The Tour de France is the ‘big daddy’ of cycling stage races – the most famous, most-watched, most-hyped and still the most prestigious event on cycling’s world calendar. For three weeks every year in July, the race grabs the attention of both cycling aficionados and those with only a passing interest in the sport, and this remains true today despite the recent voided years due to drugs scandals.
The Tour was first organised by the French sports newspaper l’Auto in 1903, and initially attracted a primarily French field. Eight of the first nine editions were won by French riders, and France is still the most successful country with 36 wins and 21 individual winners. However, in recent years the Tour has become a truly global event with winners from Australia, the UK, the USA and Denmark.
Modern editions consist of 21 day-long stages over a 23-day period with a different route employed each year – the only consistent aspects are passages through both the Alps and the Pyrenees and a finish on the Champs Elysees in Paris. The direction around the country – clockwise or anti-clockwise – alternates each year.
The leader of the race’s general classification wears the famous yellow jersey. Four riders have won the Tour five times – Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault from France, the Belgian Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain from Spain. Lance Armstrong’s seven consecutive victories from 1999 to 2005 have now been wiped from the record books after the American admitted using performance-enhancing drugs.