Love France… 10 things you need to know about “le Tour”

The famous French bike race is a big event every summer in France, bringing millions of supporters along the route and a lot of dramatic moments. If you’re someone who chose Tennis Racquets over bikes, then this post might not be for you. Here are 10 things you need to know to have your Tour basics right…

 1.   The race’s route changes every year, and is a fabulous showcase for the beautiful French countryside. Sometimes, it also goes through – or starts – in neighbouring countries, like Belgium or Germany. The race always ends in Paris, with the final stage at the Arc de Triomphe.

2.   The race used to be only for French cyclists, but now up to 40 different nationalities take part in it.

3.   Except during the two World Wars, the race has been taking place each year in July since 1903 when it was created by Henri Desgrange and Géo Lefèvre for the sports newspaper l’Auto as a marketing event. Along with the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta in Spain, le tour is one of the three most famous cycling races in the world – and considered the most prestigious. It is also the oldest.

4.   The tour’s route changes each year, but is always made of three types of stages: “contre-la-montre” (individual time trial), mountains (at least stage in the Alps and a stage in the Pyrenees), and flat road.

5.   There are 21 stages, spanning over a 22 day period and covering around 3,300kms.

6.   There are many different “maillots” (jerseys) given to cyclists according to the type of their performances.

  • “Maillot jaune” (yellow jersey) is the one every cyclist covets as it is worn by the leader of the general classification – and therefore the winner in the end.
  • “Maillot à pois” (polka dot jersey, known as ‘the king of mountains’), given to the fastest cyclist in mountain stages
  • “Maillot vert” (green jersey), given to the best sprinter.

Each jersey can be worn by different people during the race according to the results of each stage.

7.   The yellow jersey is yellow in honour of the colour of the paper on which the newspaper l’Auto was printed.

8.   Le Tour is THE big event of the summer in France, but it is also famous worldwide. Many many bike fans go along the routes of the Tour and camp there to see the cyclists pass by. Around 12 million people go along the road and more than 3.5 billion watch it on TV in 190 countries. People are very fond of the tour and can be very enthusiastic, sometimes too enthusiastic thus creating accidents with the cyclists. It is also very common for the shops passed by the Tour to decorate their shop windows in tribute to the race – having your village on the route is a big source of pride. Many big brands also sponsor the Tour, and it is now traditional that they parade in decorated cars to entertain the fans waiting along the road before the cyclists come. This is called the “caravane”.

9.   The 2017 Tour was won by the British Christopher Froome, for the third year in a row.

10.   Famous cyclists that went down in the history of the Tour include:

  • The Belgian Eddy Merckx, the only cyclist who won the yellow, green and polka dot jerseys during the same Tour, in 1969.
  • Raymond Poulidor, who took part in the race in the 60s and 70s, is probably the most famous and loved French cyclist in France, even though he never came first. Known as “l’éternel second” (eternal runner-up) and eternal rival of Jacques Anquetil, he was admired by all for his tenacity and good mood.
  • French Bernard Hinault who won 5 times in the 70s and 80s.
  • The American Lance Armstrong, who won 7 Tours in a row – and sadly infamous for being deposed afterwards for long-term doping.
  • Miguel Indurain, Spanish, who won 5 consecutive years between 1991 and 1995.
  • Christopher Froome, British, who won the Tour four times so far in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Language buddy…

Le peloton = the peloton (the main group or pack of riders)

Une échappée = a breakaway

Une fringale = a raging hunger

La voiture-balai = the broom-wagon (car that follows the racers and takes on board the ones who can’t finish)

Le contre-la-montre = individual time trial

La lanterne rouge = nickname given to last racer to finish a stage

Une étape = a stage

Un maillot = a jersey

Le coureur cycliste = the bicycle racer

Le podium = the podium

Le classement = the ranking