Ten things you (maybe) never knew about the Tour de France
1 Like the other ‘Grand Tours’ (Italy’s Giro and Spain’s Vuelta) the Tour de France lasts for 23 days – made up of 21 days of racing and two rest days. Whilst the actual course may vary from year to year the principles remain the same – time trials, transitional days of flatter races and gruelling mountain stages.
2 2019 is the 116th year of the Tour, and the 100th anniversary of the maillot jeune or yellow jersey.
3 The Tour was originally dreamt up by the management of L’Auto sports newspaper, looking to prize readers away from their arch-rival Le Vélo. It worked – circulation of L’Auto more than doubled during the duration of the first race.
First Tour winner, Maurice Gaurin, 1903 (centre)
4 In the early days of the Tour, stages were fewer and longer than its modern counterpart. Riders would often start in the afternoon, race through the night and finish the next morning. In the very first Tour, the average stage length was around 400 km long, compared with 170km long today. The night riding was soon abandoned due to riders using the cover of darkness to cheat relentessly.
5 Belgian Eddie Merckx is generally considered to be the Tour’s greatest rider. On his first Tour in 1969, he won the general classification and the mountains classification and the points classification – a feat never repeated. Eddie went on to win four more Tours.
Eddie Merckx, 1971
6 For a while, American Lance Armstrong was considered the Tour’s greatest rider, with an astonishing 7 wins between 1999-2005 whilst riding for the US Postal/Discovery team. However in 2012 the US Anti Doping Agency found Armstrong guilty of orchestrating “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”. The sport’s governing body, UCI, promptly stripped Armstrong of his titles. They were not reallocated.
7 The now traditional Champs-Elysées finish actually began in 1975. Technically it’s the last stage of the race but there is a Gentleman’s Agreement that the leaders of the general classification won’t compete on the final day, hence the teams riding with linked arms and holding glasses of Champagne. It is generally acknowledged that were anybody to break this tradition they would be hounded out of the sport.
Dutchman Aad van den Hoek enjoys a quick break, 1978
8 TV coverage of the race is shared between two French channels, France2 and France3. They use a staff of over 300, with 4 helicopters, 2 planes, 2 motorbikes, 35 other vehicles and 20 podium cameras.
9 Four men – Jaques Anquetil (France), Eddy Merckx (Belgium), Bernaud Hinault (France) and Miguel Indurain (Spain) share the title of most Tours won with 5 each.
10 The first non-European rider to win the Tour was American Greg Le Monde in 1986. The first Brit to win the Tour was Bradley Wiggins in 2012, although they’ve been making up for lost time by winning 5 of the 6 Tours since then.