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There is no greater joy than riding your bike on some of Europe’s roads. Tolerant attitudes towards cyclists from other road users, little traffic, smooth tarmac, great weather and the challenge of conquering some famous climbs are just some of the pleasures that could be yours. It’s even better when you enjoy all these things with a group of like-minded friends, work colleagues or fellow charity fundraisers.
Even if you plan to just book a flight and start pedaling on arrival and see where you end up, you have to work out some logistics. Bike-packing and staying in a tent is not everybody’s cup of tea. Where will you stay, where will you eat, how will you get there every day and how do you move yourself and all your gear from hotel to hotel? You may want to build in a bit of reassurance with on-road and mechanical support. Logistics can become complicated fairly quickly.
Once you start inviting others and you are the group’s organiser, things take on a different dimension.
Here at Sports Tours International we have years of experience organising international cycling tours. Over the years we have worked with many corporate groups, charities and individuals to provide them with their ideal tours. From supported tours tackling the Route des Grandes Alpes including helicopter transfers to riding stages of the Tour de France.
So what does it take to take a group’s vision and put it all together? Here we will look at some of the considerations, pitfalls and of course solutions.
You may know exactly what you want to do and many people do actually have an idea of what they would like to do. If you’re not sure then there are a few considerations ahead of selecting the type of challenge, the event or the venue. For many people famous climbs are a must. Links to the Tour de France always work very well to get people excited.
For a weekend break you don’t want to have to waste a lot of time on travelling from the airport to the resort. Another consideration to bear in mind is that sleeping at altitude resorts means that some may get little rest the first night. If you stay at altitude in a ski resort for example then every day starts and finishes with a twisty road up or down. Transport will need to be arranged either on heading out or on returning at the end of the day.
A great resort that ticks many boxes is Morzine in the French Alps. Lots of accommodation and just over an hour’s transfer from Geneva. Close to climbs that have featured on the Tour de France. At the foot of the Joux Plane and the Joux Verte passes, Morzine is also located within short distance of the Colombiere and Ramaz. It also has both a 25m indoor pool plus an Olympic outdoor pool. There are also 2 swimming lakes near Morzine. Lower altitude is also better for sleep. Morzine is a popular summer resort so a lot of cycling facilities are in place.
Sure, you want to have a good time yourself. But what does the rest of the group want out of the trip? It’s worth spending a bit of time considering who the trip is for and what their needs are. At this stage it’s very useful to discuss with an experienced organiser. There may be potential issues with your plans or some ideas that you haven’t thought of.
It’s rare that people assess themselves correctly. Everybody thinks they are a better cyclist than they are. It’s likely that there will be a big cross-section of abilities. That will have to catered for in advance. If the group is big then dividing riders into road groups with lead riders is necessary for safety reasons. A pre-event questionnaire is essential.
For professional or regular trip organisers it’s essential to know about the Europe wide package travel regulations (PTRs). If you are organising a trip in the EU then you have to abide by the EU rules. The fact that the UK is not in the EU anymore doesn’t make a difference. By selling travel packages, you become liable in case of financial issues, health and safety issues and there is a legal responsibility. Relevant insurances have to be in place and the customer’s money has to be protected. You can’t just say; ‘this is not a travel package’. That will not absolve you of your responsibilities. Booking a travel package gives the customer some very strong consumer rights.
Package travel regulations don’t apply if package holidays are organised occasionally by individuals. For example, if someone books and take payments from individuals for a trip with friends, a scout group or for a charity trip. This is allowed if it’s for a limited group of travellers and no profit is made. It will legally not be regarded as a travel package in this case. The money paid is at risk however which can be a heavy burden to bear when things go wrong.
If for whatever reason the event can’t go ahead or changes dates, the customer must legally be offered a refund within 14 days. because of all this, it’s wise to with a partner who is a registered tour operator and ABTA bonded. You can’t put a price on peace of mind.
Budget airlines don’t give commissions anymore on flights. There is no point in chartering an aircraft. Too risky and people will want to fly from a lot of different regional airports so getting the numbers is difficult. People will want to use their air miles etc. as well which you can’t do if you book a group allocation on a scheduled carrier. If you include flights into a package you may get all sorts of issues with delays as well.
If you have an international group with people arriving from different countries or UK airports it’s therefore easier to let people make their own way or facilitate transport from the airport that connects with as many flights as possible.
The French Alps are by far the most popular destination for road cyclists. In the Alps you have the following airports: Chambery, Grenoble, Lyon, Turin and Geneva. You can’t get round Geneva as it has by far the most international flights so for any planning purposes, Geneva airport is where you need to start. You need to plan an airport team plus welcome desk (payable). Staff are crossing borders so they can’t forget their passports. It is not allowed to do your own collections at GVA with private minibuses. You need to have a transport license or you need to contract a licensed transport company.
Local authorities will need to be notified of the event taking place. If the event is smaller then you can get away with it. Road closures may not be possible depending on what else is going on in the region.
There maybe disruption due to increased traffic to do with holidays on certain days or from other events.
Transport from airports is expensive, especially because you have to include the transport of bikes in bike boxes if people are flying with their own bikes. The further away you are, the more expensive transport gets. It’s at least 2.5 hours from GVA to L2A.
To provide a good service you need to offer regular transfers from the airport. If you only have for example, 2 or 3 times in a day then people have to wait a long time at the airport on top of the already long transfer.
For airport transfers you need a box trailer but whilst in resort you need a special bike trailer for bikes without the box. You can’t stack a bunch of bikes inside a box trailer. You’ll damage the bikes. Certain coach companies offer bike trailers that convert from box trailers into bike trailers.
If daily transport is required, it maybe advisable to keep coaches on site in L2A. In this case coach drivers need to be accommodated and catered for which adds costs. There are Grenoble based coach companies that could come over every day but the issue is finding coach companies with the special bike trailers. A great way round this will be using an overland bike transport service provider. They bring bikes over from the UK and in resort they can transport bikes daily. They can also provide A frame bike racking for people to store their bikes pre- and post-daily rides.
Offering rental bikes is a must. It’s an additional revenue stream and many people will expect it to be available. Many people want to bring their own bikes however. Especially the more experienced riders. You have a few options to get a bike across:
It’s handy to have spare rental bikes as bikes regularly don’t turn up at the airport. Recipe for a ruined weekend for people
It’s tempting to use self catering apartments as they are cheaper and easier to contract. You can’t put people in there unless you know exactly what the room configurations are. Sofa beds and bunk beds are virtually always unsuitable for adults. There is also no place to put a bike unless it’s allowed to put the bike inside the apartment.
Another consideration is that everything is payable extra at residences/ apartments. Towels, linen, taxes, cleaning all have to be arranged in advance and paid for.
People who arrive on a late transfer also need to know where they are going to collect their keys from as there tends to not be a 24 hour reception. Where are people going to eat if they arrive at midnight when all restaurants are shut? Companies in the Alps organize food packs exactly for this reason.
The most cost-effective way to employ staff is by working with locals. It’s especially cost effective if people can go home to their own accommodation. The alternative is to fly in a team for the 3 weeks. A day rate on full board really racks up across a longer period. The issue with all this of course is that you have to sell a minimum number before you break even on costs. If you don’t get the numbers, losses can mount up quite easily.
Daily logistics need to be pre-planned and potential issues identified. 1000 riders to depart from a start ramp for an individual time trial up Alpe d’Huez will take nearly 2 hours if you set them off every 15 seconds. Mass starts need to be carefully managed to avoid bunching up. A system with start pens based on speed is the best way to manage this.
We’d be delighted to be involved with Pollen to make this project a success. As it’s not in anyone’s interest that the events are not successful I’d like to draw your attention to a few potential issues:
I suggest that we provide a quote for our services based on the below elements. Please let me know if this is what you’re looking for.
All daily operations elements under Point 12
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