That aspiration can go to the extreme: Some super-enthusiasts plunk down nearly $6,000 (plus airfare) to attend the Tour with Thomson Bike Tours, an official licensee. In fact, the company, based in Guilford, Connecticut, was launched 11 years ago after co-founder Peter Thomson, a former pro cyclist, led a group of friends to watch the Tour and ride the routes. "You're so good at this, you should start a business," Paul Rogen, who was on the trip and is the other founder, recalled telling Thomson.
"Being an official tour operator gives us huge credibility," said Thomson. "Just seeing the Tour de France logo on our website makes us stand out among dozens of competitors." It also convinces Thomson and Rogen that the $40,000 upfront that they pay annually for the rights, plus 10 percent commission on each client, is a worthwhile investment. Of the 420 passionate riders Thomson hosted last year—which included the 250 who went to the 100th Tour de France as well as those on several other European trips, each involving hundreds of miles of strenuous riding with much of it up and down mountains—nearly 80 percent were repeat customers.
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The Tour fuels the biggest annual issue of Bicycling magazine each year, thanks in large part to the many small cycling companies that buy ad space alongside the big boys. "Almost half our sales in the Tour issue come from small businesses," said publisher Zack Grice.
This year Bicycling enjoyed a 20 percent increase in ad pages over 2013, to 70 pages from 59 last year, translating to a 26 percent boost in revenue. "The magic of the Tour issue is that you have this baked-in advertising and sponsorship community for all the bike, apparel and gear companies that are supporting these world-class teams, plus the spectacle of the event," Grice said.