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Over six gruelling days in June, 16 riders will cycle 500 miles from Biarritz on France’s wild Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean beaches of Canet-en-Roussillon near Perpignan.
Between the two seaside resorts stands the width of an entire continent and the imposing Pyrenees mountains, which the riders must cross via two of cycling’s toughest climbs, the infamous Col du Tourmalet and the Col d’Aspin.
The Tourmalet is the most used mountain pass in the history of the Tour de France and will again feature in both the men’s and women’s races in July, as well as being included in the Vuelta a España later in the year.
Riders on le Tour de Rugby League Cares are scheduled to reach the foot of the Tourmalet at lunchtime of day two of the six-day adventure, by which point their legs will already be weary from pedalling 150 miles across rolling terrain. The Tourmalet rises to 2,115 m (6,939 ft) over 19km at an average gradient of seven per cent and is an imposing 38 per cent at its steepest.
The route then heads up the Col d’Aspin the next morning before leaving the mountains and heading north through Boussens to Toulouse via Saint-Gaudens.
From Toulouse, the riders head for Carcassonne and on to Pau and Perpignan as they wend their hilly way to the beach at Canet.
The riders include RL Hall of Fame inductee Adrian Morley, ex-Great Britain international three-quarter Nathan McAvoy, former Super League referee Thierry Alibert and France RL Federation vice-president Patrick Pedrazzani.
Many of the towns and cities the route of le Tour de Rugby League Cares passes through possess a strong rugby league heritage.
The starting point at Biarritz is the final resting place of Rugby League World Cup founder Paul Barrière; Pau, the overnight stop at the end of Day 1, was the venue for Great Britain’s 53-19 victory over New Zealand en route to winning the 1972 World Cup; and Saint-Gaudens is home to four-time French champions Saint-Gaudens Bears.
Toulouse and Perpignan-based Catalans Dragons are both well known to British fans while Carcassonne are one of the most successful clubs in the history of French rugby league.
The route avoids major highways throughout its course, sticking to rural back roads as it passes through forests, mountainous lanes, vineyards and sweeping fields of sunflowers.
If the scenery does not take the riders’ breath away, the constant change of altitude certainly will: over six days the route rises 40,454 feet (12,330m), that’s 33 per cent higher than sea level to the summit of the planet’s highest point, Mount Everest.
“The aims of the ride are to raise funds for charity, to raise awareness of our important work and to present all participants with a challenging, rewarding and enjoyable experience,” said the Head of RL Cares, Chris Rostron.
“I’m sure the route of le Tour de Rugby League Cares will achieve all our objectives and more. It’s a truly epic route and a massive challenge for everyone involved. And a week in which the riders will find themselves absorbed in another culture, much of it with a rich rugby league flavour.”
The riders fly out to France on Saturday June 10 and set out on their adventure of a lifetime the following morning. Their itinerary is as follows:
BIARRITZ to PAU
Distance: 90.1 miles / 145km
Elevation: 6,671ft / 2,033m
Max gradient: 14.2%
PAU to SAINT MARIE de CAMPAN
Distance: 72.3 miles / 116 km
Elevation: 9,933ft / 3,027m
Max gradient: 38%
SANT MARIE de CAMPAN to BOUSSENS
Distance: 79.6 miles / 128 km
Elevation: 6,482 ft / 1,975m
Max gradient: 13.9%
BOUSSENS to TOULOUSE
Distance: 90 miles / 145 km
Elevation: 5,098ft / 1,551m
Max gradient: 10.9%
TOULOUSE to CARCASSONNE
Distance: 92.7 miles / 149 km
Elevation: 6,661ft / 2,030m
Max gradient: 13.5%
CARCASSONNE to CANET-EN-ROUSSILLON
Distance: 75.5 miles / 121.5 km
Elevation: 5,617ft / 1,712m
Max gradient: 20.1%
You can sponsor any of the riders involved in this incredible challenge – and support the important work of RL Cares – via the ride’s dedicated Justgiving page