We all know it, it’s the most classic and arguably even the most iconic race on the planet. The Tour de France happens every year, inviting cyclists from all over the world to compete in an event that is so steeped in history it’s reputation almost outdoes itself. In honor of this esteemed race, we put together a little guide to the tour to give you some history, background info, and how to follow it this year.
The Tour de France was created in 1903. During this time France was reeling from the defeat of the Franco-Prussian War and was in much need of national unity and strength. In this way, the race became a symbol for the a new sense of identity and pride amongst French people.
The route of the tour is also indebted to a deeper sense of national pride. Geographically speaking, France is uniquely placed within Europe. While the North shares much of it’s landscape with the neighboring countries of Germany and Belgium, the South of France is Mediterranean, with a landscape closer to the likes Spain or Portugal. This unique mix of geography, all of which can be seen during the three-week race, is symbolic of France’s national identity. While the race weaves its way across the entire countryside, from the coast, up through the Alps, and finally into Paris, the trials of the cyclists can be seen as a metaphor for the country’s triumph over adversity, which is integral to the story that underpins France’s history.
“The Tour de France is the greatest spectacle in bicycle racing. The top riders, most advanced equipment and most zealous fans converge on the French countryside for three weeks in July to celebrate cycling. If you ever get a chance to see the race in person, don’t pass it up.” — Clymb Cycle Buyer, Eric Benson
The Tour Now
This year for the 104th time in history, a massive swarm of cyclists will climb on their bikes and race across the whole of France, finishing in Paris beneath the Arc de Triomphe. The track is a 3,540-kilometer (2,200 mile) course that will be begin this year in Düsseldorf, moving from there onto the Pyrenees and then the Alps, (the tour has a history of starting in nearby countries where the whole thing kicks off with a huge party) and finally into southern and eastern France.
The race unfolds over the course of three weeks and is divided into 21 stages, ranging from 100 kilometers to 220 kilometers, with some time trial stuff thrown in their just for fun. Even though the days of Lance Armstrong and the doping scandal have finally ended, there is still a lot to love. This year, Chris Froome’s attempt to three-peat will be a highlight for sure.