The 2013 Tour de France has hit the midway point, and there is so much epic cycling happening right alongside the pro action.
Last month the six official Tour de France tour operators were profiled. This month I have an in depth interview with Will Maley, the operations manager for Sports Pulsions.
Ciao Will, thanks for taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule! Sports Pulsions comes from a very strong background of racing, coaching, and years in the cycling industry. How did this talented crew come together?
The company itself has been around for quite a few years operating logistics, guiding and bike services for other tour operators and for ASO (owners of the Tour de France) and doing corporate programs. In 2010 I brought a group from Australia to experience the Tour de France and from there got to know the other two directors Thierry and Didier who are from France. My background was in tour creation, and sales and marketing in the travel industry which complemented the other guys’ deep knowledge, experience and contacts in European cycling. The team itself has grown through the addition of family members, past guests who have become guides and members of our local cycling clubs, all who we work with year in, year out and understand what our service includes and the extra steps we take to deliver a fantastic experience for every guest.
Your crew consists of company owners, guides, coaches, mechanics, and even an osteopath and massage therapist – what mix of staff and services do you offer on each trip?
We have a broad skill base amongst our team which allows us to custom build programs to match the needs of private groups. At the Tour de France for example, we have a private group that is riding 150km+ / day and all the big climbs in the Alps over a week. They have the services of 2 masseurs, one of our staff who is a pro-team mechanic for Vacansoleil DCM, plus soigneurs to ensure that they get the very best experience possible. Our tour programs include at least one highly qualified and practicing cycling coach in the guide team. Their role is to work as a guide like the rest of our team but for those that wish to have additional assistance or tips on technique for example, this is available at no charge. We also have at least one bike mechanic per group and for tours such as our program for the world amateur championships in Trento, we include a dedicated masseur.
Do the owners/principals of the company also do guiding themselves?
For the owners of the business, we lead groups all throughout the year and wouldn’t have it any other way. It is important from a quality perspective and to develop our staff to be hands on in the business, but realistically a big reason we do it is that we love it and it is why we got in to the business in the first place! We get just as excited today riding alongside somebody climbing Galibier for the first time as we did when we began, and the feel of being around a Grand Tour or Classic is something you can never give up.
Sports Pulsions is one of only 6 Official Tour Operators for the Tour de France. How does a cycling tour company obtain Official Operator status with the Tour and ASO?
There are a number of categories involved. Firstly you need to be able to ensure that your company is financially stable, in France this is also necessary as part of being a licensed tour operator. From there you need to demonstrate that you are experienced and competent in the delivery of top level cycling programs. For us we had a great advantage as we have been running programs for ASO for many years and also their major partners such as LCL, Carrefour and more. There is obviously an investment that you need to be prepared to make also to gain access to the hospitality and associated accreditation and marketing support.
What does this status mean for you as a company, and for guests on your Tour de France trips?
For our guests it delivers great peace of mind as ASO’s trust in us is a good sign that our product is of high quality and our staff know their business. Once at Le Tour it makes a big difference. Our accreditation allows our vehicles to be there with our guests on all their rides even on day’s like Alpe d’Huez. When the weather turns in the Alps or you have a mechanical, knowing our support vehicles are close by with spare parts, food, drinks and clothing is a great feeling. In addition to this we have some amazing hospitality experiences that are unique to VIP official tour operators such as the chance to enjoy VIP hospitality at the finish, tour the media zone, stand atop the podium or walk amongst the riders as they prepare for a stage.
What level of access to the Pro teams are you able to provide?
We have an agreement with a Pro Team at each major race where our guests get the opportunity to spend 24 hours with the team. At the Vuelta for example, our guests will be hosted by a Pro Team after the conclusion of the mountain top stage finish in Andorra. They will then spend the evening dining with the team, meeting the riders and staff and staying in the team hotel. The following day they will then enjoy breakfast with the staff and join the riders for a coffee before transferring with the team to the start village to be a part of the team’s pre-race preparations. During the race, guests will travel in official team vehicles, listening to the race on the radio, stopping to watch the passing of the race numerous times and being there in the VIP zone for the exciting mountain top finish atop Peyragudes in the Pyrenees. This is such an incredible way to experience pro cycling.
You offer multiple trips to the Tour de France during its 3 week run. What are some highlights of each trip? Which one are you personally looking forward to guiding?
This year we are offering a VIP lunch on the race route in Nice, a Pyrenees riding tour, Provence & Alps riding and non-riding tours and some VIP weekends in Versailles and Paris for the exciting conclusion. We are also hosting private groups and running events for ASO including their ProAm race in Saint Malo. All up a very busy 3 weeks! For me, I think there is 5 moments that stand out. Nice will be amazing, the Team Time Trial is the most beautiful form of the sport. 9 guys riding at over 50km an hour with a backdrop of the Med will be a fantastic day. The Pyrenees in general, it is only 2 hours from where I live and a region I adore. Quiet roads, rustic villages and incredibly welcoming locals. Here we will spend a few days with the race and then go on to tick off some of the big names such as Tourmalet. From here Bastille Day on Ventoux will be huge. 242km of riding to reach the summit for the pros and a big crowd on one of the toughest climbs in France. Alpe d’Huez twice will be amazing. We have a private terrace at the top on the race route so our guests will get to ride up in front of up to a million people then enjoy a lunch and watching the race. And finally, Paris. Versailles as the start village then a finish under lights and the full tour of the Arc de Triomphe will be an incredible sight. A fitting finish to such an incredible event.
Sports Pulsions is also a partner with, and manages several race events for ASO. How has this helped you develop as a tour company to fine-tune and enrich the cycling tours you provide?
Working with ASO is a big part of our business. To have their confidence to look after their biggest sponsors and be directly in the public eye representing them is a big tick for our business and our service level. Working closely with them has also opened the doors for us to build relationships with some great partners which flows on to benefit our guests. From this we have developed great partnerships with Trek, Overstim and Skoda. All our guests ride new or near new Trek Madone & Domane 5.2 bikes at no charge, enjoy complimentary Overstim nutrition plus we support them from our Skoda vehicles. As we are often in Paris having meetings with the heads of cycling we are also have relationships with a cross section of staff in the organization which is always handy.
In addition to the Tour de France, you also offer trips to the Giro, Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, and the UCI Road World Championships. Do you create a World Championships tour each year?
It depends on the location a bit. Last year we were at the Worlds and again this year. Being in Tuscany it was impossible to say no! Next year we will be at the Strade Bianche, Milan San Remo and the Belgian Classics also.
What are some of the World Championship trip highlights?
For the Worlds program we have mixed it up a bit. We are going to spend a few days in Bormio at the beginning so that we can ride some of the big names from the Giro, Stelvio, Mortirolo and Gavia. We will then head to Florence where we have a great hotel in the heart of the city. Our Italian guide team who is based near Sienna has mapped out some great rides for us on the Strade Bianche and on the race route itself and in Chianti. We will also enjoy VIP hospitality for the finish of the Women’s and Men’s elite road races. I was over there earlier this year doing some recon and it is such a great part of the world and they are so passionate about cycling.
You personally have lived in the US, UK, France and Australia, and have guided trips in France, Italy, China, Malaysia, Thailand, New Guinea, Singapore and Australia. Is it possible to pick a favorite destination?
I’m loving France, my wife is from France and we have been here for a few years now and have really settled in to life in Bordeaux. The history and culture is incredible and the riding is second to none. Before we moved here I would have said the Dolomites region of Italy. I spent 6 months there as a ski guide and it is stunning. Having been back to visit with the Giro brought back many great memories.
Thanks for your time Will, it’s great to get to know you and learn more about Sports Pulsions!
Thanks Coreen. It is great to have a chance to chat and we look forward to seeing you on a climb somewhere!