Behind The Scenes Facts From The Tour De France

Summer Sports | 7/8/19

The Tour De France has been an indelible part of athletics since its inaugural race in 1903. The race, which goes on for weeks at a time and takes place over thousands of miles of terrain is frequently the world’s most-watched sporting event, surpassing the World Cup, Super Bowl and the Olympics.

The race has developed a rich history over its 116 years of existence. The competition has seen absurd and devious attempts at cheating, thrilling come from behind victories and inspiring feats of endurance. Below are some of the most eye-opening behind the scenes facts about the race meant to help you get a better handle on exactly what happens in France each year.

Just A Marketing Gimmick?

106th Tour de France 2019 - Stage 3
Getty Images
Getty Images

Today the Tour De France is seen as one of the most grueling and competitive sporting events an athlete can enter. The prize at the end is eternal glory and a whole lot of money. When the race began in 1903, however, the goal was marketing.

The competition was created by the French newspaper, L’Auto. Geo Lefevre, a writer for the paper, thought that holding the event could help the publisher sell more copies of the paper.

Cheating started very early in the Tour De France as you’ll learn next.

Not The Winner For Long

Photo by Universal/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Photo by Universal/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

France’s own, Maurice Garin was the very first winner of the Tour De France in 1903. He came back to defend his crown in 1904 and was declared the victor of the narrow race. Days later, however, Garin was stripped of his crown.

It appears that the rider had been spotted taking a train during one of the stages of the event. Garin was even overheard telling another passenger about his nefarious plan. Garin was banned from cycling for two years following the incident.

A Particularly Grueling Year Resulted In A Death

Photo by Universal/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Photo by Universal/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

The Tour is thousands of miles long and presents an incredible challenge to even the most experienced of riders. During the 1910 iteration of the race, 110 riders left during the opening gun. A very small number of those cyclists would finish the race.

The 1910 race tragically featured the tour’s first death when Adolphe Hélière drowned while swimming during a rest day. At the end of the race, there were only 10 total finishers, still a record to this day.

Are there more jerseys than the world-renowned yellow one?

More Than Just Yellow

Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

While the yellow jersey, worn by the race leader is the most famous jersey from the tour, there are 3 others than can be seen on the course. The first of these is the polka dot jersey, given to the cyclist with the best time in the mountains.

The best rider under 25 years of age, dons a white jersey. Finally, the biker who leads in the points classification category is outfitted with a green jersey.

Up next, you can no longer drink alcohol while racing. Yes, this use to be a regular occurrence.

Faster Every Year

83rd Tour of Switzerland - Stage 8
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Cycling is a much different sport now than when the Tour began in 1903. For one, the riders no longer smoke or drink over the course of the race. Thanks to technological advances, they also ride their bikes much, much faster.

When the race began in 1903, the average speed was 25.67 kilometers per hour. In 2017, that average speed has risen to 40.94 kilometers per hour. While some of that has to do with the advance in bicycles, it might also have to do with some athletes who are actively doping.

Now That’s An Unfair Advantage

Jean Robic (1921-1980)
Photo by Roger Viollet/Getty Images
Photo by Roger Viollet/Getty Images

While Maurice Garin was stripped of his 1904 title for cheating, he certainly wasn’t the last to attempt to get a competitive edge. The Tour De France features many situations that vary from questionable competitive advantage to downright cheating.

Doping has been the scourge of the tour for many years and numerous former champs have been stripped of their title. In a more humorous attempt, 1947 Champ Jean Robic was known to fill his water bottles with led to speed up his hill descent.

An Interesting Landscape

Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images
Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images

With so many millions of people who watch the Tour De France, there are bound to be some interesting fans. From the spectator area throughout the stages to the people watching at home, the Tour De France features some really interesting personalities.

Perhaps none of these fans are more notable than Didi Sentf, who is also called the Devil or El Diablo. Despite being 63 years old, the Devil shows up to the race each year in full regalia and ready to root on his favorites.

No Drinking and Riding

Cycling: 105th Tour de France 2018 / PC Team Quick-Step Floors
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

For a significant period of time, riders in the Tour De France would drink alcohol during the race. The reasoning behind this varied. Some cyclists felt that it help to numb the pain from the vigorous ride. Others felt that it gave them a special boost of energy.

During the 1960s, race planners felt that it was no longer safe to allow riders to consume alcohol during the event. Drinking booze while riding is now banned from the Tour as it is considered an illegal stimulant.

I Can See For Miles and Miles

Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

While the race is comprised of multiple stages over a few thousand miles the exact distance is not always the same. The modern tour typically consists of a total of 21 stages. The combined distance of these stages generally comes in at around 2,200 miles.

The longest Tour De France race ever took place during the 1926 race. That edition, won by Belgium’s Lucien Buysse, was made up of 17 stages and had a total distance of 3,570 miles.

The next rider was not only a champion, but was also a hero of the Nazi resistance.

Bigger Than Racing

Gino Bartali Wins Tour
Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Gino Bartali was a great cyclist who won the Tour De France in 1938 and again in 1948. The Italian, however, became a true hero through his actions during the second World War.

Bartali used his cycling skills to courier fake ID and secret messages to Jews looking to evade the Nazis. He also hid a Jewish family in the basement of his home. Following his death, the cyclist was named Righteous Among the Nation by Yad Vashem.

Some Serious Exercise


There are a lot of different athletic endeavors that burn an enormous amount of calories. Few of these sports, if any, pack the calorie burning punch of one stage from the Tour De France. During an average stage of the race, a cycler burns close to 7,000 calories.

Cyclist must be careful to consume and replenish these calories to not put too much undue stress on their bodies. The average rider consumes close to 5,000 calories a day with carb heavy foods like bread, cereal and noodles.

What About The Women Of Tour De France?

Cycling: 5th La Course 2018 - by Le Tour de France
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

For a number of different reasons, all Tour De France winners since the early days have been men. While there are many incredibly talented women riders, they are still excluded from the race. From 1984 though 1989, there was a women’s style race called the Tour Fémnin, though it petered out due to lack of funding.

There is currently a small race that women can compete in during the Tour. Called La Course by Le Tour de France, it is a one day race which spans around 90 kilometers.

What country has captured the most tour titles?

Hometown Advantage

Photo by David Madison/Getty Images
Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

The race, of course, has its origins in France. The first winner of the race was Maurice Garin, though he was later stripped of his title for cheating. Nevertheless, French racers have been dominating the tour since day one.

21 French riders have won a total of 36 tours. While a small country, Belgium has provided a total of 18 race winners. Spain comes in third with 12 title holders. The United States has seen a total of 8 winners.

More Dangerous Than It Appears

Le Tour de France 2018 - Stage Nine
Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images
Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Due to the incredibly high speeds the riders reach, the Tour De France can be quite dangerous. Four riders have died over the course of the race. Adolphe Helière died in 1910, though this was due to drowning between stages. Francisco Cepada passed in 1935 after crashing into a ravine.

Tom Simpson died in 1967 from a heart attack caused by doping and alcohol consumption. The most recent death occurred in 1995 when a helmet-less Fabio Casartelli crashed into a barrier while riding at 55 mph.

Who has worn the yellow jersey for the most days of the tour?

The Best Of The Best

Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

Every year, cyclists bring their best to the Tour and put on incredible performances. There may have never been a better series of rides, however, than the ones that Belgian rider Eddy Merckx put on over his career.

Through 6 separate tours, the Belgian rider wore the yellow jersey for a total of 96 days. He won 5 of those 6 races. United States rider Lance Armstrong, who has been stripped of his 7 titles, is second with 83 days in the yellow jersey.

One Of The Most Watched Sporting Event In The World

Photo by from Pexels
Photo by from Pexels

Most people know that the Super Bowl is a worldwide phenomenon. The FIFA World Cup, another global event, also draws viewers by the billions. Both those events and the Olympics as well, have nothing on the Tour De France.

Over the course of the most recent race, the 21 stages drew an astonishing 3.5 billions viewers. This is significantly more than both the Super Bowl (114 million viewers) and the Winter Olympics (500 million). The total also narrowly beat out the most recent World Cup which drew 3.2 billion views.

He’s Got A Lot Of Miles On Him

Cycling: 104th Tour de France 2017 / Presentation
Le Palais des Congres / Presentation TDF / ©Tim De Waele
Le Palais des Congres / Presentation TDF / ©Tim De Waele

In addition to having an incredible name, Joop Zoetemelk from the Netherlands holds an incredible Tour De France record. Zoetemelk began and finished a total of 16 Tours. Not only did he race in them, he did so successfully, capturing the1980 title.

Joop’s record has been under siege the last couple of years. American rider, George Hincapie surpassed his starts record in 2017, but was later stripped of a number of his tour performances for doping. Zoetemelk is also the oldest men’s individual road race world champion.

Some of these fans are seemingly insane

Less Time To Recover

Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images
Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images

As has been mentioned a number of times, the race in incredibly grueling. While racers have the night to recover from the day’s challenge, they could also use a day off every once in a while.

While there were more days off in races past, today’s riders only receive two full days of rest over the course of the Tour. The cyclists use the time off to recover from the strenuous race, relax sore muscles and let their lactic acid regulate.

It Was A Photo Finish

Photo by Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Photo by Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

The entirety of the Tour De France takes place over thousands of miles. One would think that over the course of that massive distance, there would be some significant separation between the riders. That hasn’t always been the case, though.

The closest ever finish in the Tour happened in 1989 when American Greg LeMond, who sported the outstanding nickname, LeMonster, was able to overtake two-time French Champion, Laurent Fignon and win the tour by the narrow margin of 8 seconds.

A True Meritocracy

Photo by Hu Chengwei/Getty Images
Photo by Hu Chengwei/Getty Images

While one individual wins the actual race, they rely heavily on their team members to push them though to the finish line. Each racer performs in a team of four and each member performs an important and specific role.

Since the team plays such an important role in one teammate eventually winning, they share in all the spoils. The most recent tour purse came in at around $600,000. Tradition dictates, however, that the winner splits the pot with the rest of his teammates.