The Tour de France is France’s most enthralling and anticipated multiple-stage bicycle racing competition that is held every year in the month of July. This article is a guide inclusive of fascinating facts, insider tips, and an in-depth understanding of this prestigious event that captivates millions of cycling enthusiasts worldwide.
Tour de France strategy: History
The Tour de France is an annual men’s multiple-stage bicycle race that was first held on July 1, 1903, to increase the sales of a newspaper, L’Auto (now L’Equipe). The journalist and cyclist of the newspaper, Henri Desgrange, had sponsored the race with the intention of boosting the circulation of the newspaper. The race caught everyone’s eye, first in 1910, when cyclists were sent over to the ‘circle of death’ mountain sides in the Pyrenees, and then in 1919, when the first yellow jersey was awarded to the rider who finished the race in the lowest time frame. Since then, the race has been held annually in the month of July, except during the two World Wars. Over time, a lot of rewards and points were added to make the race interesting. Three other types of jerseys—green, white, and polka-dotted—were awarded along with bonus points depending on the criteria. It was mandatory for riders to ride bicycles that met the standards of the International Cycling Union (Union Cycliste Internationale, UCI). Three common types of bicycles were used: one during time travel, one for flat roads, and one during the climb of a mountain.
The race is typically staged for three weeks with 21 stages that comprise 20 teams with nine riders each. Riders cover approximately 3,600 kilometres (2,235 miles), mainly in France, with occasional visits to neighbouring countries such as Belgium, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Currently, the Tour de France is one of the world’s most esteemed and difficult races, along with the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.
Tour de France Stages
- The recent tours have 21 stages, one per day, which include mass start stages that are categorised into mountain, hilly, and flat roads. Time bonuses of 10, 6, and 4 seconds are awarded to the first three finishers.
- In the current year, 2023, there will be 8 flat stages, 4 hilly stages, and 8 mountain stages with 4 summit finishes (Cauterets-Cambasque, Puy de Dôme, Grand Colombier, and Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc), 1 individual trial time, and 2 rest days. This year, the departure of the Tour de France will be in Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque Country.
Epic Climbs and Mountain Stages of the Tour de France
The Tour de France undoubtedly has the most difficult routes and stages, which even entail the most challenging climbs. Over the 3600 kilometres that the riders cover, a lot of it is spent covering the mountains of the Pyrenees and the Alps, which also contributes to deciding the winner for the major part of the race. Here are a few legendary and epic mountain climbs from the race:
Col du Tourmalet
The Col du Tourmalet is one of the most visited peaks in the French Pyrenees. It was last featured on the 2021 tour and is not included in 2023. It is 2,115 metres high and covers 10 miles with a total elevation gain of about 4,300 feet at a grade of 7.1%. However, portions of the climb reach up to 9.7%.
L’Alpe d’Huez is one of the most famous climbs of the Tour de France and covers around 8 miles at an average grade of 8%. Riders face 21 tight switchback turns with a total elevation of 3,500 feet. The route is often littered with fans who cheer out their favourite cyclists.
Col du Galibier
The Col du Galibier is one of the toughest Alpine cols and runs for around 20 miles at an average grade of 5%. It was first introduced in 1911 and was Desgrange’s favourite mountain. It overlooks beautiful scenery, with its summit at 2,642 metres.
Mont Ventoux is a beautiful yet beastly climb that covers about 13.3 miles with an average grade of 7.6% for a total elevation gain of more than 5,000 feet. It is also a memorial for the tragic death of British rider Tom Simpson in 1967.
The Col d’Aubisque is a significant climb of the Tour de France that runs for around 10 miles at an average grade of 7.2%.
Celebrating the Cycling Legends
2023 marks the 110th edition of the Tour de France, and over the years, there have been some interesting situations and circumstances that were worth noting down. Here are a few fascinating facts and statistics about one of the oldest cycling races:
- The Tour de France was initiated in 1903 to increase the circulation of a newspaper.
- The Tour de France record for the longest race distance is 5,745 kilometres.
- Mountain stages were introduced in 1910, according to fun facts about the race.
- The yellow jersey was introduced in 1919.
- The fewest number of cyclists to complete the Tour de France is 10.
- Alcohol was used as a stimulant until the 1960s.
- In the 1920s, competitors shared cigarettes while riding.
- Alcohol was consumed to ease any pain during the race. This was later banned in 1960 as it was believed to be a stimulant.
- There are 21 stages in the race.
- Almost 22 teams compete, each comprising nine riders.
- Riders consume about 126,000 calories during the race.
- Pre-COVID, there were an estimated 12 million spectators at the Tour de France standing along the road.
The future of the Tour de France
The Tour de France has very promising commitments to the future, including helping society alongside hosting the race. Their vision extends to making a society environmentally sustainable by trying to improve air quality and even mobility through bicycling. For the upcoming generation, the organisation is helping locals and children learn cycling while also helping the underprivileged by making an impact. The Tour de France was one of the charter members of the charter of 15 eco-friendly pledges in 2017, along with 12 other significant international sporting events, under the auspices of the Ministry of Sports and WWF France (the World Wide Fund for Nature).
Frequently Asked Questions
- When was the first Tour de France held?
The first Tour de France was held in 1903.
- How are the stages of the Tour de France categorised?
The climbs are divided into categories from 1 (most difficult) to 4 (least difficult) based on their difficulty, measured as a function of their steepness, length, location within the stage (near the start or end), and location in the overall race (early in the race or towards the end).
- How is the winner of the Tour de France determined?
The rider with the lowest total time after completing all 21 stages is declared the winner.