Without a doubt, the Tour de France is one of the most amazing sporting events on the planet. Starting in Brussels and ending in Paris, covering 2,162 miles (3,480km) over three weeks with countless mountain stages, this year’s grand tour is nothing short of epic. As the 106th edition of the Tour de France, it’s a race with a history that dates back more than a century, which means there’s all kinds of trivia to know.
From the highest average speed to what the winner does with his prize money, here are 10 interesting facts you might not know about the biggest bike race in the world.
Many historians of the sport saw Lance Armstrong as nothing more than a modern-day Maurice Garin, the fiery and ultra-competitive Frenchman who won the first and second Tours in 1903 and 1904. At the time, Garin was accused of having teammates knock competitors off their bikes, smash their wheels and even throw tacks on the ground to cause punctures. Because the race often ran into the night, others have claimed Garin and teammates would use a thin wire attached to a vehicle in front of them to pull them to the top of particularly difficult climbs when visibility was limited.
While today’s Tour de France bikes weigh much less than the 40-pound monsters they used way back in 1903, the UCI still enforces a minimum weight to keep crazy light bikes out of the event. Currently, all cyclists in the event must have a bike weighing at least 14.99 pounds, with steeds being weighed by officials prior to each day’s event. Compare that with bikes on the market like the Canyon Ultimate CF EVO 10.0 LTD, which weighs 10.7 pounds, and you can see how it might be possible your bike is lighter than those the pros are forced to use.
Covering more than 2,000 miles in three weeks can burn some serious calories. In fact, it’s estimated riders burn somewhere between 6,000–8,000 calories per day. Since it’s impossible to consume anywhere near that number while on the bike, cyclists are forced to consume as many calories as possible between stages to make up the deficit and keep from losing too much weight.
Because of doping charges, Tour organizers decided to vacate the wins from Lance Armstrong’s record-setting seven victories. Those years have been left blank in the Tour’s record books, leaving American Greg LeMond as the race’s only American winner. LeMond won the Tour de France on three separate occasions in 1986, 1989 and 1990.
In 1935, Spaniard Francisco Cepeda lost control of his bike while descending the Col du Galibier and died after crashing into a ravine. Italian Fabio Casartelli lost his life in similar fashion in 1995, crashing into a concrete pylon while descending at high speeds in the Pyrenees. Perhaps the most famous death, though, occurred in 1967 when British cyclist Tom Simpson collapsed during the legendary climb of Mount Ventoux. Autopsy reports found Simpson died from a mixture of amphetamines, alcohol and severe dehydration caused by the heat and his extreme efforts to reach the finish line.
From 1984–1989, the Tour de France Feminin was run as an opening event to the men’s race. Post 1989, the event struggled to gain attention, and after several rebrands, the event ended in 2009 as the Grande Boucle — a four-stage event. In 2019, there is an event called La Course, but it’s only one stage and not quite the same spectacle. As a rebuttal to the lack of major women’s event, 13 French riders known as Donnons des elles au Velo (“give the girls a bike”) will ride every stage of this year’s men’s event one day prior to raise awareness and support for a women’s event.
If you’ve ever looked at your average speed numbers following a century ride, this number is sure to impress you: The fastest average speed from start to finish of a Tour de France was recorded by Lance Armstrong in 2005. The American rode the event at a 25.9 miles per hour pace over 21 days, climbing mountain peaks in the Alps and Pyrenees (though his win was later nullified).
The record for number of Tour de France appearances is held by Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, who started the race 18 times. However, Chavanel has only reached the finish of the race 16 times, which ties him with American George Hincapie. Hincapie finished every Tour he started except for his first, and also holds the record for the most consecutive finishes with 16. In just the Tour de France alone, that’s more than 32,000 miles!
The winner of the 21-stage Tour de France receives a hefty purse of 500,000 euros (approximately $562,556). That’s not bad for three weeks of work, even if it is chump change compared to the hundred million dollar contracts of other mainstream sports stars in football and basketball. However, it’s tradition the winner of the race give all of his winnings to his teammates as a thank you for their support in achieving the feat. Still think cycling isn’t a team sport?
In 2018, organizers of Le Tour released television statistics for the race, which exceeded 3.5 billion viewers in more than 190 countries. If that seems like a lot, consider 115 million viewers watched a portion of the World Series, and about the same number tune into the Super Bowl. While many of these stadiums host anywhere from 50,000–80,000 spectators, the 2018 Tour had a total of 12 million people roadside to witness one of the world’s largest sporting events.