Note: this article will be updated with 2020 Etape du Tour information when the route is announced in October...
You're thinking of riding the Etape du Tour? Do you need to use an official tour operator to get your place on the Etape or should you do it yourself?
The good news is that you can very definitely do it yourself. But you need to be organised. Entries opened in October 2018 (shortly after the route for the Tour de France was announced and sold out in eight hours. You need to sort out your own flights or drive to France (see our article about travel options for the Etape), find a hotel, self-catering accommodation or even a campsite. But if you do organise it yourself, especially if you do it with friends and you share an apartment and a large car or a van, then you will definitely be able to ride the Etape far more cheaply than if you use a tour operator.
However if you have a full time job, a family which demands your attention and also need to get a fair amount of training in before you ride the Etape then using a tour organiser may well make sense. The Etape's official tour operators all have guaranteed places on the Etape, which if you are reading this in March means that's probably your only way of riding the Etape this summer. In addition, the official tour operators get told by ASO (the Etape organisers) in advance what the stage is going to be each year. As a result the operators book up all the best accommodation ahead of the rest of the world, who only finds out the route and date in mid October. So, in theory at least, going with a tour operator will get you the best accommodation (at least in terms of location) and a guaranteed entry, plus they should have booked places on the sensibly timed flights to and from wherever you are travelling.
That's the theory at least. At Sportive.com we have heard everything from unbridled praise for Etape tour operators who have provided incredible service and bent over backwards to be of service to wails of anguish about the utter incompetence of the operators and people swearing that if they ever do it again then they will organise it themselves.
As in so many things in life, with Etape tour operators you more often than not get what you pay for. If you choose a bargain price then it's probably cheap for a good reason. If it costs a lot, you're far more likely to have an experience that is memorable for the right reasons.
Based on our conversations with people who have ridden previous Etapes and our own experiences, here's our recommendations:
Gerry and John from 44|5 are passionate cyclists and focus 100% on cycling tours. They are now ASO-approved tour operators for the Etape du Tour and we can't recommend them highly enough for those who want their Etape plans sorted for them. They only take 14 riders per Etape so that they can ensure that they give really personal service. They can also arrange bike rental too for those who don't want to take their bike out to the Alps. If you have missed out on getting a ticket to the Etape, 44|5 may also have spare 'entry only' places as they are allocated more spaces than they can use.
Al and Murray have rapidly grown a cycling tour business that comes highly recommended by riders who have used them. Packages for the 2019 Etape started from £795 including entry fees, airport transfer and accommodation in a luxury chalet in central Saint-Martin de Belleville. Riders also get a guided ride on the Friday before the Etape plus a nutrition bundle and All Things Ride arm warmers.
At Sportive.com we've heard a lot of good things about Ronan Pensec Travel. Pensec was a pro rider from 1985 to 1997, racing for Peugeot and X team. The Frenchman wore the yellow jersey during the 1990 Tour de France and finished sixth overall in 1986 and seventh in 1988. In 2003 he started his travel business and his team now leads groups to the Etape as well as the Marmotte, Paris Roubaix and other big French cycling events.
Now well established as one of the UK's leading travel operators for cycling holidays, Sportive Breaks specialise in small, expertly curated weekend trips to Europe's top sportives.
We rode with Sportive Breaks on the 2017 Etape du Tour and were impressed by the level of organisation: transfers, accommodation and extra requests were all handled efficiently making for a hassle-free weekend.
Sportive Breaks is run by passionate cyclists, and it shows: you're in safe hands with a team who have ridden each of the sportives they lead tours on multiple times and can offer valuable tips and assistance.
Trek Travel is at the luxury end of the cycling tour market and they will look after you very well, albeit at a price. You will be well fed, and they take you on warm up rides before the Etape. Their 2018 Etape package cost around $5,000. Trek mainly cater to well heeled American riders (nothing wrong with that!).
Velocamps are a dedicated cycle tours company that runs around 16 trips a year, including one for the Etape. Last year's race weekend package cost £559 per person (based on two people sharing a room, single supplement was £120) or £790 for a seven day package (£210 single room supplement). Prices included transfers to/from Geneva, accommodation in a comfortable hotel in Grand Bornard, breakfast, event transfers, ride briefings for pre-event practice, SIS sport nutrition and access to bike tools/pumps/stands.
Other official tour operators who work with ASO, the Etape organisers (and therefore have official places on the Etape available):
Thomson Bike Tours
French Cycling Holidays
And then there is Sports Tours International. STI are one of the offical partners of the Etape and they work closely with British Cycling too. They are one of the big beasts of cycle tour operators but not everyone is particularly enthusiastic about using them. For example, read this report from the 2011 Etape. If you search cycling forums you will find plenty of people who have grievances against STI and feel that they are a bit shambolic. They wouldn't be our first choice.
If the Etape has sold out and you want an entry but don't want to use a tour operator then you could contact Get Kids Going. Get Kids Going is a charity that has places available on the Etape for people who are willing to raise money for them. They do not organise tours so you have to make your own arrangements.