Tour de France: Fun Facts

The 2018 Tour de France is an epic endurance race contested over 21 stages, 3351 km and three weeks.  It’s a gathering of the best cyclists in the world.  For more than 100 years riders have fought, cajoled, nudged and cheated their way to the coveted yellow jersey and ultimate victory in Paris. 
This year you can expect awesome climbs, hair-raising descents and ruthless challenges.  There’ll be death defying crashes that leave riders and bikes bent and bloodied but unrelenting in their quest for glory.  There’ll also be electrifying dashes to the line that’ll leave you, the viewer, pale breathless and perspiring.
In celebration of the 105th edition of Le Tour, we highlight a few fun facts of an event that’s captured the world’s imagination since 1903:

Who’s the Champ? Eddy Merckx!

Eddy Merckx
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Belgian Eddy Merckx is widely considered to be the greatest cyclist of all time.  He has claimed a string of five Tour titles, smashing and setting records along the way.  On his first outing at the Tour de France the fresh-faced youngster was crowned King of the Mountains… but that wasn’t his only achievement.  Merckx became the first and only rider to snap up the coveted combativity award and the combination, classification and points competition to achieve a clean sweep of the 1969 Tour de France!

Fan-tastic Tour de France 

Tour de France supporters
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In 2018 an estimated 12 million supporters will line the route to cheer on the riders… that’s more than 3500 fans per kilometre.  Many will travel from as far afield as Canada and Dubai to experience one of the key sporting events of the international calendar.  If you think that’s awesome, live supporter statistics are small fry when compared to TV viewership.  According to reports more than four billion people worldwide turned on the telly to enjoy the action in 2017!

First-Ever Black Cyclist

Yohann Gène, the first black cyclist ever in the Tour de FranceImage Source:
Despite their natural athleticism black cyclists have not as yet made their mark on the Tour de France.  In fact, up until 2011 not one cyclist of colour had ever competed in the race.  It took a precociously talented young man called Yohann Gene to break the shackles.  The cyclist from Guadeloupe was later joined by Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot who came 49th in 2016, his best Tour finish to date!

Cheats and Deadbeats

Lance Armstrong may have taken cheating to a whole new level but he wasn’t the only Tour de France cyclist to dream up illegal ways of winning.  In 1904 two cheeky cyclists were summarily dismissed after cadging a ride in a car, while another slightly more discrete cheat was fined for riding in the slipstream of a fast-moving automobile.  There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence about cyclists hopping on and off trains!

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Catching lifts is one thing, using performance enhancing drugs is another.  Long before Armstrong even dreamt of using drugs, competitors in the Tour de France were up to no good.  Common stimulants taken en route included frequent snorts of cocaine, the odd snifter of brandy and morphine injected directly into the muscle! 
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Fans Misbehaving

It isn’t only the cyclists who misbehave, fans do as well.  Tour leaders Maurice Garin and Eddy Merckx were physically attacked more than once.  Even today Chris Froome and the Sky team have to contend with incessant booing along the way. 
To add insult to injury, Froome had a cup of urine thrown in his face at the 2015 Tour de France.  If that’s not bad enough, rocks have been thrown at competitors and nails and broken glass strewn across the route… now that’s not the way to win!

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Published: 07/11/2018