5 Fascinating Facts About The Tour de France
The Tour de France is the biggest cycling event in the world, running since 1903. The event has been host to some truly memorable moments and winners over the years and there will no doubt be plenty of twists and turns in this year’s event which is set to start in Copenhagen on the 1st of July.
With an event of this magnitude, there have been a long list of fascinating facts and figures that occurred at the event and while many of those are well reported, what are some of the more interesting and strange facts that have come out of cycling’s grand event?
Fact #1 – Only 15 Nations have ever won the event
A somewhat surprising fact is that despite hosting over 100 events, the event has only seen riders from 15 different nations ride off with the coveted yellow jersey. This statistic becomes even more shocking when you add in the fact that 4 of those nations (Australia, United Kingdom, Colombia and Slovenia) have had their winners come in the last 10 years with the current holder Tadej Pogačar being the first winner to come from Slovenia. The diversity issue in cycling has become a bigger talking point in recent years with Nic Dlamini, a leading South African cyclist who cycled in the Tour last year, calling for more diversity in the sport.
Fact #2 – Fabian Cancellara’s unfortunate statistic
The Tour de France runs on a system of jerseys with the yellow jersey being worn by the leader of the classification before each individual stage. The goal is to be wearing the yellow jersey at the end of the tour and for this reason, it is uncommon to wear the yellow jersey for a long time and not end up with it in the end. This is the unfortunate statistic held by Fabian Cancellara, the best loser in Tour De France history. He wore the yellow jersey for 29 days across 5 different events without ever winning the event which is the most of any cyclist in Tour history.
In the reverse of this statistic, Jan Janssen won the tour in 1968 despite never wearing the yellow jersey until the final day. The same feat was accomplished by Jean Robic in 1947. Both men only wore the yellow jersey twice in their careers but can lay claim to a Tour De France win in the ultimate example of ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish’.
Fact #3 – Eugène Christophe’s Fork Problem
With all cycling, there is an element of technical reliance. You need your bike to not break or get a puncture in order to do your best. This is only heightened at the major cycling events due to the enormous amount of pressure put on the bikes used and the cost involved in a potential break or ill-timed puncture. While modern teams are able to respond to their team’s needs with the team car and while punctures and breaks can still cost riders, such as with Romain Bardet missing out on the top 5 in 2014 due to a puncture, these incidents are of lesser impact than they were back in the day.
This brings us onto Eugène Christophe and the most unlucky man in the history of the Tour. On 3 separate occasions (1913, 1919, and 1922), he was denied the chance of victory due to his fork breaking. Back in the day, teams weren’t allowed to assist with repairs so Eugène actually had to repair the bikes himself which cost him several hours of time. In 1919, not only did he have a fork break in the penultimate race, he also had a puncture-filled final day meaning he ended up coming third overall. These incidents would define him as a Tour legend despite never winning the event due to horrible luck.
Fact #4 – The Dark Side Of The Sport
It can’t be understated just how much of the cycling world has been tainted by the impacts of doping especially in recent years with the Armstrong scandal which has shaken the world of cycling. While Armstrong was the poster boy of that period, he was by no means the only cyclist to be caught cheating and a large percentage of the top 10 riders across 1998 to 2013 ended up being charged or, at the very least, closely linked with doping.
Teddy Cutler of SportingIntelligence collected all the stats and found that around 65% of those top riders were involved in some form and that the numbers only seem to take a dip at around 2010 when most of the old guard started to drop off. While those numbers continue to drop with each tournament, the ghost of doping continues to haunt the sport and it’s something the sport needs to be cautious about not forgetting.
Fact #5 – The Alcohol Effect
The sport’s relationship with doping goes far beyond the recent blood doping and drug issues of the modern era. Back in the day, doping was still an issue but in quite an unusual way. In order to get around the aches and pains of the tour, early riders were more than often seen drinking alcohol. This was used as a form of painkiller that was later banned when the sport finally cracked down on doping and drug use in the 1960s.
The Tour De France is the site of some of the most impressive sporting achievements of all time but it is also an event with a murky past and, at times, the past is all too familiar. While these facts are mostly here as a fun sample of some of the wacky and weird incidents of the past, they also show an event that is struggling to evolve beyond its past and truly develop into the future. We hope that this year’s Tour is great and we also hope that the tour can continue to better itself and provide a cleaner and more diverse experience for everyone involved.