In over a century of existence, the Tour has extended its distance and passed through the whole country. Almost 3,500 kilometers are now covered each year in the first three weeks of July, with 22 teams of 8 cyclists. The 176 competitors criss-cross the most beautiful roads of France in 23 days, over 21 stages. More than a third of France’s departments are passed through, on a route that changes each year.
The first ever Tour de France took place in 1903. It had just six stages – Paris-Lyon, Lyon-Marseille, Marseille-Toulouse, Toulouse-Bordeaux, Bordeaux-Nantes and Nantes-Paris – and 60 cyclists at the start line. At the time, the brave cycled up to 18 hours at a stretch, by day and night, on roads and dirt tracks. By the end, they’d managed 2,300 kilometers. Must have had some tight calves!
Mountain events are often the most famous and hotly contested. Spectators watch in awe as the riders attack the passes and hit speeds of 100 km/h. In the Pyrenees and the Alps, the Galibier and Tourmalet ascents are legendary sections of the Tour, worthy of a very elegant polka dot jersey for the best climber…
In terms of the number of victories per nation, France comes out on top, with 36 races won by a French cyclist. In second place is Belgium with 18 wins, and in third is Spain with 12. The darling of the Tour remains Eddy Merckx, holding the record of 111 days in the yellow jersey. This Belgian won 5 times the Great Loop as Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Michael Indurain.
The yellow jersey is worn by the race winner in the general classification (calculated by adding up the times from each individual stage). This tradition goes back to 1919. It has nothing to do with the July sunshine or the sunflower fields along the roads; it was simply the colour of the pages of newspaper L’Auto, which was creator and organiser of the competition at the time.
As in 2011, this year’s Grand Départ of the Tour de France will take place from the island of Noirmoutier in Vendée. The peloton will join the mainland by taking the famous Passage du Gois, a four-kilometre road that becomes submerged in the water at high tide. Latecomers beware!
The Tour de France is the third major world sporting event after the Olympic Games and the World Cup, covered by 600 media and 2,000 journalists. The race is broadcast in 130 countries by 100 television channels over 6,300 hours, and is followed by 3.5 billion viewers.
Each year the Tour departs from a different city, whether in France or in a neighbouring country. Since 1975, the triumphal arrival of the cyclists has always taken place across a finish line on Paris’ Champs-Élysées. It’s a truly beautiful setting for the final sprint.
Seen from the sky and filmed by helicopters or drones, the Tour route resembles a long ribbon winding its way through France’s stunning landscapes: the groves of Normandy, the peaks of the Alps, the shores of Brittany and the beaches of the Côte d’Azur. In 2017, it was the Izoard pass in Hautes-Alpes that was elected the most beautiful stage, at an altitude of 2,361 metres. Which one gets your vote?
Find out more on the official Tour de France site: https://www.letour.fr