I certainly don’t consider myself a cycling fan, but living in France, it's a rite of passage to partake in the spectacle of the Tour de France!
Last year, for the 100th Tour, I positioned myself just before the Champs-Elysées on the final day in Paris. The atmosphere was fantastic, and it was a thrill to see the riders whiz by as they did their final loops before the finish line.
This year, I have already caught some action in the UK, thanks to being here on a visit to see family. I positioned myself along the route on Day 3 as the riders made their way towards London. After seeing them pass my vantage point, I went to a nearby community park to watch the remainder of the day's race on a giant TV screen, and enjoy the atmosphere with the other spectators. I was blown away by the community spirit and general good vibe that accompanied the event.
The Tour de France is an astounding feat of organisation and logistics, so I thought I’d recount a brief history, followed by a compilation of some interesting facts about 'le Tour'!
A little history…..
The first Tour de France was staged in 1903, the idea stemming from a struggling newspaper with a prominent former cyclist as Editor. A unique cycling race with a concept not previously seen before was devised to attract more readers. Because the pages of the newspaper were yellow, race organisers decided that the race leader’s jersey should be yellow too – hence the advent of the prestigious “malliot jaune” (yellow jersey).
Riders competed overnight and into the afternoon, but the long distances, tough conditions, and costs only attracted a small number of participants. However, the concept proved popular enough to warrant running it the following year, with modifications.
But it almost didn’t continue after the second Tour in 1904 – cheating was rampant, and riders were beaten up by rival fans! The leading riders, including the winner, were disqualified some months later. But its popularity ensued, and it also proved to be a big windfall for the newspaper, with huge increases in circulation.
The race has been run annually since its inception, aside from during the two World Wars.
A selection of Tour facts:
– The Tour de France is the world's largest annual sporting event.
– The race covers in excess of 3,000 km (1,864 miles) over 3 weeks. The route takes riders up the equivalent of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Mt Snowdon, Mont Blanc, Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Everest; or the distance from London to Cairo – all in 21 days!
– A worldwide television audience of 3.5 billion people from 188 countries watch the Tour de France each year.
– Riders eat their way through 8,400 food bags distributed at feeding stations throughout race, consuming an average of 5900 Calories per day (compared to a “normal” diet of 2,500 Calories per day for a male); whilst burning a total amount of calories over the duration of the race equivalent to 280 bottles of red wine!
– Riders will hydrate with 42,000 bottles of water to try and compensate for the 1.5 litres of sweat lost every hour.
– 790 tyres are worn out by the peloton, with each rider going through an average of 3 chains, each making 324,000-486,000 pedal strokes.
– The most days spent in the coveted yellow jersey over the history of the Tour is 96 (this record is held by Eddy Merckx, over 7 races).
– The French riders have seen the most victories (36).
– 1,200 hotel rooms are reserved each night for the teams, staff, press and tour personnel.
– The Tour de France attracts up to 15 million spectators along the route.
– And….my personal favourite: In the early Tours, some riders smoked while participating in the race. And instead of energy drinks, riders would share bottles of wine while riding!
So, if you’re in France, check out the tour route and get yourself along to be a part of the action. Otherwise, tune in to the TV coverage to immerse yourself in the action, and enjoy the beautiful scenery on offer to inspire you for your next holiday to France!