Tour de France
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|Region||France and nearby countries|
|Local name(s)||Le Tour de France (French)|
|Nickname(s)||La Grande Boucle|
|Type||Stage race (Grand Tour)|
|Organiser||Amaury Sport Organisation|
|Race director||Christian Prudhomme|
|Editions||99 ( 2012)|
|First winner||Maurice Garin (FRA)|
|Most recent||Bradley Wiggins (GBR)|
The Tour de France (French pronunciation: [tuʁ də fʁɑ̃s]) is an annual multiple stage bicycle race primarily held in France, while also occasionally making passes through nearby countries. The race was first organized in 1903 to increase paper sales for the magazine L'Auto; it is currently run by the Amaury Sport Organisation. The race has been held annually since its first edition in 1903 except for when it was stopped for the two World Wars. As the Tour gained prominence and popularity the race was lengthened and its reach began to extend around the globe. Participation expanded from a primarily French field, as riders from all over the world began to participate in the race each year. The Tour is a UCI World Tour event, which means that the teams that compete in the race are mostly UCI ProTeams, with the exception of the teams that the organizers invite.
Along with the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, the Tour makes up cycling's prestigious, three-week-long Grand Tours. Traditionally, the race is usually held primarily in the month of July. While the route changes each year, the format of the race stays the same with the appearance of at least two time trials, the passage through the mountain chains of the Pyrenees and the Alps, and the finish on the Champs-Élysées. The modern editions of the Tour de France consist of 21 day-long segments (stages) over a 23-day period.
All of the stages are timed to the finish; after finishing the riders' times are compounded with their previous stage times. The rider with the lowest aggregate time is the leader of the race and gets to don the coveted yellow jersey. While the general classification garners the most attention there are other contests held within the Tour: the points classification for the sprinters, the mountains classification for the climbers with general classification hopes, young rider classification for the riders under the age of 26, and the team classification for the fastest teams. The 2012 edition of the race was won by Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins, the first British winner in the history of the Tour de France.
The tour typically has 21 days of racing and 2 rest days and covers 3,200 kilometres (2,000 mi). The shortest Tour was in 1904 at 2,420 kilometres (1,500 mi), the longest in 1926 at 5,745 kilometres (3,570 mi). The three weeks usually include two rest days, sometimes used to transport riders from a finish in one town to the start in another. The race alternates between clockwise and anticlockwise circuits of France. The first anticlockwise circuit was in 1913. The New York Times said the "Tour de France is arguably the most physiologically demanding of athletic events." The effort was compared to "running a marathon several days a week for nearly three weeks", while the total elevation of the climbs was compared to "climbing three Everests."
The number of teams usually varies between 20 and 22, with nine riders in each. Entry is by invitation to teams chosen by the race organiser, the Amaury Sport Organisation. Team members help each other and are followed by managers and mechanics in cars.
Riders are judged by the time each has taken throughout the race, a ranking known as the general classification. There may be time deductions for finishing well in a daily stage or being first to pass an intermediate point. It is possible to win without winning a stage; this has occurred six times. There are subsidiary competitions (see below), some with distinctive jerseys for the best rider. Riders normally start together each day, with the first over the line winning, but some days are ridden against the clock by individuals or teams. The overall winner is usually a master of the mountains and of these time trials. Most stages are in mainland France, although since the 1960s it has become common to visit nearby countries: Andorra, Belgium, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland have all hosted stages or part of a stage. Austria, Qatar and Scotland have expressed an interest in hosting future starts. Stages can be flat, undulating or mountainous. Since 1975 the finish has been on the Champs-Élysées in Paris; from 1903 to 1967 the race finished at the Parc des Princes stadium in western Paris and from 1968 to 1974 at the Piste Municipale south of the capital.
The roots of the Tour de France trace to the Dreyfus Affair, a cause célèbre that divided France at the end of the 19th century over the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, a soldier convicted—though later exonerated—of selling military secrets to the Germans. Opinions became heated and there were demonstrations by both sides. One was what the historian Eugen Weber called "an absurd political shindig" at the Auteuil horse-race course in Paris in 1899. Among those involved was Comte Jules-Albert de Dion, the owner of the De Dion-Bouton car works, who believed Dreyfus was guilty. De Dion served 15 days in jail and was fined 100 francs for his role at Auteuil, which included striking Émile Loubet, the president of France, on the head with a walking stick.
The incident at Auteuil, said Weber, was "...tailor-made for the sporting press." The first and the largest daily sports newspaper in France was Le Vélo, which sold 80,000 copies a day. Its editor, Pierre Giffard, thought Dreyfus innocent. He reported the arrest in a way that displeased de Dion, who was so angry that he joined other anti-Dreyfusards such as Adolphe Clément and Édouard Michelin and opened a rival daily sports paper, L'Auto.
The new newspaper appointed Henri Desgrange as editor. He was a prominent cyclist and owner with Victor Goddet of the velodrome at the Parc des Princes. De Dion knew him through his cycling reputation, through the books and cycling articles that he had written, and through press articles he had written for the Clément tyre company.
L'Auto was not the success its backers wanted. Stagnating sales lower than the rival it was intended to surpass led to a crisis meeting on 20 November 1902 on the middle floor of L'Auto's office at 10 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, Paris. The last to speak was the most junior there, the chief cycling journalist, a 26-year-old named Géo Lefèvre. Desgrange had poached him from Giffard's paper. Lefèvre suggested a six-day race of the sort popular on the track but all around France. Long-distance cycle races were a popular means to sell more newspapers, but nothing of the length that Lefèvre suggested had been attempted. If it succeeded, it would help L'Auto match its rival and perhaps put it out of business. It could, as Desgrange said, "nail Giffard's beak shut." Desgrange and Lefèvre discussed it after lunch. Desgrange was doubtful but the paper's financial director, Victor Goddet, was enthusiastic. He handed Desgrange the keys to the company safe and said: "Take whatever you need." L'Auto announced the race on 19 January 1903.
First Tour de France
The first Tour de France was staged in 1903. The plan was a five-stage race from 31 May to 5 July, starting in Paris and stopping in Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and Nantes before returning to Paris. Toulouse was added later to break the long haul across southern France from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Stages would go through the night and finish next afternoon, with rest days before riders set off again. But this proved too daunting and the costs too great for most and only 15 entered. Desgrange had never been wholly convinced and he came close to dropping the idea. Instead, he cut the length to 19 days, changed the dates to 1 to 19 July, and offered a daily allowance to those who averaged at least 20 km/h on all the stages. That was what a rider would have expected to earn each day had he worked in a factory. He also cut the entry fee from 20 to 10 francs and set the first prize at 12,000 francs and the prize for each day's winner at 3,000 francs. The winner would thereby win six times what most workers earned in a year. That attracted between 60 and 80 entrants – the higher number may have included serious inquiries and some who dropped out – among them not just professionals but amateurs, some unemployed, some simply adventurous.
Desgrange seems not to have forgotten the Dreyfus Affair that launched his race and raised the passions of his backers. He announced his new race on 1 July 1903 by citing the writer Émile Zola, whose open letter in which every paragraph started" J'accuse ..." led to Dreyfus's acquittal, establishing the florid style he used henceforth, Desgrange wrote:
With the wide and powerful gesture that Zola lends to his ploughman in La Terre, L'Auto, a journal of ideas and action, is about to send out over France those tough and uncomplicated sowers of strength, the great professional roadsters.—
From Paris to the blue waves of the Mediterranean, from Marseille to Bordeaux, passing along the roseate and dreaming roads sleeping under the sun, across the calm of the fields of the Vendée, following the Loire, which flows on still and silent, our men are going to race madly, unflaggingly.—
The first Tour de France started almost outside the Café Reveil-Matin at the junction of the Melun and Corbeil roads in the village of Montgeron. It was waved away by the starter, Georges Abran, at 3:16 p.m. on 1 July 1903. L'Auto—which hadn't featured the race on its front page that morning—reported:
The men waved their hats, the ladies their umbrellas. One felt they would have liked to touch the steel muscles of the most courageous champions since antiquity. Who will carry off the first prize, entering the pantheon where only supermen may go?—
Among the competitors were the eventual winner, Maurice Garin, his well-built rival Hippolyte Aucouturier, the German favourite Josef Fischer, and a collection of adventurers including one competing as "Samson".
The race finished on the edge of Paris at Ville d'Avray, outside the Restaurant du Père Auto, before a ceremonial ride into Paris and several laps of the Parc des Princes. Garin dominated the race, winning the first and last two stages, at 25.68 km/h. The last rider, Millocheau, finished 64h 47m 22s behind him.
Such was the passion that the first Tour created in spectators and riders that Desgrange said the second would be the last. Cheating was rife and riders were beaten up by rival fans as they neared the top of the col de la République, sometimes called the col du Grand Bois, outside St-Étienne. The historian Bill McGann said:
Desgrange and Lefèvre had a tiger by the tail ... It was a strange Tour and no one is sure exactly what happened. Because the stages were so long, the riders were required to ride at night. Even with Desgrange's men doing what they could to watch the race, cheating was easy. Some were accused of hopping in a car. Others took trains. Moreover, Desgrange's race had lit fires of passion among racing fans that would almost be the ruin of the race.
The leading riders, including the winner Maurice Garin, were disqualified, though it took the Union Vélocipèdique de France until 30 November to make the decision. McGann says the UVF waited so long "...well aware of the passions aroused by the race."
Desgrange's opinion of the fighting and cheating showed in the headline of his reaction in L'Auto: THE END. He wrote:
The Tour de France has just finished and its second edition will, I fear, be the last. It will have died of its own success, of the blind passions which have been unleashed, of the abuse and of the suspicions that have come from ignorant and ill-intentioned people. And yet, however, it seemed to us and it still seems that we had built, with this great event, the most durable and the most imposing monument to cycle sport. We had hoped to each year bring a little more sport across the greater part of France. The results of last year showed that our reasoning was correct and here we are at the end of the second Tour de France, sickened and discouraged, having lived through these three weeks of the worst slander and abuse.
Desgrange's despair did not last. By the following spring he was planning another Tour, longer at 11 stages rather than six -and this time all in daylight to make any cheating more obvious. Stages in 1905 began between 3 am and 7:30 am.
The race captured the imagination. L'Auto's circulation rose from 25,000 to 65,000; by 1908 it was a quarter of a million, and during the 1923 Tour 500,000. The record claimed by Desgrange was 854,000 during the 1933 Tour. Le Vélo went out of business in 1904.
Desgrange and his Tour invented bicycle stage racing. Desgrange experimented with judging by elapsed time and then from 1906 to 1912 by points for placings each day. He allowed riders to have personal pacers on the last stage in 1903 and on the first and last stages in 1905.
Desgrange stood against the use of multiple gears and for many years insisted riders use wooden rims, fearing the heat of braking while coming down mountains would melt the glue that held the tires on metal rims (they were finally allowed in 1937).
From 1936 there were as many as three stages in a single day.
His dream was a race of individuals. He invited teams but until 1925 forbade their members to pace each other. He then went the other way and from 1927 to 1929 ran the Tour as a giant team time-trial, with teams starting separately with members pacing each other. He demanded that riders mend their bicycles without help and that they use the same bicycle from start to end. Exchanging a damaged bicycle for another was allowed only in 1923.
In 1903, Desgrange allowed riders who dropped out one day to continue the next for daily prizes but not the overall prize. In 1928, he allowed teams who had lost members to replace them halfway through the race.
Above all, Desgrange conducted a campaign against the sponsors, bicycle factories, which he was sure were undermining the spirit of a Tour de France of individuals. In 1930 he insisted that competitors ride plain yellow bicycles that he would provide, without a maker's name.
Touriste-routiers and regionals
The first Tours were open to whomever wanted to compete. Most riders were in teams that looked after them. The private entrants were called touriste-routiers – tourists of the road – from 1923 and were allowed to take part provided they make no demands on the organisers. Some of the Tour's most colourful characters have been touriste-routiers. One finished each day's race and then performed acrobatic tricks in the street to raise the price of a hotel.
There was no place for individuals in the post-1930s teams and so Desgrange created regional teams, generally from France, to take in riders who would not otherwise have qualified. The original touriste-routiers mostly disappeared but some were absorbed into regional teams.
The first Tours were for individuals and members of sponsored teams. There were two classes of race, one for the aces, the other for the rest, with different rules. By the end of the 1920s, however, Desgrange believed he could not beat what he believed were the underhand tactics of bike factories. When the Alcyon team contrived to get Maurice De Waele to win even though he was sick, he said "My race has been won by a corpse" and in 1930 admitted only teams representing their country or region.
National teams contested the Tour until 1961. The teams were of different sizes. Some nations had more than one team and some were mixed in with others to make up the number. National teams caught the public imagination but had a snag: that riders might normally have been in rival trade teams the rest of the season. The loyalty of riders was sometimes questionable, within and between teams.
Return of trade teams
Riders in national teams wore the colours of their country and a small cloth panel on their chest that named the team for which they normally rode. Sponsors were always unhappy about releasing their riders into anonymity for the biggest race of the year and the situation became critical at the start of the 1960s. Sales of bicycles had fallen and bicycle factories were closing. There was a risk, the trade said, that the industry would die if factories were not allowed the publicity of the Tour de France.
The Tour returned to trade teams in 1962, although with further problems. Doping had become a problem and tests were introduced for riders. Riders went on strike near Bordeaux in 1966 and the organisers suspected sponsors provoked them. The Tour returned to national teams for 1967 and 1968 as "an experiment". The author Geoffrey Nicholson identified a further reason: opposition to closure of roads by a race criticised as crassly commercial. He said:
What the Tour did to placate the opposition in 1967 was to play the patriotic card. It scrapped trade teams in favour of national teams ... since a contest between squads in French and Belgian colours would appear less blatantly commercial than one between Ford-France-Gitane and Flandria-Romeo. 'It was being done,' said L'Équipe, the voice of the Tour, 'in response to the noble and superior interests of the race, to the wishes of the public and the desires of the public authorities.'—
The sponsors had to accept the change, but did so with ill-grace. The new arrangement, they argued, was basically unfair: they paid the riders' salaries all summer only to be denied publicity from the season's major event. They also pointed to the danger of collusion between trade-team colleagues of different nationalities ... Indeed loyalties were put under so much strain that the experiment was dropped after only two seasons.—
The Tour returned to trade teams in 1969 with a suggestion that national teams could come back every few years. This never happened.
The Tour originally ran around the perimeter of France. Cycling was an endurance sport and the organisers realised the sales they would achieve by creating supermen of their competitors. Night riding was dropped after the second Tour in 1904, when there had been persistent cheating when judges could not see riders. That reduced the daily and overall distance but the emphasis remained on endurance. Desgrange said his ideal race would be so hard that only one rider would make it to Paris.
A succession of doping scandals in the 1960s, culminating in the death of Tom Simpson in 1967, led the Union Cycliste Internationale to limit daily and overall distances and to impose rest days. It was then impossible to follow the frontiers, and the Tour increasingly zig-zagged across the country, sometimes with unconnected days' races linked by train, while still maintaining some sort of loop. The modern Tour typically has 21 daily stages and not more than 3,500 km (2,200 mi). The shortest and longest Tours were 2,428 and 5,745 km (1,509 and 3,570 mi) in 1904 and 1926, respectively.
The Tour changed in 1930 to a competition largely between teams representing their countries rather than the companies that sponsored them. The costs of accommodating riders fell to the organisers instead of the sponsors and Henri Desgrange raised the money by allowing advertisers to precede the race.
The procession of often colourfully decorated trucks and cars became known as the publicity caravan. It formalised an existing situation, companies having started to follow the race. The first to sign to precede the Tour was the chocolate company, Menier, one of those who had followed the race. Its head of publicity, Paul Thévenin, had first put the idea to Desgrange. It paid 50,000 old francs. Preceding the race was more attractive to advertisers because spectators gathered by the road long before the race or could be attracted from their houses. Advertisers following the race found that many who had watched the race had already gone home.
Menier handed out tons of chocolate in that first year of preceding the race, as well as 500,000 policemen's hats printed with the company's name. The success led to the caravan's existence being formalised the following year.
The caravan was at its height between 1930 and the mid-1960s, before television and especially television advertising was established in France. Advertisers competed to attract public attention. Motorcycle acrobats performed for the Cinzano apéritif company and a toothpaste maker, and an accordionist, Yvette Horner, became one of the most popular sights as she performed on the roof of a Citroën Traction Avant . The modern Tour restricts the excesses to which advertisers are allowed to go but at first anything was allowed. The writer Pierre Bost lamented: "This caravan of 60 gaudy trucks singing across the countryside the virtues of an apéritif, a make of underpants or a dustbin is a shameful spectacle. It bellows, it plays ugly music, it's sad, it's ugly, it smells of vulgarity and money."
Advertisers pay the Société du Tour de France approximately €150,000 to place three vehicles in the caravan. Some have more. On top of that come the more considerable costs of the commercial samples that are thrown to the crowd and the cost of accommodating the drivers and the staff—frequently students—who throw them. The vehicles also have to be decorated on the morning of each stage and, because they must return to ordinary highway standards, disassembled after each stage. Numbers vary but there are normally around 250 vehicles each year. Their order on the road is established by contract, the leading vehicles belonging to the largest sponsors.
The procession sets off two hours before the start and then regroups to precede the riders by an hour and a half. It spreads 20–25 km and takes 40 minutes to pass at between 20 and 60 km/h. Vehicles travel in groups of five. Their position is logged by GPS and from an aircraft and organised on the road by the caravan director—Jean-Pierre Lachaud—an assistant, three motorcyclists, two radio technicians and a breakdown and medical crew. Six motorcyclists from the Garde Républicaine, the élite of the gendarmerie, ride with them.
The advertisers distribute publicity material to the crowd. The number of items has been estimated at 11 million, each person in the procession giving out 3,000 to 5,000 items a day. A bank, GAN, gave out 170,000 caps, 80,000 badges, 60,000 plastic bags and 535,000 copies of its race newspaper in 1994. Together, they weighed 32 tons.
Spectators have died in collisions with the caravan (see below).
The first organiser was Henri Desgrange, although daily running of the 1903 race was by Lefèvre. He followed riders by train and bicycle. In 1936 Desgrange had a prostate operation. At the time, two operations were needed; the Tour de France was due to fall between them. Desgrange persuaded his surgeon to let him follow the race. The second day proved too much and, in a fever at Charleville, he retired to his château at Beauvallon. Desgrange died at home on the Mediterranean coast on 16 August 1940. The race was taken over by his deputy, Jacques Goddet.
War interrupted the Tour. The German Propaganda Staffel wanted it to be run and offered facilities otherwise denied, in the hope of maintaining a sense of normality. They offered to open the borders between German-occupied France in the north and nominally independent Vichy France in the south but Goddet refused.
In 1944, L'Auto was closed – its doors nailed shut – and its belongings, including the Tour, sequestrated by the state for publishing articles too close to the Germans. Rights to the Tour were therefore owned by the government. Jacques Goddet was allowed to publish another daily sports paper, L'Équipe, but there was a rival candidate to run the Tour: a consortium of Sports and Miroir Sprint. Each organised a candidate race. L'Équipe and Le Parisien Libéré had La Course du Tour de France and Sports and Miroir Sprint had La Ronde de France. Both were five stages, the longest the government would allow because of shortages. L'Équipe's race was better organised and appealed more to the public because it featured national teams that had been successful before the war, when French cycling was at a high. L'Équipe was given the right to organise the 1947 Tour de France.
L'Équipe's finances were never sound and Goddet accepted an advance by Émilion Amaury, who had supported his bid to run the post-war Tour. Amaury was a newspaper magnate whose condition was that his sports editor, Félix Lévitan should join Goddet for the Tour. The two worked together, Goddet running the sporting side and Lévitan the financial.
Lévitan began to recruit sponsors, sometimes accepting prizes in kind if he could not get cash. He introduced the finish of the Tour at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in 1975. He left the Tour on 17 March 1987 after losses by the Tour of America, in which he was involved. The claim was that it had been cross-financed by the Tour de France. Lévitan insisted he was innocent but the lock to his office was changed and his job was over. Goddet retired the following year. They were replaced in 1988 by Jean-Pierre Courcol, the director of L'Équipe, then in 1989 by Jean-Pierre Carenso and then by Jean-Marie Leblanc, who in 1989 had been race director. The former television presenter Christian Prudhomme—he commentated on the Tour among other events—replaced Leblanc in 2005, having been assistant director for two years.
Current race director Prudhomme works for the Société du Tour de France, a subsidiary of Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which since 1993 has been part of the media group Amaury Group that owns L'Équipe. It employs around 70 people full-time, in an office facing but not connected to L'Équipe in the Issy-les-Moulineaux area of outer western Paris. That number expands to about 220 during the race itself, not including 500 contractors employed to move barriers, erect stages, signpost the route and other work.
The first three Tours stayed within France. The 1906 race went into Alsace-Lorraine, territory annexed by the German Empire in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War. Passage was secured through a meeting at Metz between Desgrange's collaborator, Alphonse Steinès, and the German governor.
No teams from Italy, Germany or Spain rode in 1939 because of tensions preceding the Second World War. Henri Desgrange planned a Tour for 1940, after war had started but before France had been invaded. The route, approved by military authorities, included a route along the Maginot Line. Teams would have been drawn from military units in France, including the British, who would have been organised by a journalist, Bill Mills. Then the Germans invaded and the race was not held again until 1947 (see Tour de France during the Second World War). The first German team after the war was in 1960, although individual Germans had ridden in mixed teams. The Tour has since started in Germany three times: in Cologne in 1965, in Frankfurt in 1980 and in West Berlin on the city's 750th anniversary in 1987. Plans to enter East Germany that year were abandoned.
The Tour de France has visited every region of Metropolitan France except Corsica. Jean-Marie Leblanc, when he was organiser, said the island had never asked for a stage start there. It would be difficult to find accommodation for 4,000 people, he said. The spokesman of the Corsican nationalist party Party of the Corsican Nation, François Alfonsi, said: "The organisers must be afraid of terrorist attacks. If they are really thinking of a possible terrorist action, they are wrong. Our movement, which is nationalist and in favour of self-government, would be delighted if the Tour came to Corsica.". The opening stages of the 2013 Tour de France are set to be held on Corsica as part of the celebrations for the 100th edition of the race.
Prize money has always been awarded. From 20,000 old francs the first year, prize money has increased each year, although from 1976 to 1987 the first prize was an apartment offered by a race sponsor. The first prize in 1988 was a car, a studio-apartment, a work of art and 500,000 francs in cash. Prizes only in cash returned in 1990.
Prizes and bonuses are awarded for daily placings and final placings at the end of the race. In 2009, the winner received €450,000, while each of the 21 stage winners won €8,000 (€10,000 for the team time-trial stage). The winners of the points classification and mountains classification each win €25,000, the young rider competition and the combativity prize €20,000, and €50,000 for the winner of the team classification (calculated by adding the cumulative times of the best three riders in each team).
The Souvenir Henri Desgrange, in memory of the founder of the Tour, is awarded to the first rider over the col du Galibier where his monument stands, or to the first rider over the highest col in the Tour. A similar award is made at the summit of the col du Tourmalet, at the memorial to Jacques Goddet, Desgrange's successor.
Riders aim to win overall but there are three further competitions: points, mountains and for the best young rider. The leader of each wears a distinctive jersey. A rider who leads more than one competition wears the jersey of the most prestigious. The abandoned jersey is worn by the second in the competition. The Tour's colours have been adopted by other races and have meaning within cycling generally. For example, the Tour of Britain has yellow, green, and polka-dot jerseys with the same meaning as the Tour. The Giro d'Italia differs by awarding the leader a pink jersey, since it is organised by La Gazzetta dello Sport, which has pink pages.
The yellow jersey (maillot jaune) is worn by the general classification leader. This is decided by totalling the time each rider takes on the daily stages. The rider with the lowest overall time at the end of each stage receives a ceremonial yellow bicycling jersey and the right to start the next stage of the Tour, usually the next day, in the yellow jersey.
The rider to receive the yellow jersey after the last stage in Paris, is the overall winner of the Tour.
The winner of the first Tour wore not a yellow jersey but a green armband. The yellow was first awarded formally to Eugène Christophe, for the stage from Grenoble on 19 July 1919. However, at the age of 67 the Belgian rider Philippe Thys (who won in 1913, 1914 and 1920) recalled in the Belgian magazine Champions et Vedettes that he was awarded a yellow jersey in 1913 when Henri Desgrange asked him to wear a coloured jersey. Thys declined, saying making himself more visible would encourage others to ride against him. He said:
- He then made his argument from another direction. Several stages later, it was my team manager at Peugeot, (Alphonse) Baugé, who urged me to give in. The yellow jersey would be an advertisement for the company and, that being the argument, I was obliged to concede. So a yellow jersey was bought in the first shop we came to. It was just the right size, although we had to cut a slightly larger hole for my head to go through.
He spoke of the next year, when "I won the first stage and was beaten by a tyre by Bossus in the second. On the following stage, the yellow jersey passed to Georget after a crash." The Tour historian Jacques Augendre called Thys "a valorous rider ... well-known for his intelligence" and said his claim "seems free from all suspicion". But: "No newspaper mentions a yellow jersey before the war. Being at a loss for witnesses, we can't solve this enigma."
The very first rider to wear the yellow jersey from start to finish was Ottavio Bottecchia of Italy in 1924. Nicolas Frantz (1928) and Romain Maes (1935) are the only two other riders who have done the same. The first company to pay a daily prize to the wearer of the yellow jersey – known as the "rent" – was a wool company, Sofil, in 1948. The greatest number of riders to wear the yellow jersey in a day is three: Nicolas Frantz, André Leducq and Victor Fontan shared equal time for a day in 1929 and there was no rule to split them.
Before his retroactive disqualification in October 2012 for doping offences, Lance Armstrong had officially been recorded as the rider with most wins, at seven (1999-2005). Four riders, each with five wins, are now the joint holders of the record for most victories:
- Jacques Anquetil in 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964;
- Eddy Merckx in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974;
- Bernard Hinault in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1985;
- Miguel Indurain in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 (the first to do so in five consecutive years).
Three riders have won three times:
- Philippe Thys in 1913, 1914, and 1920;
- Louison Bobet in 1953, 1954, and 1955;
- Greg LeMond in 1986, 1989, and 1990.
Seven riders have won the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia in the same year:
- Eddy Merckx three times, in 1970, 1972, 1974
- Fausto Coppi twice, in 1949, 1952
- Bernard Hinault twice, in 1982, 1985
- Miguel Indurain twice, in 1992, 1993
- Jacques Anquetil once, in 1964
- Stephen Roche once, in 1987
- Marco Pantani once, in 1998
Two riders have won the Triple Crown (the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the World Championship, all in the same year):
- Eddy Merckx in 1974
- Stephen Roche in 1987
The youngest Tour de France winner was Henri Cornet, aged 19 in 1904. Next youngest was Romain Maes, 21 in 1935. The oldest winner was Firmin Lambot, aged 36 in 1922. Next oldest were Henri Pélissier ( 1923), Gino Bartali ( 1948), and Cadel Evans ( 2011), all 34. Gino Bartali holds the longest time span between titles, having earned his first and last Tour victories 10 years apart (in 1938 and 1948).
Riders from France have won most (36), followed by Belgium (18), Spain (12), Italy (9), Luxembourg (5), the United States (3), Switzerland and the Netherlands (2 each) and Australia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom (1 each).
The green jersey (maillot vert) is given to the leader of the points classification. At the end of each stage, points are earned by the riders who finish first, second, etc. More points are given for flat stages and fewer for mountain stages. The points competition began in 1953, to mark the 50th anniversary. It was called the Grand Prix du Cinquentenaire and was won by Fritz Schaer of Switzerland. The first sponsor was La Belle Jardinière. The current sponsor is Pari Mutuel Urbain, a state betting company. Currently, the points classification is calculated by adding up the points collected in the stage and subtracting penalty points. Points are rewarded for a high finishing position in a stage or at an intermediate sprint.
In case of a tie, the leader is determined by the number of stage wins, then the number of intermediate sprint victories, and finally, the rider's standing in the general classification.
One rider has won the points competition six times:
- Erik Zabel 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 (consecutive years)
One rider has won the points competition four times:
- Sean Kelly 1982, 1983, 1985, 1989
The King of the Mountains wears a white jersey with red dots (maillot à pois rouges), inspired by a jersey that one of the organisers, Félix Lévitan, had seen at the Vélodrome d'Hiver in Paris in his youth. The competition gives points to the first to top designated hills and mountains.
The best climber was first recognised in 1933, prizes were given from 1934, and the jersey was introduced in 1975. The first to wear the mountain jersey was Lucien Van Impe, who earned the honour en route to his third mountains title.
The first Tour de France crossed no mountain passes, but several lesser cols. The first was the col des Echarmeaux (712 m (2,336 ft)), on the opening stage from Paris to Lyon, on what is now the old road from Autun to Lyon. The stage from Lyon to Marseille included the col de la République (1,161 m (3,809 ft)), also known as the col du Grand Bois, at the edge of St-Etienne. The first major climb—the Ballon d'Alsace (1,178 m (3,865 ft)) in the Vosges—was featured in the 1905 race. True mountains, however, were not included until the Pyrenees in 1910. In that year the race rode, or more walked, first the col d'Aubisque and then the nearby Tourmalet. Desgrange once more stayed away. Both climbs were mule tracks, a demanding challenge on heavy, ungeared bikes ridden by men with spare tires around their shoulders and their food, clothing and tools in bags hung from their handlebars. The assistant organiser, Victor Breyer, stood at the summit of the Aubisque with the colleague who had proposed including the Pyrenees, Alphonse Steinès. Breyer wrote of the first man to reach them:
His body heaved at the pedals, like an automaton, on two wheels. He wasn't going fast but he was at least moving. I trotted alongside him and asked 'Who are you? What's going on? Where are the others?' Bent over his handlebars, his eyes riveted on the road, the man never turned his head nor uttered one sole word. He continued and disappeared round a turn. Steinès had read his number and consulted the riders' list. Steinès was dumfounded. 'The man is François Lafourcade, a nobody. He has caught and passed all the cracks' ... Another quarter-hour passed before the second rider appeared, whom we immediately recognised as Octave Lapize. Unlike Lafourcade, Lapize was walking, half leaning on, half pushing his machine. But unlike his predecessor, Lapize spoke, and in abundance. 'You are assassins, yes, assassins!' To discuss matters with a man in this condition would have been cruel and stupid.—
Desgrange was confident enough after the Pyrenees to include the Alps in 1911.
The highest climb in the race was the Cime de la Bonette-Restefond in the 1962 Tour de France, reaching 2802 m. The highest mountain finish in the Tour was at the Col du Galibier in the 2011 edition.
The difficulty of a climb is established by its steepness, length and its position on the course. The easiest are graded 4, most of the hardest as 1 and the exceptional (such as the Tourmalet) as beyond classification, or hors catégorie. Notable hors catégorie peaks include the Col du Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux, Col du Galibier, the climb to the ski resort of Hautacam, and Alpe d'Huez. In 2012, the attributed points were changed:
Climbs rated " hors catégorie" (HC): 25, 20, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4 and 2 points awarded for first 10 riders to reach the summit.
Category 1: 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 points awarded for first 6 riders to reach the summit.
Category 2: 5, 3, 2 and 1 points awarded for first 4 riders to reach the summit.
Category 3: 2 and 1 points awarded for first 2 riders to reach the summit.
Category 4: 1 points awarded for first rider to reach the summit.
Points awarded are doubled for finishes that are of category two or above.
One rider has been King of the Mountains seven times:
- Richard Virenque in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2003, 2004.
Two riders have been King of the Mountains six times:
- Federico Bahamontes in 1954, 1958, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1964.
- Lucien Van Impe in 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, 1981, 1983.
Young rider classification
Between 1975 and 1989, and since 2000, there has been a competition for young riders. The rider aged under 26 who places highest in the GC gets to wear a white jersey (maillot blanc).
Since the young rider classification was introduced in 1975, it has been won by 29 different cyclists. Of those, six cyclists also won the general classification during their careers (Fignon, LeMond, Pantani, Ullrich, Contador and Schleck). On four occasions a cyclist has won the young rider classification and the general classification in the same year—Fignon in 1983, Ullrich in 1997, Contador in 2007 and Schleck in 2010.
Two riders have won three times:
- Jan Ullrich in 1996, 1997, 1998. In these years however, this classification did not have its own jersey.
- Andy Schleck in 2008, 2009, 2010.
The prix de la combativité goes to the rider who most animates the day, usually by trying to break clear of the field. The most combative rider wears a number printed white-on-red instead of black-on-white next day. An award goes to the most aggressive rider throughout the Tour. Already in 1908 a sort of combativity award was offered, when Sports Populaires and L'Education Physique created Le Prix du Courage, 100 francs and a silver gilt medal for "the rider having finished the course, even if unplaced, who is particularly distinguished for the energy he has used." The modern competition started in 1958. In 1959, a Super Combativity award for the most combative cyclist of the Tour was awarded. It was initially not rewarded every year, but since 1981 it has been given annually.
The team classification is assessed by adding the time of each team's best three riders each day. The competition does not have its own jersey but since 2006 the leading team has worn numbers printed black-on-yellow. Until 1990, the leading team would wear yellow caps. As of 2012, the riders of the leading team wear yellow helmets. The best national teams are France and Belgium, with 10 wins each. From 1973 up to 1988, there was also a team classification based on points (stage classification); members of the leading team would wear green caps.
There has been an intermediate sprints classification, which from 1984 awarded a red jersey for points awarded to the first three to pass intermediate points during the stage. These sprints also scored points towards the points classification and bonuses towards the general classification. The intermediate sprints classification with its red jersey was abolished in 1989, but the intermediate sprints have remained, offering points for the points classification and, until 2007, time bonuses for the general classification.
From 1968 there was a combination classification, scored on a points system based on standings in the general, points and mountains classifications. The design was originally white, then a patchwork with areas resembling each individual jersey design. This was also abolished in 1989.
The rider who has taken most time is called the lanterne rouge (red lantern, as in the red light at the back of a vehicle so it can be seen in the dark) and in past years sometimes carried a small red light beneath his saddle. Such was sympathy that he could command higher fees in the races that previously followed the Tour. In 1939 and 1948 the organisers excluded the last rider every day, to encourage more competitive racing.
Riders in most stages start together. The first kilometres, the départ fictif, are a rolling start without racing. The real start, the départ réel is announced by the Tour director waving a white flag. Riders are permitted to touch, but not push or nudge, each other. The first to cross the stage finish line wins the stage.
All riders in a group finish in the same time as the lead rider. This avoids dangerous mass sprints. It is not unusual for the entire field to finish in a group, taking time to cross the line but being credited with the same time. Since 2005, when riders fall or crash within the final 3 kilometres of a stage with a flat finish, they are awarded the same time as the group they were in. This change encourages riders to sprint to the finish for points awards without fear of losing time to the group. The final kilometre has been indicated since 1906 by a red triangle – the flamme rouge – above the road.
Time bonuses for the first three at intermediate sprints and stage finishes were discontinued with the 2008 race.
Stages in the mountains often cause major shifts in the general classification. On ordinary stages, most riders can stay in the peloton to the finish; during mountain stages, it is not uncommon for riders to lose 30 minutes or to be eliminated after finishing outside the time limit.
The first photo-finish was in 1955.
Individual time trials
Riders in a time trial compete individually against the clock, each starting at a different time. The first time trial was between La Roche-sur-Yon and Nantes (80 km) in 1934. The first stage in modern Tours is often a short trial, a prologue, to decide who wears yellow on the opening day. The first prologue was in 1967. The 1988 event, at La Baule, was called "la préface".
There are usually two or three time trials. One may be a team time trial. The final time trial has sometimes been the final stage, more recently often the penultimate stage.
The launch ramp, a sloping start pad for riders, was first used in 1965, at Cologne.
Team time trial
A team time trial (TTT) is a race against the clock in which each team rides alone. The time is that of the fifth rider of each team: riders more than a bike-length behind their team's fifth rider are awarded their own times. The TTT has been criticised for favouring strong teams and handicapping strong riders in weak teams. After a four-year absence, the TTT returned in 2009 but was not included in 2010. It was reintroduced into the 2011 Tour.
The prologue stage in 1971 was a team time trial. The 1939 TTT crossed the Iseran mountain pass between Bonneval and Bourg-St-Maurice.
The race has finished since 1975 with laps of the Champs-Élysées. This stage rarely challenges the leader because it is flat and the leader usually has too much time in hand to be denied. But in 1987, Pedro Delgado broke away on the Champs to challenge the 40-second lead held by Stephen Roche. He and Roche finished in the peloton and Roche won the Tour. In modern times, there tends to be a gentlemen's agreement, such that, while the points classification is still contended if possible, the overall classification is not fought over; because of this, it is not uncommon for the de facto winner of the overall classification to ride into Paris holding a glass of champagne.
The climb of Alpe d'Huez is a favourite, providing either a mass-start or individual time trial stage in most Tours. During the 2004 Tour de France, for example, Alpe d'Huez was the scene of an epic 15.5 km mountain time trial on the 16th stage, won by Lance Armstrong. While the TV spectacle was overwhelming, the riders complained of abusive spectators who threatened their progress up the climb, and the stage may not be repeated. Mont Ventoux is often claimed to be the hardest in the Tour because of the harsh conditions. Another notable mountain stage frequently featured during the Tour climbs the Col du Tourmalet. Col du Galibier is the most visited mountain in the Tour. The 2011 Tour de France stage to Galibier marked the 100th anniversary of the mountain in the Tour and also boasted the highest finish altitude ever: 2,645 m. Some mountain stages have become memorable because of the weather. An example is a stage in 1996 Tour de France from Val-d'Isère to Sestriere. A snowstorm at the start area led to a shortening of the stage from 190 to just 46 km.
To host a stage start or finish brings prestige and business to a town. The prologue and first stage are particularly prestigious. Usually one town will host the prologue (too short to go between towns) and the start of stage 1. In 2007 director Christian Prudhomme said that "in general, for a period of five years we have the Tour start outside France three times and within France twice."
The Tour was first followed only by journalists from L'Auto, the organisers. The race was founded to increase sales of a floundering newspaper and its editor, Desgrange, saw no reason to allow rival publications to profit. The first time papers other than L'Auto were allowed was 1921, when 15 press cars were allowed for regional and foreign reporters.
The Tour was shown first on cinema newsreels a day or more after the event. The first live radio broadcast was in 1929, when Jean Antoine and Alex Virot of the newspaper L'Intransigeant broadcast for Radio Cité. They used telephone lines. In 1932 they broadcast the sound of riders crossing the col d'Aubisque in the Pyrenees on 12 July, using a recording machine and transmitting the sound later.
The first television pictures were shown a day after a stage. The national TV channel used two 16mm cameras, a Jeep and a motorbike. Film was flown or taken by train to Paris. It was edited there and shown the following day. The first live broadcast, and the second of any sport in France, was the finish at the Parc des Princes in Paris on 25 July 1948. Rik van Steenbergen of Belgium led in the bunch after a stage of 340 km from Nancy. The first live coverage from the side of the road was from the Aubisque on 8 July 1958. Proposals to cover the whole race were abandoned in 1962 after objections from regional newspapers whose editors feared the competition. The dispute was settled but not in time and the first complete coverage was the following year.
The leading television commentator in France was a former rider, Robert Chapatte. At first he was the only commentator. He was joined in following seasons by an analyst for the mountain stages and by a commentator following the competitors by motorcycle.
Broadcasting in France was largely a state monopoly until 1982, when the socialist president François Mitterrand allowed private broadcasters and privatised the leading television channel. Competition between channels raised the broadcasting fees paid to the organisers from 1.5 per cent of the race budget in 1960 to more than a third by the end of the century. Broadcasting time also increased as channels competed to secure the rights. The two largest channels to stay in public ownership, Antenne 2 and FR3, combined to offer more coverage than its private rival, Télévision France. The two stations, renamed France 2 and France 3, still hold the domestic rights and provide pictures for broadcasters around the world.
The stations use a staff of 300 with four helicopters, two aircraft, two motorcycles, 35 other vehicles including trucks, and 20 podium cameras.
Domestic television covers the most important stages of the Tour, such as those in the mountains, from mid-morning until early evening. Coverage typically starts with a survey of the day's route, interviews along the road, discussions of the difficulties and tactics ahead, and a 30-minute archive feature. The biggest stages are shown live from start to end, followed by interviews with riders and others and features such an edited version of the stage seen from beside a team manager following and advising riders from his car. Radio covers the race in updates throughout the day, particularly on the national news channel, France Info, and some stations provide continuous commentary on long wave. Other countries broadcast the Tour, including the United States, which has shown the Tour since 1999 on the NBC Sports Network.
The combination of unprecedented rigorous doping controls and almost no positive tests helped restore fans' confidence in the 2009 Tour de France. This led directly to an increase in global popularity of the event. The most watched stage of 2009 was stage 20, from Montélimar to Mont Ventoux in Provence, with a global total audience of 44 million, making it the 12th most watched sporting event in the world in 2009.
The Tour is important for fans in Europe. Millions line the route, some having camped a week to get the best view. The journalist Pierre Chany wrote:
The Tour de France has the major fault of dividing the country, the smallest hamlets, even families, into rival factions. I know a man who grabbed his wife and held her on the grill of a lighted stove, sitting with her dress pulled up, to punish her for favouring Jacques Anquetil while he admired Raymond Poulidor. The following year, the woman became a Poulidoriste, but too late: the husband had changed his allegiance to Felice Gimondi. The last I heard, they were digging their heels in and the neighbours were complaining.—
The Tour de France appealed from the start not just for the distance and its demands but because it played to a wish for national unity, a call to what Maurice Barrès called the France "of earth and deaths" or what Georges Vigarello called "the image of a France united by its earth."
The image had been started by the 1877 travel/school book Le Tour de la France par deux enfants. It told of two boys, André and Julien, who "in a thick September fog left the town of Phalsbourg in Lorraine to see France at a time when few people had gone far beyond their nearest town."
The book sold six million copies by the time of the first Tour de France, the biggest selling book of 19th century France (other than the Bible). It stimulated a national interest in France, making it "visible and alive", as its preface said. There had already been a car race called the Tour de France but it was the publicity behind the cycling race, and Desgrange's drive to educate and improve the population, that inspired the French to know more of their country.
The academic historians Jean-Luc Boeuf and Yves Léonard say most people in France had little idea of the shape of their country until L'Auto began publishing maps of the race. They wrote:
At the start of the 20th century, the French were still largely ignorant (connaissent encore très mal) of the geography of their country. Maps were rare and little used, even at school. The physical shape of France and its contours remained an unknown for most Frenchmen ... Efforts to interest school children in the image in general and maps in particular were in vain. The book Tour de France par Deux Enfants didn't have a map of France before its 1905 edition, by which time it had sold seven million copies.—
By the maps of France [that it published], the Tour de France became at the same time a teacher, in printing a map of the contours of the country—which was rare at least until the Great War – and populist in portraying France as a hexagon, a France not only amputated from 1903 of its "lost provinces" but also its overseas possessions and Corsica, never visited in a century and still missing from maps of the Tour de France.—
Eugen Weber, in the foreword to Tour de France: 1903–2003 says:
The Tour contributed more to France than new-model heroes. It put flesh on the bones of values taught in school but seldom internalized: effort, courage, determination, stoic endurance of pain, and even fair play. It familiarized a nation with its geography. It brought life, activity, excitement into small towns where very little happened; it introduced a festive atmosphere wherever it passed; and it acquainted provincial backwaters with spectacular displays previously available only in big cities.—
The Tour de France has also given the language a word for a popular but persistent loser. Raymond Poulidor never won the Tour de France but was more popular than his rival, Jacques Anquetil, who won five times and unfailingly beat him. Poulidor is now associated with bad luck or a hard life, as an article by Jacques Marseille showed in Le Figaro when it was headlined "This country is suffering from a Poulidor Complex".
The Tour has inspired several popular songs in France, notably P'tit gars du Tour (1932), Les Tours de France (1936) and Faire le Tour de France (1950). Kraftwerk had a hit with Tour de France in 1983 – described as a minimalistic "melding of man and machine" – and produced an album, Tour de France Soundtracks in 2003, the centenary of the Tour.
The Tour and its first Italian winner, Ottavio Bottecchia, are mentioned at the end of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
In films, the Tour was background for Cinq Tulipes Rouges (1949) by Jean Stelli, in which five riders are murdered. A burlesque in 1967, Les Cracks by Alex Joffé, with Bourvil et Monique Tarbès, also featured him. Patrick Le Gall made Chacun son Tour (1996). The comedy, Le Vélo de Ghislain Lambert (2001), featured the Tour of 1974.
In 2005, three films chronicled a team. The German Höllentour, translated as Hell on Wheels, recorded 2003 from the perspective of Team Telekom. The film was directed by Pepe Danquart, who won an Academy Award for live-action short film in 1993 for Black Rider (Schwarzfahrer). The Danish film Overcoming by Tómas Gislason recorded the 2004 Tour from the perspective of Team CSC.
Wired to Win chronicles Française des Jeux riders Baden Cooke and Jimmy Caspar in 2003. By following their quest for the points classification, won by Cooke, the film looks at the working of the brain. The film, made for IMAX theaters, appeared in December 2005. It was directed by Bayley Silleck, who was nominated for an Academy Award for documentary short subject in 1996 for Cosmic Voyage.
A fan, Scott Coady, followed the 2000 Tour with a handheld video camera to make The Tour Baby!, which raised $160,000 to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and made a 2005 sequel, Tour Baby Deux!.
Vive Le Tour by Louis Malle is an 18-minute short of 1962. The 1965 Tour was filmed by Claude Lelouch in Pour un Maillot Jaune. This 30-minute documentary has no narration and relies on sights and sounds of the Tour.
- Vive le Tour (1962)
- Pour Un Maillot Jaune (1965)
- Wired to Win (2005)
- Overcoming (2005)
- Höllentour (2004)
In fiction, the 2001 animated feature Les Triplettes de Belleville ( The Triplets of Belleville) ties into the Tour de France.
Allegations of doping have plagued the Tour almost since 1903. Early riders consumed alcohol and used ether, to dull the pain. Over the years they began to increase performance and the Union Cycliste Internationale and governments enacted policies to combat the practice.
In 1924, Henri Pélissier and his brother Charles told the journalist Albert Londres they used strychnine, cocaine, chloroform, aspirin, "horse ointment" and other drugs. The story was published in Le Petit Parisien under the title Les Forçats de la Route ('The Convicts of the Road')
On 13 July 1967, British cyclist Tom Simpson died climbing Mont Ventoux after taking amphetamine. In 1998, the "Tour of Shame", Willy Voet, soigneur for the Festina team, was arrested with erythropoietin (EPO), growth hormones, testosterone and amphetamine. Police raided team hotels and found products in possession of the cycling team TVM. Riders went on strike. After mediation by director Jean-Marie Leblanc, police limited their tactics and riders continued. Some riders had abandoned and only 96 finished the race. It became clear in a trial that management and health officials of the Festina team had organised the doping.
Further measures were introduced by race organisers and the UCI, including more frequent testing and tests for blood doping ( transfusions and EPO use). This would lead the UCI to becoming a particularly interested party in an International Olympic Committee initiative, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), created in 1999. In 2002, the wife of Raimondas Rumšas, third in the 2002 Tour de France, was arrested after EPO and anabolic steroids were found in her car. Rumšas, who had not failed a test, was not penalised. In 2004, Philippe Gaumont said doping was endemic to his Cofidis team. Fellow Cofidis rider David Millar confessed to EPO after his home was raided. In the same year, Jesus Manzano, a rider with the Kelme team, alleged he had been forced by his team to use banned substances.
Doping controversy has surrounded Lance Armstrong. In August 2005, one month after Armstrong's seventh consecutive victory, L'Équipe published documents it said showed Armstrong had used EPO in the 1999 race. At the same Tour, Armstrong's urine showed traces of a glucocorticosteroid hormone, although below the positive threshold. He said he had used skin cream containing triamcinolone to treat saddle sores. Armstrong said he had received permission from the UCI to use this cream.
The 2006 Tour had been plagued by the Operación Puerto doping case before it began, favourites such as Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso banned by their teams a day before the start. Seventeen riders were implicated. American rider Floyd Landis, who finished the Tour as holder of the overall lead, had tested positive for testosterone after he won stage 17, but this was not confirmed until some two weeks after the race finished. On 30 June 2008 Landis lost his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Óscar Pereiro was named as winner.
On 24 May 2007, Erik Zabel admitted using EPO during the first week of the 1996 Tour, when he won the points classification. Following his plea that other cyclists admit to drugs, former winner Bjarne Riis admitted in Copenhagen on 25 May 2007 that he used EPO regularly from 1993 to 1998, including when he won the 1996 Tour. His admission meant the top three in 1996 were all linked to doping, two admitting cheating.
On 24 July 2007 Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for a blood transfusion ( blood doping) after winning a time trial, prompting his Astana team to pull out and police to raid the team's hotel. The next day Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone. His Cofidis team pulled out.
The same day, leader Michael Rasmussen was removed for "violating internal team rules" by missing random tests on 9 May and 28 June. Rasmussen claimed to have been in Mexico. The Italian journalist Davide Cassani told Danish television he had seen Rasmussen in Italy. The alleged lying prompted his firing by Rabobank.
On 11 July 2008 Manuel Beltrán tested positive for EPO after the first stage.
On 17 July 2008, Riccardo Riccò tested positive for continuous erythropoiesis receptor activator, a variant of EPO, after the fourth stage.
In October 2008, it was revealed that Riccò's teammate and Stage 10 winner Leonardo Piepoli, as well as Stefan Schumacher – who won both time trials – and Bernhard Kohl – third on general classification and King of the Mountains – had tested positive.
After winning the 2010 Tour de France, it was announced that Alberto Contador had tested positive for low levels of clenbuterol on 21 July rest day. On 26 January 2011, the Spanish Cycling Federation proposed a 1-year ban, but reversed its ruling on 15 February and cleared Contador to race. Despite a pending appeal by the UCI, Contador finished 5th overall in the 2011 Tour de France, but in February 2012, Contador was suspended, and was stripped of his 2010 victory.
During the 2012 Tour there was again much discussion about drugs and their use in the race. Eventual race winner Bradley Wiggins stormed out of an interview after journalists asked him if he was clean. He had previously posted his full blood profile online to prove he was clean. Five days after Wiggins took this stance, the 3rd placed rider from 2011, Frank Schleck tested positive for the banned diuretic Xipamide and was immidiately disqualified from the 2012 tour.
In October 2012 USADA released a report on doping by the U.S. Postal Service cycling team, implicating, amongst others, seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong. The report contained affidavits from riders including Frankie Andreu, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, and others describing wide spread use of Erythropoietin (EPO), blood transfusion, testosterone, and other banned practices in several Tours. In October 2012 the UCI acted upon this report, formally stripping Armstrong of all titles since 1 August 1998, including all seven Tour victories, and announced that his Tour wins would not be reallocated to other riders.
Strikes, exclusions and disqualifications
In 1904 twelve riders, including winner Maurice Garin and all the stage winners, were disqualified for various reasons including illegal use of cars and trains.
In 1907 Emile Georget was placed last in the day's results after changing his bicycle outside a permitted area. Edmond Gentil, sponsor of the rival Alcyon team, withdrew all his riders in protest at what he considered too light a penalty. They included Louis Trousselier, the winner in 1905.
In 1912 and in 1913 Octave Lapize withdrew all his La Française team in protest at what he saw as the collusion of Belgian riders.
In 1913 as well, Odile Defraye pulled out of the race with painful legs and took the whole Alcyon team with him.
In 1920 half the field pulled out at Les Sables d'Olonne in protest at Desgrange's style of management.
In 1925 the threat of a strike ended Desgrange's plan that riders should all eat exactly the same amount of food each day.
In 1937 Sylvère Maes of Belgium withdrew all his national team after he considered his French rival, Roger Lapébie, had been punished too lightly for being towed uphill by car.
In 1950 the two Italian teams went home after the leader of the first team, Gino Bartali, thought a spectator had threatened him with a knife.
In 1950 much of the field got off their bikes and ran into the Mediterranean at Ste-Maxime. The summer had been unusually hot and some riders were said to have ridden into the sea without dismounting. All involved were penalised by the judges.
In 1966 riders went on strike near Bordeaux after drug tests the previous evening.
In 1968 journalists went on strike for a day after Félix Lévitan had accused them of watching "with tired eyes", his response to the writers' complaint that the race was dull.
In 1978 they rode slowly all day and then walked across the line at Valence d'Agen in protest at having to get up early to ride more than one stage in a day.
In 1982 striking steel workers halted the team time trial.
In 1987 photographers went on strike, saying cars carrying the Tour's guests were getting in their way.
In 1988 the race went on strike in a protest concerning a drugs test on Pedro Delgado.
In 1990 the organisers learned of a blockade by farmers in the Limoges area and diverted the race before it got there.
In 1991 riders refused to race for 40 minutes because a rider, Urs Zimmerman, was penalised for driving from one stage finish to the start of the next instead of flying.
In 1991 the PDM team went home after its riders fell ill one by one within 48 hours.
In 1992 activists of the Basque separatist movement bombed followers' cars overnight.
In 1997 Belgian sprinter Tom Steels was expelled from the race for throwing his drinking bottle at another rider in a bunch sprint at Marennes.
- The Festina team was disqualified after revelations of organised doping within the team.
- After this discovery, the race stopped in protest at what the riders saw as heavy-handed investigation of this and other doping allegations.
In 1999 demonstrating firemen stopped the race and pelted it with stink bombs.
In 2006 Floyd Landis was stripped of his title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone.
- Team Astana abandoned the race after Alexander Vinokourov was caught doping, and the Cofidis team withdrew the next day following Cristian Moreni failing a drug test
- Michael Rasmussen was removed by his team, Rabobank, while wearing the yellow jersey for lying about his whereabouts during a team training session in Mexico. This was an issue as by claiming to be in Mexico he was unavailable for random drugs tests in Europe where he was actually residing.
In 2008 Riccardo Ricco was kicked out of the race after testing positive for CERA.
In 2008 Moisés Dueñas Nevado was kicked out of the race after testing positive for Erythropoietin.
In 2008 Manuel Beltrán was kicked out of the race after testing positive for EPO.
In 2010 Alberto Contador failed a doping test. After a series of events, the CAS finally in February 2012 declared Andy Schleck the new winner. Also in 2010 lead out man Mark Renshaw (HTC-Columbia) was disqualified after headbutting another rider, Julian Dean, as well as his blocking of Garmin-Transitions rider Tyler Farrar.
In 2011 Alexandr Kolobnev left the race after testing positive for hydrochlorothiazide.
- Frank Schleck tested positive for a banned diuretic Xipamide and left the competition.
- Lance Armstrong was retroactively stripped of his titles (1999–2005) in October.
Cyclists who have died during the Tour de France:
- 1910: French racer Adolphe Helière drowned at the French Riviera during a rest day.
- 1935: Spanish racer Francisco Cepeda plunged down a ravine on the Col du Galibier.
- 1967: 13 July, Stage 13: Tom Simpson died of heart failure during the ascent of Mont Ventoux. Amphetamines were found in Simpson's jersey and blood.
- 1995: 18 July, Stage 15: Fabio Casartelli crashed at 88 km/h (55 mph) while descending the Col de Portet d'Aspet.
Another seven fatal accidents have occurred:
- 1934: A motorcyclist giving a demonstration in the velodrome of La Roche Sur Yon, to entertain the crowd before the cyclists arrived, died after he crashed at high speed.
- 1957: 14 July: Motorcycle rider Rene Wagter and passenger Alex Virot, a journalist for Radio Luxembourg, went off a mountain road near Ax-les-Thermes.
- 1958: An official, Constant Wouters, died after an accident with sprinter André Darrigade at the Parc des Princes.
- 1964: Twenty people died when a supply van hit a bridge in the Dordogne region, resulting in the highest tour-related death toll.
- 2000: A 12-year-old from Ginasservis, known as Phillippe, was hit by a car in the Tour de France publicity caravan.
- 2002: A seven-year-old boy, Melvin Pompele, died near Retjons after running in front of the caravan.
- 2009: 18 July, Stage 14: A spectator in her 60s was struck and killed by a police motorcycle while crossing a road along the route near Wittelsheim.
One rider has been King of the Mountains, won the combination classification, combativity award, the points competition, and the Tour in the same year— Eddy Merckx in 1969, which was also the first year he participated.
Twice the Tour was won by a racer who never wore the yellow jersey until the race was over. In 1947, Jean Robic overturned a three-minute deficit on a 257 km final stage into Paris. In 1968, Jan Janssen of the Netherlands secured his win in the individual time trial on the last day.
The Tour has been won three times by racers who led the general classification on the first stage and holding the lead all the way to Paris. Maurice Garin did it during the Tour's very first edition, 1903; he repeated the feat the next year, but the results were nullified by the officials as a response to widespread cheating. Ottavio Bottechia completed a GC start-to-finish sweep in 1924. And in 1928, Nicolas Frantz held the GC for the entire race, and at the end, the podium consisted solely of members of his racing team. While no one has equalled this feat since '28, four times a racer has taken over the GC lead on the second stage and carried that lead all the way to Paris.
René Pottier, Roger Lapébie, Sylvère Maes and Fausto Coppi all won the Tour de France the last time they appeared in the race.
The most appearances have been by George Hincapie with 17. In lieu of Hincapie's suspension for use of performance enhancing drugs, before which he held the mark for most consecutive finishes with sixteen, having completed all but his very first, Joop Zoetemelk holds the record for the most finishes, having completed all 16 of the Tours that he started.
|17 (1996–2012)||13 (1997–2003, 2007-2012)||George Hincapie||United States|
|16 (1970–1973, 1975–1986)||16 (1970–1973, 1975–1986)||Joop Zoetemelk||Netherlands|
|16 (1997–2012)||14 (1997–1999, 2001–2006, 2008–2012)||Stuart O'Grady||Australia|
|15 (1969–1981, 1983, 1985)||15 (1969–1981, 1983, 1985)||Lucien Van Impe||Belgium|
|15 (1990–1998, 2000–2004, 2006)||15 (1990–1998, 2000–2004, 2006)||Viatcheslav Ekimov||Russia|
|15 (1980–1994)||13 (1981–1982, 1984–1994)||Guy Nulens||Belgium|
|15 (1998–2012)||12 (1998–2002, 2004, 2006–2008, 2010–2012)||Jens Voigt||Germany|
|15 (1996–2010)||11 (1996–1997, 1999–2000, 2003–2007, 2009–2010)||Christophe Moreau||France|
|14 (1994–2004, 2006–2008)||13 (1995–2004, 2006–2008)||Erik Zabel||Germany|
|14 (1978–1985, 1987–1992)||12 (1978–1985, 1988–1990, 1992)||Sean Kelly||Ireland|
|14 (1953–1966)||12 (1953–1962, 1964–1965)||André Darrigade||France|
|14 (1962–1976)||11 (1962–1965, 1967, 1969–1972, 1974–1976)||Raymond Poulidor||France|
|14 (1908–1914, 1920–1928)||7 (1909–1914, 1921)||Jules Deloffre||France|
|13 (1981–1988, 1989–1994)||13 (1981–1988, 1989–1994)||Phil Anderson||Australia|
|13 (1969–1975, 1977–1981, 1983)||12 (1969–1975, 1977–1980, 1983)||Joaquim Agostinho||Portugal|
|13 (1974–1982, 1984, 1986–1988)||11 (1974–1975, 1977–1982, 1984, 1986–1987)||Gerrie Knetemann||Netherlands|
|13 (1977–1989)||11 (1977–1985, 1987, 1989)||Henk Lubberding||Netherlands|
|13 (1993–1996, 1999–2005, 2009–2010)||1 (1995)||Lance Armstrong||United States|
|13 (1951–1963)||10 (1951–1952, 1954, 1956–1957, 1959–1963)||Jean Dotto||France|
|13 (1964–1976)||10 (1964–1965, 1967–1971, 1973–1974, 1976)||Jean-Pierre Genet||France|
|13 (1979–1983, 1985–1988, 1990–1993)||9 (1979, 1981–1983, 1985, 1987–1988, 1990–1991)||Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle||France|
|13 (1953–1965)||9 (1953–1955, 1957, 1959–1960, 1962–1963, 1965)||François Mahe||France|
|13 (1992–1997, 1999–2005)||8 (1993–1994, 1996, 2000, 2002–2005)||Marc Wauters||Belgium|
|13 (1994–2006)||7 (1995, 1997, 2000–2001, 2003, 2005–2006)||Didier Rous||France|
In the early years of the Tour, cyclists rode individually, and were sometimes forbidden to ride together. This led to large gaps between the winner and the number two. Since the cyclists now tend to stay together in a peloton, the margins of the winner have become smaller, as the difference usually originates from time trials, breakaways or on mountain top finishes, or from being left behind the peloton. In the table below, the eight smallest margins between the winner and the second placed cyclists at the end of the Tour are given. The largest margin, by comparison, remains that of the first Tour in 1903: 2h 49m 45s between Maurice Garin and Lucien Pothier. The eight smallest margins between first and second placed riders are as follows:
|8"||1989||Greg LeMond – Laurent Fignon|
|23"||2007||Alberto Contador – Cadel Evans|
|32"||2006||Óscar Pereiro – Andreas Klöden|
|38"||1968||Jan Janssen – Herman Van Springel|
|40"||1987||Stephen Roche – Pedro Delgado|
|48"||1977||Bernard Thévenet – Hennie Kuiper|
|55"||1964||Jacques Anquetil – Raymond Poulidor|
|58"||2008||Carlos Sastre – Cadel Evans|
31 riders have won 10 or more stages: (including half-stages, excluding Team Time Trials). Riders who are still active are indicated in bold.
Riders from 32 countries have won at least one stage.
Three riders have won 8 stages in a single year:
- Charles Pélissier (FRA) ( 1930, in addition to seven 2nd places)
- Eddy Merckx (BEL) ( 1970, 1974)
- Freddy Maertens (BEL) ( 1976, in addition to four 2nd and two 3rd places)
Mark Cavendish has the most mass finish stage wins with 23, ahead of André Darrigade and André Leducq with 22, François Faber with 19 and Eddy Merckx with 18.
The youngest Tour de France stage winner is Fabio Battesini, who was 19 when he won one stage in the 1931 Tour de France.
Some cities and towns have hosted 25 or more stage starts and finishes:
- Paris – 135 (most recent finish: 2012)
- Bordeaux – 80 (most recent: 2010)
- Pau – 62 (most recent: 2012)
- Luchon – 50 (most recent: 2006)
- Metz – 40 (most recent: 2002)
- Grenoble – 38 (most recent: 2011)
- Perpignan – 36 (most recent: 2009)
- Caen – 35 (most recent: 2006)
- Nice – 35 (most recent: 1981)
- Briançon – 34 (most recent: 2009)
- Marseille – 34 (most recent: 2009)
- Bayonne – 32 (most recent: 2003)
- Nantes – 30 (most recent: 2008)
- Belfort – 29 (most recent: 2000)
- Montpellier – 29 (most recent: 2011)
- Brest – 28 (most recent: 2008)
- L'Alpe d'Huez – 26 (most recent: 2011)
- Toulouse – 25 (most recent: 2008)
- Roubaix – 25 (most recent: 1994)
Yellow indicates lowest and highest speeds.
The fastest massed-start stage was in 1999 from Laval to Blois (194.5 km), won by Mario Cipollini at 50.4 km/h. The fastest full-length time-trial is David Zabriskie's opening stage of 2005, Fromentine – Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile (19 km) at 54.7 km/h. Chris Boardman rode faster during the 1994 prologue stage, Lille-Euralille (7.2 km), with 55.2 km/h. The fastest stage win was by the 2005 Discovery Channel team in a team time-trial. It completed the 67.5 km between Tours and Blois at 57.3 km/h.
The fastest climb of Alpe d'Huez was by Marco Pantani in 1997 Tour de France in 23.1 km/h.
The longest successful post-war breakaway by a single rider was by Albert Bourlon in the 1947 Tour de France. In the stage Carcassone-Luchon, he stayed away for 253 km. It was one of seven breakaways longer than 200 km, the last being Thierry Marie's 234 km escape in 1991. Bourlon finished 16 m 30s ahead. This is one of the biggest time gaps but not the greatest. That record belongs to José-Luis Viejo, who beat the peloton by 22 m 50s in the 1976 stage Montgenèvre-Manosque. He was the fourth and most recent rider to win a stage by more than 20 minutes.