The Tour de France is unquestionably the most prestigious bicycle race in the world. No other Grand Tour has the same reputation or rich history; from Eddy Merckx to Greg LeMond, the world’s most famous riders all made their name in France.
The Tour is by far the most popular cycling competition. An impressive 3.5 billion people tune in to watch events unfold on TV and 12 million people line the roads each year to catch a glimpse of the peloton as it goes past. With more media coverage and bigger sponsors, the profile of the race continues to grow each year.
Here are six Tour de France facts, past and present, that you may not know.
1. The Tour was Originally Set Up to Sell L’Auto Newspaper
Before there were cameramen on motorbikes and in helicopters, all media coverage of the Tour de France was in print form. The newspaper L’Auto started the race in 1903 to boost circulation, with enormous effect.
There aren’t too many references to L’Auto left in the modern Tour, but the famous yellow jersey gets its colour from the yellow newsprint of the paper.
2. Cheaters used to be a bit less subtle
In early days of the Tour de France, cheating was rampant and surprisingly explicit. The winner of the second edition, for example, was disqualified for having taken a train ride to get ahead of his rivals.
Other riders in the same Tour are said to have been towed by cars. This is certainly one step up from drafting behind a team car, which Tom Dumoulin was penalised for by the UCI in stage 6 this year.
3. Riders used to “dope” by getting drunk
The use of performance enhancing drugs is not a new problem. Alcohol and ether were the original drugs of choice in the early days of the Tour, and as recently as 1967 when Tom Simpson died on Mont Ventoux after (allegedly) drinking Brandy.
Brandy might not sound like the best performance enhancer, but it was effective at numbing the pain and this allowed riders to push harder than their rivals. Then again, riders would also share cigarettes before climbs to “open up their lungs”. Not recommended.
Modern drug testing is strict, but Therapeutic Use Exemptions for drugs like Salbutamol (as with the recent and now dropped case against Chris Froome) are still causing debate.
4. Cyclists were not always allowed to ride together
The familiar peloton has not always been a feature of the Tour de France. Originally riders rode for themselves, and staying together in groups was forbidden. The introduction of teams completely changed the tactics of the race.
This year the team size has been reduced to eight from nine in an attempt to improve the safety of the peloton. Based on the race so far, it doesn’t seem to have been successful.
5. The average speed of the Tour has increased by 60%
Overall, the average speed of the Tour has got faster and faster over time. In 2017, Chris Froome rode at an average speed of nearly 41 km/h (about 25 mph).
We can only imagine what speed famous riders of yesteryear would average if given a 2018 road bike which weighs about half as much as the steel bikes that they rode.
6. Four riders have won the overall classification five times
Namely Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain. That number could soon increase to five if Chris Froome, currently with four overall wins under his belt, takes the yellow jersey again this year.
The record for the number of stage wins is 34, held by Eddy Merckx. This record might have also fallen this year, but Mark Cavendish (who is currently sitting on 30 stage wins) was elimated in stage 11 for failing to finish inside the time limit.
Do you have any other interesting facts about the Tour De France? Leave your comments below