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A weekend with the Rapha Cycling Club

Jack Elton-Walters
10 Oct 2019

On a trip to the 2019 Etape du Tour, Cyclist went some way to experiencing what it's like to be an RCC member. Photos: Dan Glasser

Matching the now-infamous Tour de France stage that ended up being shortened due to extreme weather by the time the pros came to take it on, this year's Etape du Tour covered 135km and three key mountains. The third of those mountains – and the one the pros did end up climbing – was the long ascent to the summit finish at the popular ski destination of Val Thorens.

But while the pros missed out, I didn't, taking on every metre of the tough course and I did so while getting a taste of what British clothing brand Rapha offers members of its eponymous Rapha Cycling Club.

 

Making a weekend of it

The experience started a couple of days before L'Etape in the event village with the members' social at the mobile clubhouse, which was a chance for attendees to meet new people and catch up with those they'd ridden with before.

The following morning the event village was the rendezvous point for the RCC warm-up ride. Meeting there was a mass of RCC-branded riders ready to be guided on a sociable loop with a cafe stop thrown in. Many of these people would never have met before, but their common affection for (some might say obsession with) this particular cycling clothing brand bonded them together and made conversation easy.

As an imposter to proceedings, some of the introductory questions being asked didn't apply to me, such as when a group from Malaysia were interested to know which Rapha club house I lived nearest to. Riding for the first time in Europe, they were loving the French mountain roads and more comfortable weather and climate compared to what they're used to.

 

At the cafe stop, which followed the one climb-descent combination of the day, Rapha founder Simon Mottram, relaxed and clearly having a great time just riding his bike in France like the rest of us, moved through the large assembled group chatting to newcomers and greeting those he'd met before.

This short cafe stop, and in particular Mottram's genuine interest in speaking to those present – both in solo conversations and larger group discussions – gave a clear indication of the basis upon which the RCC finds success and how the club commands such loyalty among its members.

I've heard that loyalty described as 'cult-like', which could be slightly unfair, although I'm not inclined to completely disagree. The devotion the club appears to receive from its patrons is certainly beyond what I would have assumed before heading out to Albertville for the Etape trip, though of course unlike genuine cults there's no sense of the sinister in that devotion.

 

More than just a bike ride

Back in the Etape village, the mobile clubhouse was open after the warm-up ride and members were able to get a massage, listen to a Q&A with Alice Barnes and Alexis Ryan from Canyon-Sram and watch the Tour de France stage on the large televisions.

Many riders stuck around all day, catching up and making the most of their trip – especially those who had travelled from outside Europe to be there. The solidarity afforded by being members of this club clearly helping to form a tight-knit group, if only for a few days before the riders headed off to their home countries.

After the Q&A and with the television coverage of the Tour stage wrapped up (Stage 14 won by Thibaut Pinot), soon talk turned to the big ride the following day, with riders poring over maps, checking the locations of feed stations and double-checking the cut off times.

Some of those present had found companions to ride with thanks to their membership of the RCC and everyone was looking forward to the welcome – and beers and buffet – they'd receive from Rapha's staff upon finishing.

There was just the small matter of 135km and 4,900m of elevation over three summits between them and that reward...

Read more: Etape du Tour 2019 – riding further than the pros

 

The facts, stats and what was on offer

Number of RCC members at the 2019 Etape: 265  
Male riders: 228  
Female riders: 37  
Male/female split: 86/14 (better than the 93/7 of the event overall)

What was on offer

Members of the RCC were granted access to a clubhouse area in the event village and again at the finish line atop Val Thorens. The aim being to 'create a home for members to gather over the weekend'.

This mobile clubhouse hosted a members' social with drinks on the Friday evening and was intended to be the start point of Saturday's group ride (but access to the entire village was restricted out of hours). After the ride, there was a talk about the Etape route with Alice Barnes and Alexis Ryan from Canyon-Sram alongside pre-ride massages for those who wanted them.

The mobile clubhouse was then relocated to the summit of the final climb where there was a buffet, drinks, big screens showing that day's Tour de France stage (Stage 15 won by Simon Yates) and more massages.

Massages were a key theme of the club's offering to its members. Over the weekend 187 massages were given to RCC members and the odd pro who popped by and these were free of charge and part of the RCC experience: a 30-minute massage elsewhere in the Etape village cost €45.

Well staffed and well supported

A team of six were on hand to run the mobile clubhouse, with extra help provided by other members of staff when needed and after they'd finished riding. In addition, the RCC warm-up rides the day before L'Etape were run by seven ride leaders.

Rapha's aim is, 'to make the event special,' explained Jess Morgain, Rapha's UK PR & Communications Manager.

'The programming and support we offer makes riding the Etape a more relaxed and social experience. A few members said over the weekend they wouldn't sign up for the E'tape if we weren't there!'

The brand makes a point of taking care of as many details as it can for its members attending the event in order to make it as easy and relaxed as possible.

'At the social,' Morgan adds, 'there's food and drink and members can relax, meet each other and the staff for the weekend.

'Simon [Mottram] attends our warm-up ride and spends time at the RCC area and this is really appreciated by members as a chance to meet him or catch-up - the same at the finish.'

Mottram's genuine willingness to be there and chat to members was clear to this outsider, even when some members attempted to monopolise his time or interrupt other conversations he was having.

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