tour de france round pic


Le Tour de France

About Le Tour

The race was started in 1903, sponsored by the car magazine "L'Auto" ( a rather unusual sponsorship since this is a cycle race!) Then, as now, the course ran through the whole of France; in recent years, the race has often included neighbouring countries too.

What makes this race so special is the fact that the riders have to be very skilled - they are expected to be able to sprint, ride cross country, have the stamina to race over enormous distances and be expert climbers since the course crosses some of the highest mountain passes in Europe.

Each year a different course is designed, with the route of the "Tour" running clockwise or anti-clockwise around France (the direction alternates each year.) The route designers aim to cover the distance in about 21 to 25 "stages" which roughly average about 250 km each.

Map of Tour de France

This is a map of the Tour de France in 2004. In that year, the Tour circulated anti-clockwise around France. The grey areas are mountains. You can see that the race has been designed to include many challenging rides. You will see from the map that some stages are linked by short flights or train travel.

Designing the route

The design of the route incorporates all types of terrain. Riders are often expected to undertake sprints, time trials, distance and mountain rides on the same day.

hill climb

Mountain climbs are a feature of the race. The steep mountain rides are classified on a scale of 4 (least difficulty) to 1 (greatest difficulty). The Tour is so challenging that there is even a special category of "hors catégorie" (beyond a category!) for the ascents which are so extreme that they are beyond the "1" classification!

These classifications are determined by the gradient of the slope, the length of the climb and the general difficulties presented by local conditions. The first three winners of a "4" climb are awarded 5, 3 and 1 points respectively. The "hors catégorie" ascents, though, award the first fifteen riders with points, the winner receiving 40.

The race is determined on points. Riders perform as individuals and as part of a team. Lance Armstrong is one of the legendary winners of the race as he has won it seven times.

Each day, there are sprint sections and climbs as part of the route and the overall winners are awarded coloured jerseys. You can even buy copies of the "maillots" from the official Tour de France on-line shop.

Rather like the Olympic Games, towns vie for the honour of having the Tour pass through, since it brings sponsorship money and visitors. Towns and villages close for the day that the Tour passes through. People line the streets and the roads through the countryside to cheer on the riders. The day becomes a picnic day for the thousands who live near the route.

The route is designed so that there is only one rest day out of the whole time spent racing.

  Race in Paris

The final stage is always held in Paris, when the traditional sprint for the finishing line takes place in the Avenue des Champs Elysées and the race ends at the Arc de Triomphe.

Sprinting through Paris on the way to the finishing line.

For more information and to see the profiles of the mountain stages, go to the Official Tour de France site.

The coloured jerseys

The significance of the colours of the jerseys (maillots) is explained below. Right from its origins, the race invited sponsorship.

Yellow jersey - "le maillot jaune."
Winner :
Overall points winner for the day.

Origin of award
This prize was sponsored by "L'Auto" magazine, whose pages were coloured yellow. Thus this advertised the magazine.

Green jersey - "le maillot vert".
Winner :
Winner of the sprints for the day

Origin of award
This prize was introduced during the 1930's by a chain of gardening stores, who felt that green would advertise their products.

Polka dot jersey - "le maillot à pois "- white with red spots
Winner :
Awarded to the 'King of the Mountain".


Origin of award
A chocolate firm was a major sponsor of the race and decided to award a prize for the best mountain climber. One of its best known bars had a wrapping of white with red spots, so it was felt that this colour would give the sponsors maximum exposure.

White jersey - "le maillot blanc"
Winner :
Awarded to the best under 25 rider.

Origin of award
Created in 1975 but withdrawn in the 1990s, the white jersey was reinstituted in 2000 as an encouragement for future talent.

Did you know?

There used to be a maillot for the unlucky last rider. It was red and it was called "la lanterne rouge" or red lantern. It got this name from the colour of the tail light on a bike. This jumper was discontinued in 1989. However, the phrase "être la lanterne rouge" has entered the French language to mean "to be the last"

Le coureur
Le peloton
un sprinteur
un grimpeur
le parcours
l'étape contre la montre
l'étape de plaine
l'étape de montagne
une équipe
= a rider
= the main group of riders
= a sprinter
= a climber
= the course taken by the riders
= timed sprint
= level/flat stage
= mountain climb stage
= a team


July is the month in which Le Tour de France takes place.




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