Ride with royalty on spectacular C-Suite bike tour to Ibiza

0
48

Sharing a luxury cycling vacation with cycling kings — including Tour de France icons — “isn’t about hero worship,” says Justin Clarke, co-founder of specialty travel agency LeBlanq.

Instead, he stressed, “it’s about really good people just getting to know other really good people and having a really good time.”

These good times don’t come cheap. The four-day vacation I attended on the party island of Ibiza cost $3,500; additional travel. Pricey, but – despite a crisis in the cost of living – nevertheless good value for money, given the luxurious sea-view rooms, signature meals on the plates of super chefs and riding shoulder to shoulder with sporting legends.

I told Clarke that if he charged four times as much for what LeBlanq describes as “joyrides,” he wouldn’t lose any business.

“You sound like my board,” he agreed.

That board includes investors Simon Mottram, founder of the luxury cycling apparel company Rapha (a lifestyle brand sold for $240 million in 2017 to heirs of the Walmart dynasty), and Tim Ashton, the director of the London-based creative agency Antidote.

A press statement from LeBlanq in February announced a secret capital injection and said the new investors were backing an “experience disruptor at the high end of the market.”

LeBlanq is not alone; there are several providers of luxury cycling trips – Trek Travel of the US, for example – but Clarke’s UK company offers not only bespoke Spandex (Rapha, of course) and blowout gastronomy, but most importantly up close and personal contact with such people from Olympic gold medalist Sir Chris Hoy and Tour de France yellow jersey winners Miguel Induráin and Eddy Merckx.

During his remarkable career in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Merckx won thirty-four individual stages of Le Tour, a record he shares with Britain’s Mark Cavendish. Cavendish – still riding professionally – is also on LeBlanq’s roster of riders, including this trip to Ibiza.

“Everyone calls it Merckx’s record,” Cavendish noted during an evening talk in Ibiza, “but it’s not Merckx’s record; to be U.S file.”

Cavendish sat next to me during the last buffet meal of the trip, and we had ridden together briefly before. On this ride I also rode alongside “Leeuw van Vlaanderen” Johan Museeuw, a three-time winner of the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic, and stepped over the sprinter’s legs of Óscar Freire, a three-time world champion, at a coffee stop.

On next year’s journey to Ibiza, the star rider will be Geraint Thomas, 2018 Tour de France winner. A joyride in Ireland is led by Irishman Sean Kelly, one of the winningest cyclists of the 1980s.

Clarke has a good book of contacts (he was a professional rider in the 1990s), but he says LeBlanq’s success in signing legendary riders is due to the involvement of Sean Yates, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong. Yates later moved into bike management. In 2012, he was the sporting director guiding Sir Bradley Wiggins to his victories in the Tour de France and the Olympic time trial.

“Sean is probably one of the most respected people in cycling,” said Clarke.

“He is worshipped.”

Yates is a stakeholder in LeBlanq and serves as the company’s sporting director.

“Roll on,” he told guests who left in suits from the Hotel Riomar in the Ibiza town of Santa Eularia des Riu.

“If you’re feeling a little frisky,” he added, “of course you can push a little [on the climbs]but do not exaggerate.”

The other key stakeholder in LeBlanq is three-Michelin star chef Ashley Palmer-Watts, a 20-year veteran of Heston Blumenthal’s culinary empire and the former chef of the famed Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire.

Palmer-Watts now heads Artisan Coffee Co., a mail-order purveyor of “coffees full of character” paired with individually wrapped chocolates. LeBlanq guests get samples.

Other brand connections include bike sponsorship from California’s Specialized and a beer deal with Cold Bath Brewing of Harrogate, Yorkshire. Guests on LeBlanq trips – although, due to a snafu, not the Ibiza – are followed by support cars from Aston Martin.

And brand contacts can pay off: Aston Martin has sold at least one car to an impressed LeBlanq guest.

“Our brand partners are very intelligently integrated into the overall experience,” says Clarke.

“Everyone here will now have a great deal of affinity with Laurent-Perrier champagne.

“People are amazed that LeBlanq has his own Master of Wine. David Hesketh is one of only 320 Master of Wine in the UK”

Hesketh also introduced each wine – which flowed freely – and, should you want to talk viticulture with him on the hoof, he also drove one of the support cars that followed the riders.

For them, the riders are led and followed by experienced guides, in contact via shortwave radio: no one is dropped. LeBlanq is “escapism,” Clarke said, not a race. Groups are judged by experience, with a pre-trip questionnaire supported by check-ups on Strava profiles, ensuring riders are matched as carefully as the wines.

This attention to detail is Clarke’s superpower. His three-year career as a cyclist in the late 1990s – “I was a very average domestic professional” – was followed by 20 years in live events, including co-founding the Taste food festival in London. Bought by sports marketing agency IMG in 2012, Clarke developed the festival into a global series of events.

“I worked with many of the best chefs in the world: René Redzepi, Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal. I like working with people who are the best at what they do; they are inspiring.”

Clarke met Palmer-Watts five years ago at a Taste event in Australia.

“Ashley just got on stage and he’s just been introduced as one of our amazing chefs [and we get talking]. Ash casually said, “Yes, yes, I brought my bike.” I was like, ‘Wow, you took your bike from the UK, all the way to Australia?’ I said, out of interest, what bike is it? And he said, ‘Oh, it’s a Pinarello F8.’ This is a great bike. I immediately said, ‘At some point, Ash, you and I need to do something with bikes and food.’”

The result was LeBlanq, founded in 2020.

While Palmer-Watts has cooked on some trips, he is now more of a curator, inviting world-class chefs to join him on LeBlanq trips. Tom Kitchin, head chef at Edinburgh’s Michelin-starred Kitchin, cooked for guests on a Scottish joyride and three-Michelin-starred chef Alain Passard prepared a meal for those traveling to Champagne, where the star rider was American Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and the luxury accommodation was at the Royal Champagne Hotel and Spa.

Who are the guests on these trips? In addition to fintech entrepreneurs on their fourth and fifth luxury trip of the year, there are those who have gifted the trips as “holidays of a lifetime.”

“This is my 40th birthday present,” said endurance runner Sophie Power.

“My husband is a cyclist: we like to eat, we like to cycle.”

Swedish concrete magnate Mattias Bjork was on his second LeBlanq trip (his first was to Champagne), and he will be booking more.

“I asked Justin: when are you going to South Africa? Are you going to Italy? Are you going to the US?”

Bjork will likely sign up wherever LeBlanq goes, and that’s because of the chance to ride with legends.

“The greatest joy is the riders,” he told me.

“Cavendish cycled in six groups this weekend, so we can all meet him. That is amazing.”


i traveled to Ibiza by train and ferry and was captured by LeBlanq to record this one hour podcast interviewing star drivers while riding. Leblanq’s $3,500 multi-day joyrides are complemented by cheaper but no less exclusive one-day specials. Tickets for a ride that started and ended at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire sold out in half an hour.

.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here