More than 200 professional cyclists come to France every July to settle the question: who is the boss? No other bike race compares to the Tour de France in its drama and grit. I have dug up a handful of Tour de France facts for you to enrich your knowledge of the greatest show on earth.
In this post, you’ll learn about:
- The Tour de France’s longest breakaway
- The least number of Tour de France finishers
- Deaths in the Tour de France
- The fastest stages of the Tour de France
- Who won the most stages in the Tour de France
- Tour de France’s smallest winning margin
- The special jerseys of the Tour de France
- The legend of the bib number 51
- A great rider who never won the Great Race
- The domestiques
The Longest Solo Breakaway
The honor of the most audacious solo breakaway belongs to the French rider Albert Bourlon. On July 11, 1947 he attacked from the start of the 253km (157mi) stage between Carcassonne and Luchon. His goal was to win a 20,000-franc prize at the 50km (31mi) mark.
After Col de Port and Col de Portet d’Aspet passes, Bourlon had a 30 minutes advantage. He arrived in Luchon 16 minutes ahead of the second-placed Norbert Callens after more than eight hours in the saddle.
The 20,000 francs Albert Bourlon went after mushroomed to 150,000 by the end of the day, 15 times his monthly salary.
The Least Number of Tour de France Finishers
Seven months after the end of the First World War, Tour de France resumed in 1919 with 67 riders on the start line. Raced on roads and in a country devastated by the global conflict, only 10 riders made it to Paris.
The 1919 Tour de France is also remembered for the yellow jersey debut to mark the race leader from the rest of the peloton. Eugène Christophe wore it for the first time in Grenoble at the start of stage 11 to Genève.
Tour de France Deaths
The first Tour de France fatality happened in 1935. Spaniard Francisco Cepeda crashed on the descent of Col du Galibier during the seventh stage from Aix-les-Bains to Grenoble. He died later from injuries.
The death of Tom Simpson on the slopes of Mont Ventoux on July 13, 1967 rocked the world of professional cycling. A former world champion and one of the most respected figures in the peloton, he died in agony after overexerting himself in severe heat and high altitude.
Fabio Casartelli, the reigning Olympic champion, crashed at high speed to his death on the descent of Portet d’Aspet during stage 15 from Saint-Girons to Cauterets on July 18, 1995.
Casartelli’s Motorola team was allowed to finish the next stage in Pau ahead of the peloton in his honor. The six remaining team-mates crossed the finish line side by side.
One other rider, Adolphe Hélière, should be mentioned. He died during 1910 Tour de France. Unlike Cepeda, Simpson and Casartelli, Hélière didn’t die racing. He drowned during a rest day in Nice.
The Fastest Stages of the Tour de France
The average speeds at the Tour de France vary by a large margin from stage to stage. Mountain stages with high passes almost never exceed 40km/h (25mi/h). Flat stages tend to be fast but the speed will depend on wind’s direction and team tactics.
Short time trial stages is where riders achieve the highest speeds. Riders race against the clock either individually or in teams where they can swap places at the front to rest and maintain a high speed.
On July 2, 2013 Orica-GreenEDGE team had clocked 57.8km/h (36mi/h) during the fourth 25km-long (15.5mi) stage in Nice, the highest average speed ever recorded in the Tour de France.
Australian Rohan Dennis holds a record of the fastest individual stage win. He won the first stage of the 2015 Tour de France, the 13.8km (8.5mi) individual time trial with the average speed of 55.4km/h (34.4mi/h).
The winner of the fastest road stage is the Italian Mario Cipollini. He won the 194km (120mi) fourth stage on 7 July, 1999 from Laval to Blois at the average speed of 50.4km/h (31.3mi/h). Tailwind, flat roads, and cool temperatures contributed to this high average speed.
Most Stage Wins in the Tour de France
The Belgian Eddy Merckx holds the record of 34 Tour de France stage wins. He turned professional in 1965 but only won his first Tour stage, the 16km (10mi) team time trial, on June 29, 1969. The first individual success came to Merckx on a 133km (83mi) stage six from Mulhouse to Ballon d’Alsace.
He won six individual stages that year including the final 37km (23mi) individual time trial to Paris.
Unlike modern-era riders, The Cannibal excelled in all disciplines of road racing winning bunch sprints, time trials, and mountain stages.
An Englishman Mark Cavendish with 30 Tour de France stage wins has a realistic chance of overcoming Merckx’s record during his still ongoing career.
The Smallest Winning Margin
One of the most spectacular Tour de France battles had been the fight for the yellow jersey between the American Greg LeMond and the Frenchman Laurent Fignon in 1989. Between the two of them, the yellow jersey that year had changed hands four times.
Before the final stage to Paris, a 24.5km (15mi) individual time trial, Greg LeMond trailed Laurent Fignon by 50 seconds. Against all expectations, LeMond rode a phenomenal race to reclaim the yellow jersey by eight seconds — the smallest winning margin in Tour’s history.
The Jerseys of the Tour de France
A Tour de France rider can compete in four individual classifications. The leader in each classification wears a special jersey on every stage to mark him as the standing classification leader.
The Yellow Jersey
The overall leader, decided by adding time after each stage, wears the yellow jersey. The leader’s yellow jersey was introduced during the eleventh stage of the 1919 Tour. Its color reminded everyone of the race’s main sponsor and organizer at the time — L’Auto magazine’s yellow paper it was printed on.
Eddy Merckx had worn the yellow jersey 96 times. The still racing Chris Froome has collected 44 leader’s jerseys so far.
The Green Jersey
Points classification leader wears the green jersey. The most recent points classification’s rule gives between 50 and 2 points to the first 15 finishers on stages designated suitable for this classification. Fewer points are available on all other stages and some on intermediate sprints.
The green jersey suits consistent sprinters, hence its name — the sprinters’ jersey.
The green jersey was introduced in 1953 to commemorate Tour de France’s 50th anniversary.
The Polka-Dot Jersey
King of the Mountains wears the polka-dot jersey. Riders collect points on mountain passes to earn this jersey. The most difficult climbs in the Tour de France are classified by five categories. The harder the climb, the more points a rider can win at the top.
Hors catégorie (HC) climbs are the hardest with maximum points on offer if an HC climb ends the stage.
King of the Mountains classification was introduced in 1933.
The distinctive polka-dot jersey appeared in 1975. It was sponsored by Chocolat Poulain known in France by its polka-dot wrappers.
The White Jersey
The best under-25 Tour de France rider in overall classification wears the white jersey. It was introduced in 1975. The jersey hadn’t been used between 1988 and 2000.
The Legend of 51
One of many myths surrounding the Tour de France is the myth of the bib number 51.
Even though bib number 1 had won more Tours, the legend lives on because everyone knows bib number 1 is for the previous year’s winner, hence more likely to win again.
One of the Greats Who Never Won the Great Race
Raymond Poulidor, nicknamed The Eternal Second, had raced between 1960 and 1978 against two most successful professional cyclists of that era: Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx.
He had had a misfortune to catch the end of Anquetil’s career and the rise of Merckx’s.
Despite coming close to winning the Tour more than once, the victory had always slipped through his fingers to someone else.
Between 1962 and 1976, Raymond Poulidor finished on the Tour de France podium eight times.
Who Are the Domestiques?
Professional cycling is both individual and team sport. Races are won by individuals supported by their teams.
Like most of the cycling’s slang, the word domestique is French. It means servant.
Domestiques do all the hard and often invisible work of chasing the breakaways, maintaining high tempo when necessary or fetching food and drinks from the team car.
It’s not uncommon for a domestique to develop into a team leader. Greg LeMond worked for Bernard Hinault in 1985 Tour de France and went on to win his first Tour in 1986.
Chris Froome was Bradley Wiggins’s domestique in 2012 and the winner in 2013.