Simulate Tour de France with local hills

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It doesn't take a trip to France to replicate the rigors of Tour de France racing. | File Photo

Chicago’s terrain isn’t quite as flat as The Great Plains, but it’s safe to say the city is much more famous for the height of its buildings than it is for its hills.

The 99th installment of the Tour de France kicked off on June 30 and runs through July 22. Nine of the 20 stages are in the mountains and demand grueling endurance from some of the top racers in the world, including Christian Vande Velde who hails from Lemont, which is home to some of the most rolling terrain around Chicago.

If you’re a cycling expert or just someone looking to get into the sport, there are a few places in the Chicago area and its surrounding states that offer a chance to emulate the rigorous rides of the Tour de France.

Rest assured, none of these trails will be lined with treacherous tacks, like the 14th stage of the Tour de France after a mischievous onlooker altered the course of the race by throwing tacks onto the trail popping the wheels of some of the participants’ bikes.


1. Barrington – One of the best places for hilly riding is the Barrington area. A little over 35 miles from the city, Barrington offers quiet roads winding through forest preserves that are best fit for the more experienced rider.

“The traffic is minimal on a lot of the roads of Barrington,” said Ted Villaire, editorial manager at Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago and the author of a series of recreation guide books focusing on cycling in the Chicago area. “You’re likely to find other riders out there, but it’s more for people who feel comfortable riding on roads.”

2. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve – Located in Darien, the 10-mile loop goes around the Argonne Laboratory and features a wide, crushed gravel surface, a rolling landscape and a manmade waterfall that can be seen from an overlook of the Des Plaines River.

3. Palos Heights – Just 20 miles southwest of the city, the Palos Forest Preserve (technically in Willow Springs) offers 30 miles of trails set in a gentle, rolling landscape.

“You’re not going to find huge, steep hills,” Villaire said. “Trails are great for people who are interested in taking young kids along because they don’t have to worry about traffic on roadways. It’s a nice way to introduce those who aren’t comfortable riding on the streets to cycling.”

Because of the flatness of the Chicago area, the most challenging of trails are found in cities located at least a two-hour drive away. For the truest of cyclists, traveling a few hours away isn’t as tough as jetting to France, but is still inconvenient.


1. Galena, Ill. – A fantastic area for climbing and has hosted races the past two years because the climbs there are so challenging.

“There are spots where even a strong rider, in his lowest gear, will have to struggle to keep moving,” said Luke Seemann, editor of Chicago Bike Racing and membership director of XXX Racing-Athletico. “Of course, this is nothing like the climbs of the Tour de France or even Colorado, some of which take pros an hour to get over and would occupy a civilian rider for two hours or more, but we Midwesterners will take what we can get.”

2. Three Oaks, Mich. – Just north of the Indiana border, Three Oaks features an annual ride called the Apple Cider Century Bike Ride in September.

“There are some monster hills,” Villaire said. “But, more frequently it’s beautiful riding with great hills, thick woods and minimal traffic.”

3. Burlington, Wis. – Less than two hours from Chicago, Burlington features steep hills on rural, quiet roads. Villaire says people with less experience can enjoy this area too, but they need to design a shorter route to navigate so they don’t struggle with their ride and are able to complete it.

“Unfortunately,” Seemann said, “the best hills near Chicago are in Wisconsin.”

Follow Matthew Schwerha on Twitter @MatthewSchwerha


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