June 30: Celebrating the Grand Depart

The Tour de France — three weeks long, three and a half thousand kilometres of racing and with 12 million people watching at the roadside while billions of others follow around the world — is a dramatic festival of endurance, suffering and spectacle, and all for one coveted yellow jersey.

First created in 1903 to boost flagging newspaper sales, the Tour has never been so popular, so renowned and so global. You can now watch the Tour live on TV in Albania, El Salvador, China, Norway and, yes, in France too. The race showcases the beauty and diversity of France and transcends time zones and cultural barriers and, with so many languages spoken in the peloton of riders racing across the country, unites nationalities perhaps even more strongly than the Olympic Games or the World Cup. The international appeal of the race, which draws fans to the roadside from around the world, is demonstrated by this year’s Grand Depart in Dusseldorf in Germany, but the Tour quickly resumes a Gallic flavour with 18 days of racing on home turf.

Unusually, the 2017 Tour takes in all five of France’s mountain ranges — the Vosges, the Jura, the Pyrenees, Massif Central, and finally, the high Alps. Much like modern France itself, the Tour is a heady cocktail of tradition and innovation, played out against some of Europe’s most spectacular scenery.

There are few greater sights than the colours of the peloton speeding through the great peaks of the Alps, the dramatic geology of Cantal or Cevennes, or climbing past the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde overlooking Marseille's Vieux-Port. While the weary riders wend their way around France, the huge caravan of media and organization personnel will follow in their wake and will have a little more time each day to savour the sights, sounds, smells and taste of France in high summer. It might be hard going, especially for their waistlines: en route are the acclaimed wines of Nuits Saints Georges, the cheeses of Vosges, Jura and Haute Savoie, not to mention the gastronomic highlights of Dordogne, Cantal and Ariege and, as the Tour climaxes on Mediterreanean, a chance to sample the world-famous Bouillabaisse of Marseille.

The team of France.fr will be on tour, travelling with the convoy and bringing you the very best of the Tour, and of France itself, as the 104th edition hits the road!

Words: Jeremy Whittle

Photography: Pete Goding