Anyone can test their mettle on the 21 switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez and surge toward Paris along the Tour de France's winding route through Provence, but working out the logistics for such a trip might prove more exhausting than the pedaling. We respectfully suggest signing up for one of these bike tours, which handle all the mind-numbing details, from schlepping your luggage to manning the sag wagon so you can focus on your race against yourself.
But these tours are notable for more than making riding through the landscape that shaped modern bikes pleasant, since each one ensures that the rider makes it to key points d'observation when the actual Tour de France peloton flies through, meaning you could be watching and – in your own way – participating in the 2014 Tour de France. Book fast for next year's Tour, since these trips begin to fill up as soon as the new champion makes his way down the Champs-Elysées.
Thomson Bike Tours
Thomson leads cycling trips during the three Grand Tours – Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, and Vuelta a España. The company, co-founded by an American and a Scotsman living in Spain, also offers climbing-oriented bike tours in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain in the summer and early fall. Climbs are Thomson's specialty – the King of the Mountains tour is known throughout the industry as the cycling tour to do during the Tour de France. It comes in five flavors, depending on how long you plan to spend traveling and which stages of the Tour you want to watch: Pyrenees; Alps; Alps and Paris; Ventoux and Alps; and Ventoux, Alps, and Paris. The trips are also broken out into "Extreme" and "Performance," based on how hard you want to ride. In the Extreme group, expect 60 miles of riding and 8,000 feet of climbing daily. The Performance Group will go 40 to 60 miles a day and and will climb 3,000-8,000 feet in elevation. Accommodations are luxurious hotels. Bring your own bike or pay $500 to rent a Bianchi Sempre Pro for the duration of the trip. [All-inclusive, starting at $2,895 for 4 days/3 nights; thomsonbiketours.com]
Credit: Courtesy Thomson Bike Tours