20 Tour de France Facts to Impress your Mates

20 Tour de France Facts to Impress your Mates

It may come as a surprise, or probably not, but the Tour de France, which requires athletes to be at the absolute pinnacle of fitness, used to be just a bunch of cigarette-smoking, booze-guzzling guys riding their bikes on unpaved roads around France in a great big circle. We've collated 20 interesting Tour de France facts, some relatively unknown, that you can use to entertain your mates on your next club ride.

1. The Tour de France was created to improve sales of the French sports newspaper L’Auto

lAuto Tour de France 1903 - English Cyclist

In 1902 a journalist, Geo Lefevre, from the newspaper L’Auto had a concept to boost readership of the newspaper. That idea was the Tour de France.

The first edition of the Le Tour was held the next year and contained just 6 flat stages which totalled 2,428 km (On average 404km / stage) to be completed over the course of 18 days. There were 60 entrants in the 1903 race and just 21 riders, roughly 40% of the entrants completed the race.
As a result of Tour de France, L’Auto boosted its circulation, and they created a cycling event that would go on to become one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

Two: The Tour de France is more popular than the Uefa Champions League and the Olympic Games.

Even if you’re not a big sports fan, you probably know that the Champions League and the Olympics are pretty massive sporting and TV events.

Apparently 2018 the Tour de France race attracted 2.6 billion viewers. Which seems like a ridiculous amount if you consider that’s around a quarter of the world’s population. Although it’s not clearly explained how these numbers are created, my assumption is that they count total views for the entire 3-week race and viewers can get counted multiple times.

But even with those huge numbers they only come second on the podium.
  1. Fifa World Cup – 3.5 billion
    Football's most elite tournament occurs once every four years and is still the undisputed champion when it comes to audience reach.
  2. Tour de France – 2.6 billion
    Most people wouldn't think the Tour de France is among the top-watched sports, but the three-week race boasts an average TV viewership of 2.6-billion. Not only that, it is also the best-attended annual sporting event on the planet.
  3. Olympic Games – 2 billion
    The summer Olympic Games, which also come round every four years, is the ultimate goal for athletes from diverse disciplines around the world. On average the Games capture the imagination and eyes of 2-billion viewers.

Three: How far do they cycle in the Tour De France

The route and the total distance of the Tour De France changes each year, however, the competing teams can expect to cycle around 2,000 miles (3,500 kilometres). If you cycled in a roughly straight line where could you go with that sort of mileage?

  • Right through Europe: St Petersburg, Russia to Rome, Italy (1,970 miles)
  • Coast to Coast South America: Sao Paulo, Brazil to Santiago, Chile (2,044 miles)
  • Across Europe: Manchester, UK to Istanbul, Turkey (2,098 miles)
  • Across Australia: Melbourne to Perth (2,100 miles)
  • Almost across America: Orlando to Pheonix (2,130 miles)

Four: How many calories does a Tour de France cyclist burn during the whole race?

A Tour de France athlete needs something like 6-7,000 calories per day to survive. Or put another way, a massive 123,900 calories over the course of the race! That’s the equivalent of eating:
  • 30,975 jelly beans (1,475 / day)
  • 1,180 bananas (56 / day)
  • 872 slices of pizza (41 / day)
  • 137 English breakfasts (6.5 / day)
  • 50 Christmas dinners (2.4 / day)

I reckon I could do the Christmas dinners one to be fair! PS. Anyone checking my calculations they have a few rest days within that 21 days :)

Five: How much sweat does each rider perspire during the Tour de France?
Over the course of the race, a Tour de France cyclist will leak about 1.5 litres per hour of sweat. In total around 130 litres for the entire race. That’s enough sweat to fill 1.5 baths or take 2 long showers. Gross.

Six: Who are the youngest and oldest winners of the Tour

The youngest rider ever to win the Tour de France was Henri Comet - he was only 19 years (and 352 days) old when he won in 1904. 

Firmin Lambot aged 36 and 130 days is the oldest ever winner. Gino Bartali, Cadel Evans and Henri Plessier all won the tour when they were 34 years old.
Seven: Has anyone won all 3 jerseys in the Tour de France?

Eddy Merckx managed this feat in 1969. It was a unique achievement and has only been matched by in the Vuelta by Tony Romingerin in 1993 and Laurent Jalabert in 1995.

Merckx also won all three individual time trials (excluding the prologue), three other stages, the "combativity" classification, and somewhat unsurprisingly by this point, the combination classification. Sounds like the Cannibal dominated it though to be fair.

Eight: How fast do Tour de France cyclists go?

Since the first tour de France in 1903 the average speeds of the Tour has almost doubled. In 2019 Egan Bernal finished the Tour in a time of 82 hours and 57 minutes. That gives him an average speed of 40.58kph (25.2mph) for the 3,365.8km race. Compare that to 25.67 kilometres per hour that was clocked in 1903. The increase in speed is made possible due to a number of factors; dramatic changes in equipment, diet, road quality, training, and presumably even doping.

Nine: What is the maximum recorded speed?

The fastest recorded speed at the 2019 Tour de France came on the descent of the Col de Vars. According to the Tour’s official data feed, Katusha-Alpecin’s Nils Politt became the first rider to break the 100kph barrier, hitting a mind-boggling 101.5kph (63.1mph) on a section of the descent with a -7 percent gradient.

Ten: Why are there no female riders in the Tour De France?

Female Riders - Tour de France

Well for a short period of time female riders could! In 1984 they introduced the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale, a Tour de France dedicated to women. The main difference between the races was the length of the tour, it was slightly shorter for the women. Unfortunately, it went largely unnoticed and they stopped running it in 1989.

Today women are only allowed to compete in the last stage of the Tour de France and in a competition called La Course.

Eleven: What countries typically win the Tour De France?

As of 2018, the French have totally dominated the Tour de France with the most wins (36), followed by Belgium (18), then Spain (12), Italy (10), United Kingdom (6). A few years ago even created a poster to explore the patterns of the countries of the winners.

Twelve: How much money do the Tour Winners take home?

The overall winner of the race receives a cheque for €450,000 which he will usually split with his team-mates. He couldn’t do it alone that’s for sure! The total prize money that is awarded for the entire race (stages, sprints, overall classification) is about $4.3 million US dollars.

In 1903 the winners' purse was 6,075 francs which works out at approximately £33,000. After retiring a few years later Garin used his winnings to buy a petrol station, where he worked for the rest of his life.

Thirteen: Has anyone ever died during the Tour de France?

A total of 3 tour riders have died while competing in the Tour.

The first rider to die while racing in the Tour De France was Spanish rider Francisco Cepada. In 1935 he lost control of his bike on the descent of Col du Galibier and crashed into a ravine.

In 1967 the Brit Tom Simpson collapsed and died of a heart attack 3km from the top of Mont Ventoux. In his jersey pockets, they found an array of pills and three different empty vials. His autopsy showed alcohol and amphetamines in his system as well as extreme dehydration, lack of oxygen and over-exhaustion.

Finally, in 1995, Italian rider Fabio Casartelli, died after crashing into a pylon when he failed to make a turn descending in the Pyrenees. At the time, it was not compulsory to wear a helmet but many people speculate that he probably would not have survived even had he been wearing one.

Fourteen: Who has the most stage wins?

Eddy Merckx has the most stage wins of any rider and is the undefeated champ with an astounding 34 stages. Mark Cavendish is close to breaking Merckx's record but his career is slowing down. Fingers crossed though as the British sprinter has to win just five more stages to become the new champ.

  1. Eddy Merckx with 34 wins
  2. Mark Cavendish with 30 wins
  3. Bernard Hinault with 28 wins

Fifteen: Who completed the most Tours of France?

Tour de France is a very challenging competition and not all those who start manage to finish it. However, Joop Zoetemelk has completed the tour not once, not twice, but 16 times, an absolute record in the history of the event. That's roughly 48,000 miles he’s rode around France!

Sixteen: Who are the biggest, shortest, heaviest and lightest riders in the Tour?

Joop - English Cyclist

The tallest rider was Johan van Summeren at 1.98 meters or 6' 5.5"
The shortest was Samuel Dumoulin at 1.58 meters or 5' 2".
The heaviest rider was Magnus Backstedt at 95 kgs or 209.5 lbs.
The lightest was Leonardo Piepoli at 57 kgs or 125.7lbs.

The "average" rider in 2005 was 1.79 meters (5' 10.5") tall, weighed 71 kgs (156.5 lbs), and had a resting heart rate of 50 beats per minute.

Seventeen: How many pedal strokes does it take to get around the Tour?

Apparently the number of pedal strokes taken per rider for a modern three weeks Tour de France is around: 405,000.

Eighteen: Why is the leader’s jersey yellow?

L’Auto, the newspaper that first started and sponsored the race, was printed on yellow paper, so it was essentially an advertising strategy. It also explains why the Giro d’Italia leader’s jersey is pink—the newspaper that created the Giro was printed on pink paper.

Nineteen: Do any riders make their race data public?

Some of them do yes. You can keep an eye on some top pros’ Strava accounts. Here is a list of all pro athletes on Strava and here are some specific ones that might be taking part in the 2020 Tour de France: Chris Froome, Laurens ten Dam, Thibaut Pinot, and Andre Greipel.

Twenty: Who is the Red Devil?

Red Devil Tour de France - English Cyclist Cycling Posters

Dieter “Didi” Senft, otherwise known as ‘Didi the Devil’ or ‘El Diablo’ has been rocking the devil costume at the tour since 1993. A German cycling fan, Didi the Devil has been an icon of the tour, building up his own following of fans over the decades he has been attending.


Well, that's the last one. Hope you learned something new about the Tour de France today!

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