The world's premier cycling race, the Tour de France — or, more simply, Le Tour — is on. This year's route links 3,414 kilometers of road through 21 stages across the country, from Brittany to the Alps and down the Rhône Valley and up to the Pyrenees before taking a turn northward and ending, as is tradition, on Paris's Champs-Elysées. It's a glorious slog that only the world's best cyclists attempt...and one just rode several hundred kilometers of the route in a pair of Birkenstock sandals.
The sandals in question are Birkenstock's Arizona Essentials, a version of its iconic hippy two-strap made entirely of EVA, a plastic with the feel of rubber. The advantage the material holds over the traditional cork and leather is that it's far lighter and waterproof. On its website, Birkenstock recommends wearing them "at the beach, in the garden, or around the gym and after workouts." Lachlan Morton, a pro cyclist riding for team EF Education-NIPPO, chose to wear his while riding his Cannondale SuperSix Evo across the width of France from Redon to Saint-Amour.
To be clear, Morton isn't spinning along with the other competitors in the peloton. He's riding his own "Alt Tour" in which he'll forgo the aid provided by a support crew, skip the two built-in rest days and ride the entire route, including every transfer — portions of the course between the finish of one stage and the start of the next that cyclists cover by vehicle. Doing so adds more than 2,000 kilometers to Morton's self-inflicted race.
It's not simply a stunt, either. Morton is using the Alt Tour to raise money for World Bicycle Relief, which will use the funds to purchase bikes for under-mobilized communities around the world. (Donate to the effort here.)
Morton opted for Birks on his fifth day of riding to ease some knee pain. Reportedly, they "[worked] wonders" in that respect but gave him blisters — a problem he solved by cutting off the front strap with a pocket knife before riding 250 kilometers of hilly terrain. A couple other key mods: carbon insoles and strips of buffering material under the top straps.
On his seventh day of riding, Morton trashed the Arizonas, opting for a more traditional pair of cycling shoes before ascending into the Alps. He is currently on pace to reach the storied Champs-Élysées tomorrow, five days before the Tour de France peloton itself.
If there's a lesson to be learned from Morton's ride, maybe it's that the generations of long-held traditions that form the foundation of a sport aren't as impenetrable as they seem, that even an exalted contest like the Tour de France could use something of a shakeup, perpetrated by an insider no less. Ride your own tour, and, hell, you do it in whatever shoes you have.
Then again, maybe we're just reading too deeply into all this. Regardless, Birkenstock's Arizona Essentials are an ideal sandal for all kinds of adventures. Take it from Morton. (You can track him in real-time here.)