What’s going through your mind on your way home?

Mark: Can’t wait to sleep in my own bed!

Brie: Guides are pretty exhausted at the end. I typically sleep the entire plane ride home. From take-off to landing, no joke. Tour de France trips run at a high level mentally, physically and emotionally. When headed home there is often the feeling of, “I survived…that was the craziest trip ever…I CAN’T wait to do it again next year!” That was how I felt in 2012, it hasn’t changed since.

Favorite TDF moment?

Mark: The first time I climbed Alpe d’Huez the day the pros did. It was my first year guiding and only second trip guiding ever. You get to the base and it just looms overhead…21 switchbacks to the top. The crazy thing was that all the fans were already lining the route. They cheered us on as though we were pros. And the Dutch corner was a sea of orange. Truly an incredible experience and one I can’t wait to get back to some day.

Brie: There are many! Paris is always a favorite. I love seeing the pure joy on guest’s faces—they are loving life and thrilled to experience the tour finale in such a stunning city. As of late, I have also really enjoyed seeing the happiness and relief on my guide’s faces in Paris. Once you reach Paris, it’s a home-free feeling for guides. You have the opportunity to relax a bit, drink champagne with colleagues and have a grand ol’ time in the City of Lights. Other memorable moments include helicoptering guests off the top of Alpe d’Huez at the end of a mountain top finish to their luxury hotel on Lake Annecy. A VIP experience they never forget.

“I survived…that was the craziest trip ever…I CAN’T wait to do it again next year!” That was how I felt in 2012 and that feeling hasn’t changed since.

Race Access on Trek Travel's Tour de France Cycling Vacation

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Sine Waves in France at the 2010 Tour

This post originally appeared on Groucho Sports on July 3rd, written by Trek Travel guide Jon Vick. Seeing the Tour is over and we are all going through various states of withdrawl, I thought it appropriate to share! Enjoy, it’s a great read. –Ed.

To me, life is a sine wave. It has ups and downs. In general, the highs and lows fall about an equal distance from those moments where you’re just cruising along. I spent a lot of years of my life as a guide for Trek Travel. Life as a TT guide is no different. It still has its highs and its lows, but for me, the wave was a lot more amplified. The highs were unbelievable, riding my bike through the Alps on a beautiful sunny day, mountain biking in New Zealand, eating Michelin starred meals in Provence, or drinking 100 point wines in Bordeaux. At the same time, some of the lows I experienced were on the other end of that sine wave. Rarely did the opposite ends of the wave closely coincide, but one day in 2010, they came pretty darn close together.

The Tour de France is an amazing spectacle to experience. There are so many sounds and sights and smells coming at you from every direction, it can be sensory overload. The French Gendarmerie has the difficult task of managing the thousands – hundreds of thousands even – of people who want to see the race live. They close roads to cars hours and sometimes days in advance of the race. Sometimes you can ride your bike up the route until the publicity caravan arrives, and other times they close the road to cyclists in advance as well. They’ve even been known to threaten to close the road to fans on foot once the crowds at the top of climbs swell and squeeze the road.

I was on a trip with three other guides at the Tour de France in 2010, heading into the Tour’s queen stage, finishing atop the legendary Col du Tourmalet. Our group way staying on the back side of the mountain, and we were planning on riding over the top, through the finish line, and descending to our viewing area. The afternoon before we heard rumors that the top of Tourmalet was already closed. Other information told us that we would still be fine to go through. After hours of our advance team scouting the road for actual closures, talking to the Gendarmerie about their plans to close the road, and talking to our contacts within the Tour organization, nothing could be definitively concluded.

We couldn’t risk getting caught out and not seeing the stage, a stage that promised to be one of the most dramatic battles on the road in recent Tour de France history, so we made a tough decision. We called every guest in their room and told them that rather than being ready to ride at 9am, they should have their bags packed and be in the lobby for a 5am bus ride around to the other side of the mountain – where even there, there was a possibility we would run into road closures and not get to our viewing spot.

There was just one problem. We didn’t have a place to start from. Okay, two problems, we didn’t have a written route either. So at 3am, a guide from the other group that was staying at our hotel and I set off in tandem, driving vans loaded with bikes to the other side of the mountain, to a spot that she had in mind. What we found was not necessarily ideal, but it was functional, so we rolled with it. After determining that we could set up and ride as a group to the start of the climb, I kicked back the driver’s seat for an hour of fitful sleep as the rain poured down and thunder echoed off the mountains around us.

Eventually we had to brave the rain to get out and start setting up bikes. I jumped up on the roofs of our vans to pass down the bikes from the roof racks. As I stood on the huge metal plate that comprised the base of our rack system in the middle of a gigantic Carrefour parking lot in an epic lightning storm, I came to terms with the fact that I was soon to get struck by lightning and this morning was going to be the end of it. Our guests arrived on their bus that left a couple hours after us, and they reluctantly hopped on their bikes and headed off in the rain toward the climb of the Tourmalet. The other van headed off to get as far up the climb as it could, and I was left to find parking for my van and trailer. As you could imagine, parking for a rig that size the morning the Tour was going to come through was no easy task.

By the time I found parking I was certain there was no way I would get to our viewing spot before the officials closed the road ahead of me. I considered bagging it and just going to sleep in the van, seeing my co-guides and guests at the end of the day after they Tour had passed and they descended to our finishing spot. Responsibility set in, and I kitted up and began rolling down the bike path toward the start of the climb, still certain I wouldn’t make it to our viewing area.

The kilometers ticked away slowly, the wind and torrential rain made sure of that. It also made sure I spent every second miserable and second-guessing my decision to get on my bike. I rode along solo, in terrible conditions, certain that it was all for nothing.

Eventually I got to the base of the climb, and to my surprise, it was a ghost town. There were no other riders. There were no cars on the road or parked along the side. There was no one walking up the road. It was just the road, the gradient slowly increasing, and me. In my somewhat delusional, miserable, sleep deprived state, I began to convince myself that I was on the wrong road. There was no wrong road. There is only one road. I knew I was on it, but I was convincing myself I wasn’t. If not for the fact that the Livestrong Chalkbot had been through, I may have turned back, but there was no way that thing had gone up a different road.

Then my mind flipped. This was epic. This was what it’s all about. The photos of Lance training in the snow, the stories of the pros training and racing in all conditions, and here I was, climbing one of the most storied mountains in Tour de France history, in horrific weather, and it felt like it was just me versus the mountain. I felt like a badass.

Even as the grade increased, my legs ticked over a little faster. I rode under an overhang where there was a car parked, and just as I passed, a head popped out a cracked window to yell, “Allez, allez!” I rode faster again.

Then I started to come into some cyclists. I chatted up a Backroads guide from Texas who was on the climb. I ran into other guides and guests from other Trek Travel groups who were on the climb and checked in with them. Finally I reached the point where I knew the last road closure would be and I rolled right past. I was going to make it. A few hundred meters later, standing on the corner, was a really great friend of mine who had started guiding for Trek Travel that spring who I hadn’t seen in the four months since our season started. The smile on her face when she saw me and a huge hug when I stepped off my bike and life was great. We pedaled on for a kilometer together before she dropped back to ride with her guests, and I continued on. I finally reached the refuge of the Trek Travel viewing area. A huge tent on the side of the road with a live satellite feed of the Tour, a huge hot buffet, a bag with dry clothes and a tent to hang my wet clothes to drip. – it was like an oasis on the side of the mountain.

The promise of an epic stage came true, as Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck battled up the mountain. We watched on our TVs as they sat on the front of the peloton until we knew they were close, then scrambled from the refuge of our tent to the side of the road to watch the race come by. Everyone went crazy when Schleck and Contador emerged through the crowd, a gap between them and the rest of the race. After the main bunch passed, we sprinted en masse back to the tent to watch the finish on our satellite feed before descending with thousands of other cyclists back down to the valley floor.

Too often, the significance of an event is only recognized in hindsight. I was fortunate to realize in the moment that I was there, in person, for what will go down in history as one of the legendary stages of the Tour de France. Just another Thursday at work? Not exactly.



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