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CYCLING, TOUR DE FRANCE 2018. The 2018 edition of cyclings most famous race just ended, and the Tour de France delivered all the thrills spectators could want, from breakaways and amazing performances to protests, tear gas hitting the riders and even police interference with one of the leaders, all culminating in a historic win - the first ever by a Welsh cyclist.

One of the worlds great sporting events, watching the Tour in person is a Bucket List fantasy for many cycling enthusiasts, but unlike other spectator sports, you can do more than watch.

Many cycling tour companies offer packages that combine watching the Tour de France with riding famous sections of it in the same vacation, either as bespoke trips or group catalog departures. But its not just this one famous race - for all the top multi-day tour races and Classics, the most famous one-day races - companies have travel packages where you can both view and ride.

Perhaps because of the arduous nature of some of these rides, the very best luxury bike outfitters dont tend to offer these as scheduled trips, so if you want to go in the highest style, you have to opt for a bespoke tour from a specialist in custom bike travel like Butterfield & Robinson or Gray & Co., both about as fancy (and perfect!) as bike travel gets. Among the top such mainstream bike tour companies the big exception is Trek Travel, which tends to offer more trips for avid or hard core riders alongside its cushier offerings (Ive written about their serious training ride camps here before). Trek is the best operator I know of that does a trip for the Etape du Tour, a mass participation ride held annually that recreates an exact replica of a full Tour de France stage in the current years race, with thousands of enthusiasts attacking the course. This years route included famous climbs in the heart of the Alps such as the Col de la Croix Fry and Col de la Colombière. Typically held on a rest day in the actual race, this replica Tour, is extremely popular, hard to get into, and usually picks a climbing focused stage. The easiest, most luxurious and most turnkey way to participate is on Trek Travels 6-day trip that warms up with local rides before tackling the race in day 5. This years

was 105 miles with four notable climbs. The trip uses the highest level of fancy hotels in Treks scale and equips each participant with a pro-worthy Domane SL 7 carbon road bike with Di2 electronic shifting. The 2019 info will be announced here.

Trek also has regular upscale Tour de France packages that mix rides of famous routes from historic races with watching the current race live, VIP extras like team access, and a spot at the finish line. They offer similar watch and ride packages for the Giro dItalia, Vuelta a Espana, and Tour of California, the worlds top stage races, as well as some one-day classics like the Strade Bianchi.

But no one has puts together packages for die hard riders and fans quite like the ones offered by Sports Tours International. The U.K.-based company began with a focus on running, but has included international cycling events among its repertoire since the early 2000s. They just announced (yesterday) a new three-country, month-long trip that combines lots of riding, including opportunities to ride portions of the actual race routes in events called cyclosportives (more commonly referred to as Gran Fondos in the U.S.), with watching spring cycling Classics in Belgium, Holland and northern France. The most famous (or infamous) of these is the legendary Paris-Roubaix with its punishing cobblestones. The 2019 Cobbles and Ardennes Classics Tour runs from April 5 - 29 and kicks off Sport Tours Internationals 2019 season. It cost £3,500 per person, double rate (£1500 single supplement), including 24 nights of accommodations (four four-star hotels and one three-star hotel), breakfasts, all transportation and transfers associated with the program, on race day VIP viewing and participation in festivities, bike transfers, guide services, sightseeing, the services of Sports Tours Internationals experienced team of cyclists and mechanics with a customized minibus with trailer and roof rack, bike rental (optional) and much more.

Participants can ride and watch the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and watch the Scheldeprijs, the sprinters classic before Amstel Gold, Fleche and Liege Bastogne Liege. Here are some highlights for each country visited:

In Belgium participants will get to ride with Johan Museeuw, the "Lion of Flanders"; tour a Belgian brewery; participate in the Tour of Flanders CycloSportive; and witness the start of the 2019 Scheldeprijs.

In Belgium and The Netherlands participants will join the VIP area for the finish of the 2019 Brabantse Pijl; ride in the 2019 Amstel Gold sportive preceding the 2019 Amstel Gold race; experience exclusive VIP access to the 2019 Fleche Wallonne (one of three Ardennes classics); join the events of the Liege Bastogne Liege (sportive) Challenge preceding the Liege Bastogne Liege race, which ranks as the oldest of the sport's classics, since 1892.

In France participants will bike cobblestone routes leading into the Forest of Arenberg; participate in the April 13 Paris Roubaix Challenge; witness the start, some sections and the finish of the April 14 Paris Roubaix Pro race.

Since the trip lasts three and a half weeks, there is much more detail, which can be found on the company's website. Shorter versions of the itinerary are also available, as well as trips encompassing many other races, including the grand tours: Giro d'Italia, Italy; Tour de France; and Vuelta a España, Spain.

Contributor: Allison Olmsted
Forbes.com
Jul 31, 2018, 08:01am

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