The Étape du Tour is arguably the most famous mass participation bike ride in the world. Here’s what you need to know about riding it.
What is Étape du Tour?
Étape du Tour is a timed event that’s run every year on a full stage of that year’s Tour de France. It’s run by the Tour de France organisers, ASO, using similar race-day logistics to the Tour itself. That means you get Mavic on-road mechanical support and feedzones as per the Tour.
In short, it’s as close to riding the Tour de France as you (and around 15,000 others on the day) are likely to get.
The race is essentially run for amateurs but it’s open to anyone 18 years or over on race day. (Younger riders can enter with parental permission).
We say it’s aimed at ‘amateurs’ but it also attracts future and ex-pros. Greg LeMond, Raymond Poulidor and Miguel Induráin have all ridden it. Christophe Rinero won it in 1993 and went on to finish 4th in the Tour de France five years later. Blaise Sonnery won it in 2006 before joining Ag2r-La Mondiale, French national road race champion Dimitri Champion won it in 2009 and ex-Cofidis rider Jeremy Bescond triumphed in 2015.
When and where is it held?
It’s always in July and always during the Tour de France, usually a few days before the stage is used for the Tour. The route changes every year as it's based on an actual TdF stage, but it’s almost always a mountain stage in the Alps or the Pyrenees. In 2009 it finished on Ventoux.
How tough is the Étape du Tour?
Well it’s a full stage of the Tour de France and it’s a timed race: it’s tough.
A time schedule is published in the leadup to the race. This outlines when the roads open again. Riders are eliminated if they fall too far behind the schedule – this ensures the roads can be opened to local traffic again on time. If you’re worried, you can use the schedule to work out what sort of pace you need to keep to stay ahead.
A ‘time schedule’ car runs at the back in line with the time schedule (a bit like the Tour’s broom wagon). If the car overtakes you, you’re out. If you’re overtaken, you and your bike get a free ride to the finish.
How do I enter?
The stage that’s being used is announced every October on the same day as the full Tour de France route is announced for the following year. Entry opens a few days later. You need to register via the link that’s provided each year on the official Étape du Tour website.
How much does it cost to enter?
In 2017, it costs €100.
For that, you get a race number, bike number plate and an electronic chip to record your time, a goody bag with practical info and various freebies from sponsors, plus access to the start and finish villages. You also get on-road support: free medical and mechanical assistance, feed stations and transport to the finish line if you have to pull out.
At the finish line you get a medal and access to the now-famous Pasta Party at which you can share war stories with other riders.
You may also need to budget for various other add-ons, such as transfers from the major airports near to the stage for before and after the event (these can be arranged via links on the official website), and souvenirs like race photographs.
Can I hire a bike?
Yes, but plan ahead as hire bikes can be in short supply the closer you get to July. If you need help, you can use our bespoke bike hire service. If you're bringing your own bike, we have this info on shipping bikes to France in case you want to send your own bike and kit ahead.
Where do I stay?
It depends on the route each year – some stages are easier to get to/from than others. We strongly advise staying at a bike-friendly B&B or hotel near the stage so you can benefit from their local advice (and support services such as transfers). See the relevant stage on our Tour de France accommodation page for contacts.
For campers, there’s a specific area set aside for campervans each year – keep an eye on the official Étape du Tour website for info.
Can I take a tour?
Yes, if you need help with the logistics (race week preparations and warm up rides, accommodation, transport to/from the start/finish, bike hire, etc), there are companies out there that can take care of it all for you. If you use our bespoke tours service, we’ll match you up with a suitable local company.
What else do I need to know?
As with all competitive (and some non-competitive) cycling events in France, everyone who registers needs to have a medical certificate. (You’ll need to present this when you pick up your dossard). Riders with racing licenses are sometimes exempt, but it depends on your federation. The Étape website has full details and a template you can take to your doctor to have signed off (in English).
Where to find out more
See the official Étape du Tour website.