Cycling enthusiast and fundraiser Ceri Stone of Kilgetty, has successfully cycled the route of this year’s Tour de France. This is the second time he has achieved this monumental feat, whilst taking part in the charity led event, Le Loop.
Ceri who was brought up in Begelly and now lives in Kilgetty, having been educated at both Pentlepoir CP and Greenhill Comprehensive schools is the author of the wildly popular book ‘Le Loop, How to Cycle the Tour de France’, which tells the story of his previous adventure in 2019.
Le Loop is a charity event that involves cycling the entire route of the current year’s Tour de France and it takes place exactly one week before the professional’s tackle the same roads.
It raises funds for the William Wates Memorial Trust and this year, riders have raised a whopping £500,000 so far.
Cycling the Tour is a mammoth undertaking, because it involves cycling over 3,400 kilometres (2,500 miles) over 21 days and this year ascending over 57,000 metres of steep terrain.
That would equate to cycling up Mount Everest over eight times. The only difference between Le Loop and the real Tour is that roads are not closed and the speeds cycled are a little slower.
Fortunately, the support and back-up provided by Le Loop is incredible and makes the whole challenge possible.
For the entry fee, riders receive hotel accommodation, coach transport to and from the start of each stage, every meal that is required (including four feedstops on each day’s route), mechanical support, massages and the most incredible camaraderie amongst the competitors.
This year fifty cyclists set off from Bilbao on June 24 to tackle what is widely regarded as the toughest course in over half a century. Almost half that number covered every single inch of the race proving it was not for the faint hearted.
Ceri said: “The start in Bilbao meant that the challenge was ridiculously tough from the word go and it kept on testing from there on in.
“There were no easy flat stages or Time Trials to ease us into the event, because the first day started with over 3,000 metres of climbing, culminating in a 3km hill with average gradients of 18%.”
To provide a frame of reference, that would be like cycling Hean Castle Hill, coming out of Wiseman’s Bridge, for almost ten times its distance!
During Ironman, many entrants are seen struggling and walking up that hill.
“This year, the organisers (ASO) went out of their way to find the steepest and most challenging climbs available and then they included some of them in the first week. That made the success and the trip into Paris all the more rewarding,” he continued.
Over the course of three weeks Ceri cycled race favourites such as the Col du Tourmalet, which peaks at above 2,100 metres altitude and was the scene of the famous cry of ‘Murderers’ from Octave Lapize, the first man to ever ascend the mountain.
He tackled newer climbs such as the Col du Loze which is a 28km ascent, with the final 6kms including gradients at 24% and averaging 20%. This was part of the Tour’s queen stage which involved over 68km of cycling uphill and ascending over 5,000 metres, which is more than double that of Ironman Wales.
The Tour this year included multiple stages in the Pyrenees, the Massif Central, the Alps, The Jura and the Vosges, mountain ranges, culminating in a demanding stage 20 from Belfort to Le Markstein.
This penultimate effort, before a relative procession into the bustling, hectic streets of Paris, involved climbing six categorised mountain peaks over 8 tiring hours.
Asked of his Tour highlights Ceri stated that the camaraderie from like-minded individuals was crucial to his efforts and the fact that he got to see so many unspoilt regions of France.
Interestingly his favourite stages were the high mountain days, where he mentions that his ‘legs came alive’ and the adrenaline pushed him to feats he didn’t know were possible.
And his lowest points? These happened to be the two long and flatter stages (7 and 18), where exhaustion would creep up and it was difficult to concentrate for long periods of time. The solution to this was usually an ice cream.
Arguably, his biggest challenges were not what he did on the bike but what took place off it.
Every day was a constant effort to ensure that he ate the right amount of food to keep him going, ensuring that enough carbohydrates and proteins were consumed and that he was constantly hydrated.
The bike had to be constantly maintained at the end of each day and it was essential that his kit was cleaned each evening.
Cleanliness was paramount to avoid illness and the spread of germs, which Ceri found to his cost in 2022 when he contracted Covid-19 after only 8 stages.
Finally, a routine of massages and stretching to keep his whole body moving day after day was critical.
To gain a valuable insight into what it takes to accomplish such a challenge it is well worth reading Ceri’s book, which has been described as ‘a thoughtful and humorous look at one man’s journey around France…’ It is easy to see why the book has reached the top 3 in Amazon’s cycling charts.
It is possible that after reading about his exploits you may be tempted to tackle this event yourself.
It is highly recommended given that this Pembrokeshire man went back for more and has now cycled 50 stages of the Tour de France.
Details of next year’s event can be found at www.rideleloop.org.
Despite not riding as fast as Geraint Thomas has done in previous editions, at 56 years old Ceri rightly earned his glass of Champagne in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Just don’t ask him if he is ready to ride the Tour again...not yet!