With the 100th edition of the Tour de France just around the corner, we thought we'd take a closer look at the greatest race in cycling - La Grande Boucle! Read on for a brief history plus a number of fun facts that might just impress when next with your cycling buddies...
What is the Tour de France?
There are 3 major European professional cycling stage races: the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España. Collectively these three giants in the cycling calendar are known as Grand Tours and the Tour de France is deemed the grandest of them all by most.
Traditionally, the race runs throughout the month of July and the route changes each year. This year, the race starts on Saturday 29th June, in Corsica and finishes on Sunday 21st July, in Paris.
The modern Tour de France tends to follow the same format every year; there will always be 21 stages, at least 2 time trials and the race will always finish on the Champs-Élysées. The 100th edition will be the first time in the race's history that the peloton will finish at night time in Paris.
General classification (GC) - the Yellow Jersey / overall winner
Each of the stages of the Tour de France are timed to the finish. The riders' times are added up in every stage and the rider with the lowest time at the end of the 3-week-long event is crowned the winner and gets to sport the Yellow Jersey, also known as the Maillot Jaune.
Points classification - the Green Jersey
While the general classification tends to be the highlight of the Tour de France, there are other contests held within the Tour such as the points classification, where the sprinters battle it out for the Green Jersey.
Mountains classification - the Polka Dot Jersey
The mountains classification (Polka Dot Jersey) is also up for grabs, with key mountain stages crossing the Pyrenees, Alps and, on occasion, the infamous Mont Ventoux, which features in this year's Tour.
There is also the young rider classification (White Jersey) for riders under the age of 26 and the team classification, awarded to the fastest team overall in the Tour.
Unlike many sporting competitions, where winners are crowned at the very end, in the Tour de France the winners of each day's stage are announced and are given the appropriate jersey (yellow, green, polka dot or white) to wear and defend at the next stage!
Yellow Jersey or Maillot Jaune - General Classification
The coveted Yellow Jersey was introduced in 1919 and was nothing more than a publicity stunt for French cycling newspaper L’Auto (which was printed on yellow paper!), designed to help them sell more papers – they could not have known from their original idea that this would be the most sought-after prize in the cycling calendar.
Green Jersey or Maillot Vert - Sprinters Classification
The Green Jersey was introduced in 1953 to celebrate 50 years of the Tour de France and is awarded to the leader in the points competition (at the end of each stage, points are earned by the riders who finish first, second, etc). This jersey was first won by Fritz Schaer of Switzerland.
Polka Dot Jersey or maillot à pois rouges - Mountains Classification
The Polka Dot jersey for King of the Mountains was created in 1933 and was won by Vicente Trueba of Spain. Points are given to riders who are the first to top of designated mountains.
White Jersey - Young Rider Classification
The White Jersey came into play in 1975 and is awarded to the best young rider. Italian legend Francesco Moser won the jersey for the first time almost 40 years ago.
A brief history of the Tour de France
In 1903 Henri Desgrange created the first ever Tour de France. It was 2,428 km long and was split over only 6 stages; the longest of which was the arduous 471 km from Nantes back to Paris. The first ever Tour de France winner was Frenchman Maurice Garin, who completed the race in 94 hours 33 minutes and 14 seconds – working out as an average speed of 25.679 kph or 15 mph. The Tour de France was born!
As the legend of the Tour de France grew in the following years, riders came from all over Europe to take part. From here the world’s greatest annual sporting event was born, with years of suffering, hardship and skullduggery (and even cheating) to follow.
With the arrival of the rest of Europe, the competition was on. The first non-French winner was crowned in 1909, with François Faber of Luxembourg claiming the honour. This was followed in 1912 by a period of Belgian dominance, with 7 consecutive wins for Belgian riders! It wasn't until 1938 when Gino Bartali took Italy’s first win and sparked his famous rivalry with Fausto Coppi.
Whilst France holds the title for the most wins overall (36), it would be impolite to mention that a Frenchman has not won the title since 1985, when the great Bernard Hinault took his fifth victory – no pressure, Pierre Rolland!
Back in 1987 Stephen Roche, an Irishman, won the overall classification of the Tour de France in what has become one of the most spectacular years of any cyclist's career, with Roche also taking the Maglia Rosa in the Giro d'Italia and winning the UCI Road Race World Championships. As if that weren't enough, he also won the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the Tour of Romandie, finished second in Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and took a stage win and overall fourth place at Paris-Nice. Pretty impressive, by anybody's standards.
In 2012, Team Sky rider Sir Bradley Wiggins became the Tour de France's first ever English winner in a time of 87 hours, 34 minutes and 47 seconds. Fellow Team Sky rider Chris Froome came in second place, trailing Sir Bradley Wiggins by 3 minutes and 27 seconds.
- Sir Bradley Wiggins. Tour de France Winner 2012
What to expect in the 2013 Tour de France
The 2013 Tour starts on the Mediterranean island of Corsica and will finish in Paris. It looks as though the 100th edition will favour riders with a better ability on climbs.
The early stages of the 100th edition of La Grand Boucle will see the peloton taking in climbs on Mont Ventoux and a brutal stage featuring two climbs on the infamous Alpe-d’Huez.
SIR BRADLEY WIGGINS
Reigning Tour de France champion Sir Bradley Wiggins has been ruled out of this year's Tour due to the same knee issue that also ruled him out of this year's Giro d'Italia back in May (Bradley Wiggins was the initial favourite to take the Maglia Rosa in Italy).
Fortunately for Team Sky, the Tour de France runner up of 2012, Chris Froome, looks to be in fantastic condition having already won the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour of Romandie, Critérium International and the Tour of Oman in 2013. Froome is a strong all-rounder, performing well in the mountains and in time trials.
- Team Sky rider Chris Froome is the bookies' favourite for the 100th Tour de France
Controversial Team Saxo-Tinkoff rider Alberto Contador, one of only 5 riders to have won all three Grand Tours, could also be a real threat and will be looking to take his third Tour de France. Contador was stripped of his 4th Tour win in 2010, due to a doping offence. He is widely considered to be the best climber in the world.
Where to watch
The Tour de France starts on Saturday 29th June. Each and every stage can be caught live on ITV4 - if like me, you work through the day and won't be able to catch the Tour de France live, then you can watch the edited highlights on ITV4 between 7-8pm.
Tour de France facts
To conclude this blog post, we thought we'd give you some Tour de France facts to help you top trump your friends throughout the tour when it starts on Saturday 29th June!
- The Tour de France as a race is celebrating its 100th edition this year but it debuted in 1903. 10 years have been missed due to both the first and second world wars.
- The smallest winning margin of the Tour de France was in 1989 – Greg Lemond pipped Laurent Fignon by just 8 seconds on the final stage in Paris.
- The largest winning margin was back in the Tour's debut edition (1903) and was claimed by Maurice Garin who beat the pack by 2 hours, 59 minutes and 21 seconds.
- The first major climb was introduced in 1905 and the riders climbed the Col du Ballon d’Aslace.
- Riders in the Tour de France will burn approximately 5900 calories a day which equates to 123,900 calories over the duration of the tour; or 442 Mars Bars (other chocolate bars are available).