First, the bad news: You aren’t a pro cyclist. Doesn’t matter what local Strava records you hold; you’re not as fast as Contador. The good news? You can still ride the same races as the pros… sort of. A handful of tour companies offer unique “ride the race” tours where amateur cyclists get to ride legendary race courses like the Tour de France just hours before the pros pedal the streets. Some packages even let you mingle with the pros each night. “It’s like fantasy camp for cyclists,” says Jim Rutberg, a coach at Carmichael Training Systems, which operates three different race tours. Here are four opportunities for you to ride the race.
US Pro Challenge, Colorado
Think of the US Pro Challenge as our Tour de France—a multistage race through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains that attracts the biggest names in pro cycling. Lizard Head Cycling Guides offers a Chased by the Peloton package where you ride the course highlights two hours before the pros, taking full advantage of the closed roads and cheering fans who line big mountain gaps like Independence Pass. Off the course, you’ll stay in plush digs like Aspen’s Limelight, a modern hotel with a rooftop terrace and outdoor hot tubs at the base of Aspen Mountain. Each morning, Lizard Head owner John Humphries finds gourmet coffee. “I like to think I have the best knowledge of local coffee in Colorado,” Humphries says.
Ride it: August 16–22; 350 to 550 total miles; $3,095, lodging and meals included.
Tour de France
Is it a cliché to want to ride the Tour? Hell no. This is the World Series of cycling. Custom Getaways has been the official tour operator for the Tour for the past 11 years, giving amateurs VIP access to closed roads and some of the biggest names in cycling on race day in a variety of tour packages. We like the Yellow Jersey Final Week tour: For eight days, you’ll ride the same stages as the pros through the Alps and even ride across the finish line in Paris. Ride the course in the morning, then get primo spots to watch the pro action in the afternoon, enjoying unprecedented access to the Tour. Want to get your picture taken on the podium? No problem.
Ride it: July 20–27; mileage varies; $4,695, includes meals and lodging.
Amgen Tour of California
This is the closest most of us will ever get to being a pro cyclist. During the eight-stage race through California’s iconic coastal and mountain terrain, Carmichael’s clients are treated like another pro team. You’ll ride every inch of each day’s course two hours before the start, gutting it out in hopes of not getting caught by the pros and yanked from the course. You’ll have your own team mechanics and masseuse, stay and eat with the pros, and follow the same rules as the pros: Show up late and get fined (the money goes to charity). “You’re standing in line at the buffet, and the pro wearing the yellow jersey is right in front of you,” Jim Rutberg says.
Ride it: May 10–17; 650 to 700 total miles; $11,750, includes lodging and meals. This year’s trip is sold out, but you can still get on the waiting list.
Part of Europe’s trifecta of pro cycling races that make up the Grand Tours (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta de Espana), the Giro offers some of the toughest climbing in Europe, compliments of the Italian Alps. On Thomson Bike Tours’ eight-day King of the Mountains Challenge, you’ll test your mettle against infamous climbs like the Mortirolo in the Dolomites, a 13-kilometer slog that averages a 10.5 percent grade. Maybe even better, you’ll watch two mountain stages without having to battle the circus crowds that collect at the Tour de France. “It’s so much easier to get close to the cycling gods at the Giro,” says Thomson co-owner Paul Rogan. Fuel the next day’s ride with robust Italian fare, and relax at plush digs like the Sporthotel Europa, which sits lakeside with the Dolomite’s signature limestone faces rising in the background.
Ride it: May 20–27; 400 total miles with 58,700 feet of climbing; $4,495, includes meals and lodging.