About Le Tour de France
Le Tour de France is the most fervently supported and highly anticipated sporting event in France. Even those who don’t know their bicycle clips from their hand pumps recognise the yellow jersey of the Tour de France stage leader; but few would imagine that Le Tour was created because of the trial and conviction of French soldier Alfred Dreyfus.
The 2016 Tour de France takes place in the first 3 weeks of July with a mixture of flat stages, cobble stones, dramatic sprints and some of the biggest mountain stages that the tour will ever see, ensures that the battle will continue right until the end.
With the inclusion of the enormous and emblematic summits of the Mont Ventoux, the Port de la Bonaigua, or the Col du Tourmalet, the Pyrenees and the French Alps will become a battle ground for the athletes to show their skills, strength and assert their authority on the peloton.
After the Tour starts in Mont Saint-Michel and travels through the east and centre of France to the border with Spain, it will then ascend into the Pyrenees through Cataluña and Andorra before crossing over towards the Ardeche and Provence. Travelling deeper into the Alps, it will enter Switzerland to its capital, Bern. It will then return to France with no less than 4 courses in Haute-Savoie.
There will be a new finish at the edge of the Emosson dam after the Forclaz climb at an altitude of 1960m, overlooking Mont Blanc, as well as a time trial between Sallanches and Megeve. Albertville to Saint Gervais will see the Tour passing over three different 'Forclaz' to Mont Blanc which will offer a stunning backdrop to the final mountain stages with finishes in Megève, Saint-Gervais-Mont Blanc and Morzine. The 20th stage, before the final showdown on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, will be from Megeve to Morzine (also the Etape du Tour, where members of the public can take part ahead of the Tour riders coming through). Climbs will include those of the Aravis, the Col de Colombiere, Col de la Ramaz and onto the Col de Joux Plane. This is a stage where the final positions of the GC (General Classification) riders will be decided.
When asked what makes the Tour de France such a special event Cadel Evans, a recently retired cyclist and previous Tour de France winner said, "the length, the duration, how hard it is, and the mystique that surrounds it", and when asked if he was regretting retirement with the announcement of this years route his response was "I am happy to do so, I have had my time!".
The 21 Stages of the Tour de France 2016:
Stage 1: Saturday, July 2 - Mont Saint-Michel to Utah Beach - 188km
Stage 2: Sunday, July 3 - Saint-Lô to Cherbourg-Octeville - 182km
Stage 3: Monday, July 4 - Granville to angers - 222km
Stage 4: Tuesday, July 5 - Saumur to Limoges - 232km
Stage 5: Wednesday, July 6 - Limoges to Le Lioran - 216km
Stage 6: Thursday, July 7 - Arpajon-sur-Cère to Montauban - 187km
Stage 7: Friday, July 8 - L'Isle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle - 162km
Stage 8: Saturday, July 9 - Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon - 183km
Stage 9: Sunday, July 10 - Vielha (Spain) to Arcalis (Andorra) - 184km
Monday, July 11 - first rest day
Stage 10: Tuesday, July 12 - Escaldes-Engordany (Andorra) to Revel - 198km
Stage 11: Wednesday, July 13 - Carcassonne to Montpellier - 164km
Stage 12: Thursday, July 14 - Montpellier to Mont Ventoux - 185km
Stage 13: Friday, July 15 - Bourg-Saint-Andéol to La Caverne du Pont-d'Arc - 37km individual time trial
Stage 14: Saturday, July 16 - Montélimar to Villars-les Dombes - 208km
Stage 15: Sunday, July 17 - Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz - 159km
Stage 16: Monday, July 18 - Moirans-en-Montagne to Bern - 206km
Tuesday, July 19 – second rest day
Stage 17: Wednesday, July 20 - Bern to Finhaut-Emosson - 184km
Stage 18: Thursday, July 21 - Sallanches to Megève - 17km individual time trial
Stage 19: Friday, July 22 - Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc - 146km
Stage 20: Saturday, July 23 - Megève to Morzine - 146km
Stage 21: Sunday, July 24 - Chantilly to Paris - 113km
Dreyfus was found guilty of selling secrets to the Germans and was sentenced to life imprisonment; the outcome of the trial appeared to be heavily influenced by the fact that Dreyfus was Jewish and many people, including the editor of Le Vélo, believed him to have been innocent. Le Vélo was France’s most dominant sporting newspaper of the time, but unfortunately the editor’s view was not shared by all. Dion Car Works, Le Vélo’s biggest advertiser, disagreed strongly with the newspaper and as a result withdrew their advertising and started their own publication, L’Auto. The idea of publicising the new venture with a cycle race was in direct competition with the Paris-Brest race organised by Le Vélo; the Paris-Brest race continues to this day and is still popular, but does not hold the iconic status of Le Tour de France.
Le Tour de France is not just a race, it is a celebration of all things French; the rural villages, the stunning scenery, the cheering crowds, the sportsmanship and, finally, the grande finale in Paris.
The first Tour du France was in 1903, 60 people participated but only 21 completed the race. The winner was Maurice Garin who won 6075 francs in prize money and averaged 25km/hr. He beat the 2nd place winner, Lucien Pothier, by 2 hours 49 minutes, which is still the record for the greatest margin.
The mountain stages of Le Tour de France were introduced to the itinerary in 1910 when the Pyrenees were added to the route and are amongst the most challenging stages of the race. This upset many regular competitors because all of a sudden the ‘power cyclists’ found themselves at a disadvantage on the steep ascents. However, this gave ‘climbing cyclists’ more of a fighting chance than they had before and, if anything, made the race more exciting by opening up the playing field to a wider range of contenders. The first mountain stage went from Luchon to Bayonne; other climbs of the Pyrenees were Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque. The same year, not coincidentally, saw the introduction of the broom wagon; a vehicle that follows the race ‘sweeping’ up riders who can’t continue! The mountain stages are amongst the most exciting of the race as the riders need not just speed but strength, endurance and thighs of steel! The 21 bends of Alpe d’Huez are amongst the most legendary of the mountain stages, anyone who has ever tried to complete them in their own time will know just what an incredible feat it is to whizz up them the way these guys do!
The race of 1919 was the first one after the First World War and the toll that the battlefields had taken on Europe’s male population was evident in the noticeable decrease in the number of competitors. It was also the slowest race since 1906, due to bombed out roads and the loss of many of the great pre-war cycling champions. It was in 1919 that the Yellow Jersey was introduced to highlight the overall race leader.
1952 was the year that Le Tour went global. The race was filmed for television for the first time, opening up its popularity to a much wider fan base. It was also the first year that the legendary heights of Alpe d’Huez were climbed with a mountain top finish in Sestrières and on the Puy de Dôme.
Only in France! 1964 saw possibly the most gastronomically influenced battle for the Yellow Jersey ever. Multiple Tour winner and favourite contender Jacques Anquetil nearly blew his chances by over indulging at a BBQ on a rest day during the Pyrenees stages. The following day a terrible bout of indigestion took its toll while he was speeding along the Envalira Pass. His coach saved the day by passing him a bottle of champagne, which he guzzled whilst still on his bike, apparently curing his indigestion and allowing him to make up the lost time, overtake his nearest competitor and regain the Yellow Jersey!
The 61st Tour de France visited England for the first time in 1974. The riders passed through 10 towns and completed a circuit stage in Plymouth. Alas the trophy was not won by a Brit this year but by a Dutchman, Henk Poppe.
1975 was a year of firsts for the race: the first polka-dot jersey awarded to the best climber; first white jersey awarded to best young rider; first Tour finish on the Champs-Elysées. The final stage is the most high-profile as the stage starts with a champagne toast and the winners are cheered over the finishing line by huge crowds, flashing cameras and jostling media. The race had finished at the Champs-Elysées every year since 1975 and the spectacle of the competitors speeding past landmarks such as the Louvre and the Arc de Triomph make for a great atmosphere. The winner has normally already been decided on points by this stage, so the great dash for the finish is mostly just for the glory and prestige of being first over the historic line. Unfortunately 1975 did not bring a first for Belgian cyclist Eddie Merckx, who was intending to make this his sixth win; a enraged spectator leapt from the crowd and punched Merckx in the kidney, causing him to lose time and finish in second place.
An American cyclist, Greg Lemond, became the first to get a stage win in 1985 at the Lac de Vassivière. He unfortunately got shot during the winter though in a hunting accident and could not defend his title the following year. He made a strong return in 1989 and won 1st place.
1989 was also the year that Le Tour celebrated the French revolution’s bi-centenary by awarding a 17 890 Francs bonus at kilometer 1789, in Martres-Tolosane (Luchon - Blagnac stage), where the Women’s Tour started.
British cyclists have never made much of an impact on Le Tour de France but in 1998 Britain's Chris Boardman won his third Prologue and captured the yellow jersey. This year was also tarnished by scandal when, before the Tour had even started, a Festina team car was found to be loaded with performance enhancing drugs on the French/Belgian border. In the ensuing investigation team director Bruno Roussel confessed to systematic doping of the riders; the entire team was then expelled from the race. The incident kicked up a furor when the race organizers insisted on conducting further drug inquiries, prompting two sit-down strikes by the Tour riders and marring the 1998 race. The discovery of the drugs and the Roussel's admission lead to an enquiry which saw police searches, arrests, court cases and a huge amount of negative publicity that has made doping a controversial part of Le Tour de France ever since.
1999 was the first year that Lance Armstrong won 1st place, signaling the start of his domination of the race for the next 7 years. Claiming the winner’s podium an incredible 7 consecutive times Armstrong became a hero to race fans when it was revealed that prior to his first victory he had beaten a severe form of testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs. He had undergone brain and testicular surgery as well as extensive chemotherapy as part of his recovery process. Interestingly a 2006 report by CS Atwood claims that Armstrong’s medical treatment may actually have contributed to his athletic ability by altering his hormonal system and his body’s production of testosterone in a way that would allegedly enhance his endurance performance. Armstrong’s physical attributes have been the subject of much discussion amongst sports journalists over the years. Apparently one of his distinguishing features is a heart that is 30% larger than average, which beats at 32-34 bpm at rest and can reach up to 201 bpm when strenuously exercising. He also has extremely low lactate levels, meaning that he is less prone to a buildup of lactic acid (the stuff that makes your muscles burn and stiffen up when you exercise) in his legs. His domination of the sport and astonishing performances year after year has left him open to accusations of drug taking. Armstrong has described himself as ‘the most tested athlete in the world.’ These claims would appear to be entirely unfounded though as only one test has ever returned a positive result and the substance was proven to be present in an approved cream that Armstrong had been prescribed for saddle sores. Armstrong finally retired from Le Tour de France in 2005, after claiming his last victory.
The race of 1999 was one of thrills and spills for Italian cyclist Guiseppe Guerini when during the arduous climb up Avoriaz he came face to face with one of his fans - quite literally. A young German photographer, known as Erik, was so keen to snap a good photo that he got a little too close to the action and collided head on with Guerini, knocking him off his bike! Guerini scrambled back into the saddle and made up his lost time to win the stage. Erik was said to be so mortified by causing the accident that he refused to sell the photo, despite being offered large sums for it. Instead he visited Guerini in his hotel room that night, apologised profusely and gave him the roll of film to do with as he wished. Guerini was apparently very gracious and bore the young German no hard feelings. Click here to see a video clip of Erik's notorious photo shoot!
The 93rd Le Tour of 2006 was another controversial race dominated by accusations of drug taking; American cyclist Floyd Landis brought disgrace to the Yellow Jersey when he was found guilty of drug use four days after being declared the winner. This year’s race had already got off to an unsteady start when on the eve of the first stage 13 riders were banned from competing due to suspicion of doping. With some of the race favourites out of the picture, as well as the retirement of Lance Armstrong, the field was now wide open for a lesser known contender to make his name. In the closest finish in the race’s history Floyd Landis, already a leading favourite, took 1st place. It was his unexpectedly good 17th stage in Morzine that aroused suspicion (especially after his inauspicious 16th stage). A urine sample was taken, which twice showed positive for a banned synthetic testosterone substance. Landis vehemently denied the charges and appealed against the test results; however, the accusation was upheld and in 2007 Landis was stripped of his title. After a 14 month legal battle second place finisher Oscar Pereiro was announced the true winner.
With drugs testing now being a focal point of the race organization 2007 inevitably threw up more scandal and controversy when a number of cyclists tested positive for banned substances, causing the T-Mobile, Astana and Cofidis teams to be withdrawn from the race. The T-Mobile ban caused German TV broadcasters ZDF and ARD to withdraw their coverage of the race.
More bizarrely the 2007 Tour de France was also disrupted by a pair of kamikaze dogs… A wandering Labrador Retriever was struck by a rider in the 9th Stage, throwing the rider over the handlebars and buckling his front wheel. Fortunately the dog was unhurt and was quickly scooped out of the way by a spectator. Another overexcited hound threw a spanner in the works by dashing out in front of the pack during the 18th Stage, causing a collision between 2 riders. There have been no allegations that the dogs were on drugs, but you never know...
Where & when
Anyone making the pilgrimage to see Le Tour in action will enjoy the atmosphere as much as the race itself. It takes place each year across France during the first 3 weeks in July.
Crowds of people line the streets hours (sometimes even days!) in advance; tents, picnics and BBQs turn the wait for the cyclists into an impromptu street party and the arrival of the publicity caravan heralds the start of the festivities. The caravan is a 20km long procession of 200 decorated sponsored vehicles that precedes the race. Added as a regular feature of the race in 1930 the caravan makes its way through the towns and villages that make up the race route, whipping up a carnival atmosphere and throwing free gifts to the cheering crowds along the way! Each vehicle tries to outdo the others to advertise their own brand, so the event is quite a spectacle.
Facts & figures
- Over 500 towns and villages have hosted Le Tour de France
- More than 10 000 cyclists have entered the race
- Over 6000 cyclists have completed the race
- 250 different cyclists have worn the Yellow Jersey
- Raymond Poulidor has claimed the podium more times than anyone else (finished 8 times in the top 3), despite never having worn the Yellow Jersey
- Four riders have won 5 times: the French Jacques Anquetil (1957 and 1961-1964) & Bernard Hinault (1978, 19779, 1981, 1982 & 1985), the Belgian Eddy Merckx (1969-1972 and 1984), and the Spanish Miguel Indurain (1991-1995)
- Lance Armstrong had won Le Tour de France more times than any other cyclist, claiming the 1st place title every year from 1999 to 2005. but in 2012 he was stripped of all his achievements since 1998, including his 7 Tour de France titles
Spotting the winners
The famous Yellow Jersey (Maillot Jaune) has become symbolic of Le Tour de France and marks out the overall winner of the previous day’s stage. There are three coloured jerseys, each signifying the category that the wearer has won. Yellow is the overall winner, green is the sprint winner and the white jersey with red polka dots goes to the ‘King of the Mountains’ uphill winner. There are also three lesser classifications: the white jersey for the best placed rider under the age of 25, the red jersey for the most competitive/aggressive rider (the ‘prix de combativité’), and the black on yellow jersey for the best team.
The Yellow Jersey was first officially introduced in 1919, to make the lead competitor stand out and give the other racers a clearly visible target to beat. The colour yellow was chosen partly for its high visibility and partly because it was the colour of the pages of Le Auto, the cycling journal that organized the race. There are records of the lead rider wearing a yellow jersey before this but it was not an official part of the race, to the extent that when Phillippe Thys lead the race in 1913 he had to pop into a shop 'en route' to buy his own jersey and then cut a bigger hole in the neck to get it over his head!
Apart from the 'Maillot Jaune' there are other winners and jerseys awarded throughout the race. The day, or stage, winner will be awarded a prize and at the end of the 3 weeks there will also be a presentation for the overall winning Team.
The green jersey was created in 1953 for the 50th anniversary of the race. It brought a new interest to the race, the yellow jersey not being the only jersey at stake any longer. The first green jersey in history was held by Swiss Fritz Schaer. It is worn by the leader of the points classification. Points are being awarded in the intermediate sprints and the stage finishes.
It has been sponsored by PMU since 1992.
The King of the Mountains classification was created in 1933 for the best climbers (first winner: Spain’s Vicente Trueba). But the polka-dot jersey only appeared in 1975. France’s Richard Virenque holds the record of most KOM jerseys: he won it seven times between 1994 and 2004.
The polka-dot jersey is sponsored by Carrefour.
It was created in 1975. In 1988, the jersey was abandoned, but not the best young rider classification. The white jersey was reintroduced in the peloton in 2000. It rewards the best-placed under-25 rider in the overall standings. The jersey revealed some of the best talents in the sport – Denis Menchov in 2003, Alberto Contador in 2007, Andy Schleck from 2008 and 2010, Pierre Rolland in 2012.
It has been sponsored by Skoda since 2004.