With the Tour de France on, you should catch up on your history of La Gran Boucle (the nickname of the Tour, French for The Great Circuit). The race is rich with tradition, stemming from its long history starting in 1903 as a publicity stunt for a sports newspaper, L’Auto, and running every year except during the two World Wars. The leader’s jersey of the race is yellow because that is color of newsprint in L’Auto. The newspaper is long gone, but the Tour continues on. This list of Tour de France facts will help you understand the race.
Winning the overall classification in the Tour de France immortalizes a rider. Winning it five times makes a rider a legend. Four riders have done it – Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. Lance Armstrong won seven times but was stripped of his victories because he admitted to using performance enhancing drugs to fuel his victories.
Winning the overall classification entails a rider covering the twenty or so stages of the Tour in the least time. Each stage is timed – the officials add the time together from each of the twenty or so stages. The number of stages depends on the route of the race.
There are also many other opportunities to win. Riders can win the stage each day, along with:
- The most aggressive rider, awarded to the rider that animated the race the most each day.
- The sprinter’s jersey, based on points on intermediate sprints and stage finished.
- The king of the mountains jersey, based on points awarded at the top of climbs.
- The young rider’s jersey, like the general classification, but for riders under twenty five.
Winning any of these competitions can be a tremendous boost to a riders career and is often a life-long dream of many cyclists.
Cycling is full of failure. Only one person wins (on the backs of his teammates) and when a race is as big as the Tour, about one hundred eighty people lose. But there is an informal competition in the general classification for last place, called the Lantern Rouge, or red lamp. It refers to the red light at the end of a train.
A Tour team comprises of nine riders, based on the team’s goal’s in the race. Some teams go for the general classification, some shoot for stage wins, others the green jersey. Each team wants to get good results so they can be invited back to the biggest stage in the cycling world. It is very good for the team’s sponsors, who foot the bill for the teams. Racing at the Tour means excellent exposure for the sponsors. Getting good results is even better for the sponsors.
Team directors are like the in-game coaches at the Tour. They drive the team car and support the riders throughout the race with tactics, equipment and nutrition. There are also mechanics in the car, along with mechanics that go ahead to the hotel at the end of the stage. Soigneurs prepare food, give massages and are generally available for the riders needs so they can focus on riding and recovering after the stage. Teams also have cooks preparing nutritious meals and doctors to take care of any medical concerns.
Vehicles at the Tour
During the Tour, each team has two cars in the caravan which escorts the riders. One car stays with the main group of riders, the peloton and the other is available to go with the breakaway up the road.In the team car there are spare wheels, spare bikes, extra clothing, water and food for the riders. The team directors drive the cars with a mechanic in the back seat.
In addition to the team cars in the caravan, there are many other vehicles:
- Race officials and judges are in cars and on motorcycles monitoring the race.
- Neutral service motorcycles and cars can help riders with mechanical failures if their team cars are not there.
- There is a car for the race doctor, along with ambulances for the inevitable crashes.
- Media cars, motorcycles and helicopters, with print, photographic and video reporters mix in with the peloton to give fans at home a close look at the race.
- Preceding the race, there is a promotional caravan with cars advertising the race sponsors, often throwing free merchandise to the fans lining the course.
All of these vehicles hold the people that make the Tour happen. The total is around four thousand, making for an economic boon at each stop of the Tour. It also requires that each stage has the capacity to house this rolling carnival.
Fun Tour de France Facts
The rider with the most Tour starts is George Hincapie with seventeen. The rider with the most Tour finishes is Joop Joetemelk with sixteen.
Greg LeMond won the Tour on the last day by eight seconds in 1990. He came into the final stage with a fifty second deficit to Laurent Fignon. He used aerobars, an unprecedented (at the time) piece of equipment that allowed to be more aerodynamic. It helped carry LeMond to his slim victory. He was also the first non-European winner of the Tour.
The first Tour in 1903 was only five stages and only had fifteen riders. Early Tours required that riders support themselves – they had to get their own food and water and do their own repairs, no matter how mangled their bikes may have been.
The editor of L’Auto and founder of the Tour was Henri Desgrange.
There are a few different kinds of Tour stages:
- Time trials: Each rider races against the clock individually. These can be decisive in the overall classification.
- Team time trials: Each team races together against the clock.
- Flat stages: These stages usually end in a group sprint.
- Medium mountain stages: Usually rolling stages that lead to breakaways but do not have much impact on the overall classification.
- High mountain stages: This is where the biggest battles of the Tour happen. The stages go over the biggest mountains in the tour, making big time gaps in the race and having a big impact on the overall classification.
The individual time trial was stage one of the 2015 Tour when Rohan Dennis won the stage at 55.446 kilometers per hour. The fastest stage ever was Team Orica/Greenedge in a team time trial on stage five in 2013 at 57.8 kilometers per hour. The fastest mass start stage was Mario Cippollini’s victory in 1999 on stage four at 50.4 kilometers per hour.
Watch This Year’s Tour
With a new understanding of the Tour de France, you can follow the action more closely. Each year, historic moments happen. See what you can spot in the 2016 edition.