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Tour de France

Find information on the Tour de France, a famous 23-day racing tradition.

In the Tour de France, there are 20 to 22 teams that consist of nine cyclists each. [©Jupiter Images 2008]
©Jupiter Images 2008
In the Tour de France, there are 20 to 22 teams that consist of nine cyclists each.

The Tour de France is arguably the most famous bicycle race in the world. Every year since 1903, teams of cyclists cross the French countryside, traveling a grueling course of not more than 3,500 kilometers during the 23 days of racing (including two compulsory rest days).

Take a look below to explore some of the facets of this time-honored racing tradition.

Tour de France History

In 1903, journalist Géo Lefèvre, who worked for the French magazine "L'Auto," realized his dream of staging a bicycle race with the sponsorship of his employer. The first Tour de France began on July 1, 1903, and ran nearly 2,500 kilometers during the course of six stages. Sixty cyclists started off the race that day, by the end, only 21 were still riding, led by Maurice Garin.

In 1910, the Tour de France included mountain stages for the first time with the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Abisque climbs in the Pyrenees Mountains. Only one rider, Gustave Garrigou, climbed the Tourmalet stage without dismounting from his bicycle. For that Herculean effort, he was awarded a bonus of 100 Francs. Also in 1910, the tour introduced the broom wagon, a vehicle that followed the riders and picked up those who made the decision not to continue the race.

As the Tour de France evolved into the internationally recognized event that it is today, the ride - and the riders - became increasingly more competitive and determined. This is perhaps exemplified best in the case of Lance Armstrong, the American cyclist and cancer survivor who won seven straight Tour de France titles beginning in 1999. Unfortunately for Armstrong, his victories came during a period when doping scandals threatened to overtake the race itself. Cyclist Bjarn Riis, the winner of the 1996 Tour de France, later admitted to using EPO, a performance enhancing drug. Floyd Landis, who won the race in 2006, was the first winner who was stripped of his title, based on allegations that he used synthetic testosterone. Today, Tour de France officials test cyclists daily during the race.

Tour de France Rules

The Tour de France consists of approximately 20 to 22 nine-cyclist teams. Team members, including the team leader, compete individually and by providing support to their team. The winner of each of the 21 stages of the race is awarded a monetary prize. Strategies for winning change each day, based on the standings and events of that day's race. Points are awarded to riders each day, with point values depending on difficulty. For example, the final mountain climb of 2007 was awarded double points. Bonuses also are awarded each day to the first three riders to finish each stage. It is mandatory that riders wear helmets at all times during the race.

Tour de France Leader Jerseys

Different-colored jerseys are awarded to the leaders during each stage of the race. The yellow jersey is worn by the leader of the general classification; the leader is determined by the sum of the times of all completed stages of the race, as well as any bonuses. The yellow jersey is the most coveted and well-known of the leader jerseys in the Tour de France.

The green jersey is worn by the rider who has accumulated the most points, which are awarded during intermediate sprints and during the final rush to the finish line. Sprinting specialists are generally awarded this jersey. The polka dot jersey is given to the best climber in the mountain stages. The best climber has earned the most points during the climbing stage. The white jersey is awarded to the best young rider in the race. Riders must be 25 years of age or younger to qualify for this award.

Tour de France Stages

The stages of the Tour de France change each year, and the route of the following year's race is a highly guarded secret until it is finally revealed on the last Thursday in October preceding the race. Towns all over France vie for the honor of being on the Tour route — especially the honor of being the starting point of the race, known as the Grande Départ. The general order of the stages is to have flat stages during the first week, followed by mountainous climbing stages, as well as two days for time trials. Tour officials attempt to route the race through all regions of France. The island of Corsica is the only region that has never been included on a tour route.

In 2008, there were ten flat stages, five mountain stages, four medium mountain stages and two individual time trial stages. The route included ten new stopover towns: Auray, Aigurande, Brioude, Prato Nevoso (Italy), Cuneo (Italy), Jausiers, Embrun, Roanne, Cérilly and Étampes.

For more information on the Tour de France, visit the official Web site of the race.

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