While FIFA World Cup is the pinnacle for soccer fans, Le Tour de France is its equivalent in the sport of cycling. One fundamental difference though is that while the World Cup remains a pure spectatorship sport, Le Tour de France caters to its millions of ardent fans by creating a L’Etape series where amateur cyclists would actually be riding on the same course of one of the stages of the Tour.

History of Le Tour de France and L’Etape

Le Tour de France started in 1903 as a means to increase newspaper sales of L’Auto, which is now owned by Le Tour owner, Amaury Sport Organisation. It has been on the calendar annually except for brief disruptions during the two World Wars.

Le Tour de France takes place every July, with 21 stages over a 23-day period, clocking more than 3000km in total. The tour route changes each year to maintain freshness and allows teams to vary their strategies and tactics, goes through much of France and neighbouring countries, but will always finish at Champs-Elysees in Paris. Household names in the tour include Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Andy Shleck, Chris Froome and Peter Sagan, just to name a few. Some of these riders have retired, or are linked to doping, but nonetheless, they do not diminish the glamour associated with the mere mention of Le Tour de France.

In 1993, L’Etape by Le Tour de France was introduced so that could express their passion for the sport by taking part in an amateur race on an actual stage of Le Tour de France. Imagine the hysteria if you are a hardcore football fan and having watched your favourite teams played at a certain stadium in the World Cup, then you are actually allowed to play on the same pitch!

L’Etape by Le Tour de France has since evolved to over 11 countries in 5 continent, with more than 50,000 riders taking part in the series annually. These series of events allow cycling enthusiasts to experience the legend that is Le Tour de France in locations nearer to home.

L’Etape Thailand Launched

To host an event of this standing requires careful planning and has to provide economic and social impact to the host country and city. L’Etape Thailand is initiated by Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau, a government arm that aims to promote Thailand as a regional sporting hub. Working together with its Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Amaury Sport Organisation and MOVE Asia – the local organiser, they launched L’Etape Thailand on Monday in Bangkok. The other nearest L’Etape events are held in China and Australia; L’Etape Thailand will be the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.

The province of Phang Nga was chosen to host L’Etape Thailand, and it is an hour’s drive from Phuket. Phang Nga is famously known among tourists for its James Bond Island. However, in December 2004, its Khao Lak beach was also the site of the historic tsunami that claimed thousands of victims.

By hosting L’Etape Thailand, Phang Nga hopes to now attract visitors through sports tourism. There will be two race distances: 70km and 140km. A whole host of events are planned from 19 to 21 October. More details and registration information will be released soon.

Of Cyclists and That Signature Overseas Race…

In Singapore, the number of cyclists are growing each year. The signature OCBC Cycle is growing each year. Tanah Merah Coastal Road now has a dedicated bike lane, and groups of cyclists doing the 100-plus km round island route on a typical weekend are common.

However, the hard truth is that while long distance training can take place in Singapore, there no long distance events held here. Cycling enthusiasts would need to travel to challenge themselves. Granted, there are century rides and similar distance events in the region, but what can be more sexy than one with Le Tour de France brand?

Iskandar Shahril

Iskandar has a soft spot to run overseas and in ultra distance events. He is currently smitten by the trail running bug and foresees multi stage racing to be his next poison. If he’s not competing on foot, you’ll likely to bump into him racing on four wheels.

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