How to Create and Lead a Tour de France Stage (Plus Six Pre-Made Tour Stage Profiles to Use)

Leading a stage of the Tour de France in your cycling classes is an exhilarating experience, both for your riders and for you as an instructor. It’s an opportunity to use your best inspirational coaching skills paired with empowering music, including selections from French artists. Before diving into tips on leading a Tour de France stage (or any Grand Tour stage like the Vuelta à España or the Giro d’Italia), let me share my background and why you won’t find better guidance anywhere else.

I’ve been leading Tour de France stages in my cycling classes since 1997. One of my passions has always been cycling in Europe. In 1988, I embarked on a 2,500-mile solo, self-supported tour around France, Switzerland, southern Germany, and back into France. During this tour, I attended my first Tour de France stage on Alpe d’Huez, hoping to see Greg Lemond, though he was absent due to a hunting accident.

From 1989 to 2001, I worked for several American luxury bike tour companies in France. In 2003, I started my own bike tour company, specializing in tours to the Tour de France. Since 1988, I’ve attended at least 50 stages of the Tour and six stages of the Giro d’Italia. I’ve climbed Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux five times each, along with many other major cols in France and Italy. These experiences allow me to bring an authentic sense of challenge and triumph to my rides—and a fair amount of suffering.

Watching the Tour de France in person and on television, and studying stage racing strategy, has helped me perfect the recipe for creating and teaching various stages of the Tour, Giro, and Vuelta in indoor cycling classes. Years ago, I was so committed, I would wake up at 4:30 a.m. to watch each stage and was a proud supporter of Lance Armstrong and Team Postal. Yes, I was one of those who had numerous yellow bracelets on each arm (forgive me, please!).

I was the first Spinning® master instructor to present a Tour stage to the Spinning/indoor cycling community at the World Spinning and Sports Conference (WSSC) in 2004 through 2009. My first session, “Alpe d’Huez—One Rider’s Journey from Suffering to Triumph,” led participants through a dramatic ride. I later led this ride at clubs nationwide and internationally, including in Toronto, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the UK. Here’s the description from my ICA promotional material:

“One of the most famous climbs in the world, the enigmatic Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps has 21 switchbacks with an average 8% grade. It is often contested at the end of a long stage in the Tour de France. In this ride, Jennifer will get into your head—you will become a rider assisting your teammates over the long stage, now faced with this climb of mythic proportions. You, the rider, are not a team leader near the front of the peloton hoping for a stage win or the yellow jersey; you are a “domestique” who has worked hard for his teammates over the previous 100 miles and arrives at the base of Alpe d’Huez almost in last place. Thirteen steep kilometers lie between you and the finish line. Will you make it before the cut-off time? Can you make it? In this emotion-packed ride, you will discover where to go inside yourself to succeed when you have doubts and experience the thrill of success when you can overcome your fears and believe in yourself. Be prepared; this is a powerful and emotional ride!”

Following the success of the Alpe d’Huez session, I created another engaging stage ride for WSSC called “The Suitcase of Courage,” inspired by a Phil Liggett metaphor used to point out how riders needed to carry their “suitcase of courage,” filled with the mental strength tools required to help them through the challenges and discomforts of each stage. This ride featured breakaways, attacks, and sprints, offering a different challenge from the Alpe d’Huez ride.

Creating a Profile of a Tour de France Stage

When deciding to create a Tour de France stage for your class, you face a key question: “Do I create a profile before the stage happens or wait until it’s over to relay the actual events of the race?”

There are pros and cons to both approaches.

Creating Your Profile in Advance

Creating your profile before the stage occurs can save you the last-minute rush. It’s less stressful, and you can select a variety of stages—a time trial, a mountain stage, rolling hills, a sprint stage, and the finale in Paris—at your leisure. This allows you to post a schedule well before the Tour, and while you’ll need to invent a winner and strategy, this isn’t a big deal if your participants aren’t Tour de France aficionados who know the lingo and the stats of every rider. (You can turn them into fans with your exciting stages!)

In this approach, I don’t mention many rider names except for the most well-known. Instead, I address my participants directly—they become the protagonists of my story. For example, I might say, “You’ve prepared for months for this stage,” “You decide to break away,” “You are the team leader who’s lost his support rider,” or, “You wonder if you can hold this pace to the summit as your team leader counts on you.” This makes each rider a winner, regardless of their actual “finish.”

The downside is that you might miss a crucial moment or event that changes the Tour’s direction. A favorite could crash, a solo breakaway might win, or weather could play a significant role. Many unpredictable things happen at the Tour de France!

Creating Your Profile After the Stage

Over the years, I’ve transitioned from writing my stages in advance to creating profiles based on the actual stage events. This method is exciting and energetic, especially when the stage is unexpected and thrilling. It allows you to relay the story as it happened on the roads of France.

The obvious disadvantage is the time crunch. You might be up late the night before your class, preparing the ride with fresh results. You also can’t promote a specific stage in advance. However, you can still advertise your class like this: “Next week, come ride an exciting stage of the Tour de France (stage TBD). There will be breakaways, climbs, intrigue, and attacks—come ride with me to find out who wins!”

If you’re leading these classes at other times of the year—which I highly recommend—it doesn’t matter which method you use. With the benefit of time, however, describing actual results is often the best option. As you’ll see below, in 2023 I used a combination of both methods, creating two emotional profiles.

How to Create a Stage Around Actual Events

  • Plan Your Music in Advance: In the weeks before your ride, create a bucket playlist of emotional, dramatic, and impactful songs for your potential stages. Include tracks for warm-up, cool-down, short recoveries, climbs, high-cadence efforts, and hard-driving attacks. Gather a variety to choose from; you won’t use them all. You can also choose songs based on a theme. For example, for last year’s stages in Spain, I collected songs by Spanish artists that I thought I might want to use for one of the first three stages. I knew I wanted to lead stage 9, which went up the legendary extinct volcano, the Puy de Dôme, but I also knew I would wait until after the race took place before creating my profile since I was sure it would be an explosive stage of the Tour. So I searched for songs about volcanoes, preparing a perfect collection of tracks for this theme.
  • Analyze the Route: The Tour de France organization announces the next year’s route in October. In the months before the Tour, examine the route and research which stages will likely be the most exciting. Look at the stage profiles and make a list of the ones that interest you. However, if you’re like me, you might decide to quickly create a stage based on the results of the race that very day!
  • Watch the Stage: If you can’t watch live, find highlights on YouTube and take notes. Google the stage and read analyses from cycling magazines, noting how they describe the action. This can help you create a story and enhance your coaching.
  • Develop a Story Arc: Based on the outcome, create a story arc, highlighting three or four riders (five at most). People love underdog stories! A story arc makes profile creation easier and the ride more exciting. Plan an epic finish and leave your riders in suspense as you describe the race. For my “Volcanic Eruption” profile, an early break lasted almost the entire stage before the peloton attempted to reel them in at the base of the climb. I spent the final third of the ride on this dramatic climb, which ended unexpectedly. This arc made it easy to fit in songs from my bucket playlist, and I scattered my volcano-themed songs throughout the ride. (I even found a French song about volcanoes—how cool is that?!)
  • Take Your Time: I was only (half) joking about staying up late the night before teaching! It’s OK to take several days to put this together. While I’ve stayed up late to prepare some rides, I’ve also led stages several days after the actual races. No one minds if you don’t do the stage on race day or within a few days!

By considering these approaches, you can create engaging and dynamic Tour de France profiles for your cycling classes.

General Tips for Assembling Your Tour de France Stages

These tips apply whether you follow the actual outcome of a stage or create your ride in advance with a made-up strategy and outcome. The difference is that the former will have more direction, and the latter will be more creative.

  • Neutralized Start: Use the neutralized start for warm-up. At the beginning of each stage, riders line up behind an official car that leads the peloton out of town, allowing cyclists to get up to speed safely. The official start is a kilometer or two down the road. Use this time to do leg surges, simulating maneuvering to the front of the peloton. Let your riders know they need to be at the front if they have desires to be in a breakaway!
  • Condense the Race: You’ll be squeezing a 4- to 6-hour race into a 45- to 60-minute class. Focus on the most exciting parts but include downtime for recovery and explanations. Build up to an epic, dramatic finish.
  • Limit Rider Names: With 176 riders and over 20 big names vying for various results, don’t overwhelm your class by mentioning too many names of riders. Focus on three or four key riders from the stage, and refer to others in general terms. (However, if you have a lot of TDF fans in your classes, you can break this rule!)
  • Reflect Realistic Strategies: Breakaways often happen earlier in stages than they used to. Simulate a small group attacking early, then settling into a sustainable effort. Avoid pushing your riders too hard for the entire class.
  • Switch Perspectives: Alternate between the breakaway group and the peloton, like a television announcer. Spend a song or two on the breakaway, then switch to the peloton, and back again.
  • Drafting and Recovery: Let your class imagine themselves tucked into the peloton for an easier day, benefiting from the draft.
  • Team Roles: Offer the option to be a team leader or a domestique. Team leaders are protected for much of the race but give everything toward the end. Domestiques work harder throughout, supporting the team leader.
  • Opportunists and Breakaways: Highlight stories of opportunists, newer riders, or breakaway riders. These riders often work together for hours but compete individually near the finish. These stories make for exciting intrigue.
  • Sprint Finishes: Explain the roles in a sprint finish. Lead-out riders pull the sprinter for several minutes as they approach the finish, working above threshold. Then with 100m to go, the sprinter explodes forward with massive power and the goal to win. Give your class the option to be either the lead-out or the sprinter, two distinctively different experiences.

Leading Old Stages or Modifying Them to Current Stages

Don’t limit your hard work to just the current year. Reuse successful rides later in winter (you’ll typically have a bigger crowd!) or even years later. You can also modify past stages to fit current stages with similar terrain profiles. Simply rename climbs and start/end cities, and update strategies to match the current stage, saving time and effort. 

French Music for Your Tour Stages

ICA has the largest collection of fantastic French songs for your Tour de France stages. Click here to access two bucket playlists: one with over 600 songs of various genres (pop, rock, hip-hop, electronic, dance, and alternative), and another with 60 classic French songs, perfect for pre- and post-class music, recoveries, or interludes.

How to Use ICA Tour de France Profiles

This year, 2024, I am using the method of creating profiles after the race, allowing me to build an exciting story around the actual outcome. I know this might be a bit of a bummer if you want these profiles now, but I promise they will be worth the wait. I’m eyeing stage 9 for my first one, so keep your eyes open!

Below are the stages I’ve posted on the Indoor Cycling Association over the past few years. These past profiles are exciting and relevant as is, so you can teach them exactly as they are, even though they are from previous years. You can also find a stage from this year’s route that looks somewhat similar and use the music and coaching from these profiles, tweaking the story to fit this year’s stage.

(Note: The list below does not include the seven years of the Tour de France packages we created from 2011 to 2017, which included over 35 stages. Updating those older profiles with current music and Spotify playlists is a massive project, but I hope to tackle it in the future.)

ICA Tour de France Profiles

Basque Country, TDF 2023 Stage 2
To prepare for the 2023 Tour, I knew I wanted to do either stage 1 or 2 in the Basque Country of Spain, so I prepared excellent Spanish music for the playlist. Both routes had drama and breakaways, but stage 2 had an unexpected finish, making it perfect for an indoor cycling profile. My class loved this ride! (Note: The 2025 Tour will also start in Spain, in Barcelona, so I’ll repurpose these profiles next year!)

A Volcanic Eruption, TDF 2023 Stage 9
When Jimmy Buffet sings, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where I’m gonna go when the volcano blows,” you can reply, “Well, I know where I’m going to be…on top of the Puy de Dôme in the middle of France!” This emotional stage features a playlist with volcano-themed songs in a nod to the explosive nature of the stage up this storied climb. It also includes French songs and rock and roll, and the final climb includes symphonic and powerful epic scores that paint the pain, suffering, and melodrama of the last kilometers. One rider in my class was whooping it up during the second-to-last song, and another told me afterward that the music helped her get through the challenge.

Two Attacks Up the Mûr, a Dramatic Tour de France Stage, TDF 2021 Stage 2
I taught this emotional profile from 2021 this past January, and it was a big hit. It has a moving backstory about the protagonist (the stage winner) and his famous grandfather of Tour de France lore. You can watch me teach this ride on video for coaching tips on how to tell this powerful story. This is one I will use many times in the future.

Saint Jean de Maurienne to Tigne, TDF 2019 Stage 19
Stage 19 is the second-to-last massive mountain Alpine stage of the 2019 Tour de France. If the GC (general classification) leader is only a few minutes ahead of his closest opponents, it could be an explosive stage. In this profile, an early breakaway happens, but the “heads of state” let them go because there’s no one of importance in the break. But that doesn’t mean the peloton won’t hunt them down in the second half—get ready for some drama! (Note: This profile was created before the actual stage, following the pre-race method described above.)

Team Time Trial (TTT)
This version from 2019, modified by Leslie Mueller, is based on a profile I created over a decade ago. I switch out songs each time I do this profile, but the foundation remains the same. The TTT is not included every year in the Tour de France (it’s not in the 2024 edition), but I still teach this challenging workout annually. It’s very different from most classes you’ll teach. You can watch me teach this ride on video, which shows how to manage the three groups of riders as they ride in a paceline. On that page, you can download four different versions and playlists of this profile.

This is a different race from the Tour de France, but I love the mostly French playlist for this ride. The songs in this playlist will work great for your Tour de France profiles.

Finally, this is not a profile, but a collection of resources to use in your TDF profiles. I posted this after a dramatic finish on Alpe d’Huez in 2015:

Dramatic Finish on Alpe d’Huez Will Make For an Exciting Class Profile!

Enjoy your rides, and may they be filled with excitement and energy, whether you’re following the actual stage results or creating your own story!


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