Tour de France
Tour de France is cycling's most important and most famous road competition. It is one of three stage races that comprise Europe's (where the sport is most popular) Grand Tour competitions. The other two are the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) and Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain).
Tour de France Route
Tour de France Map
You will find that many of the Tour de France winners and major competitors might enter all three of these competitions, as well as the popular road cycling events of the Olympic Games. But, the Tour de France is the jewel in the crown of road races, and it is the only major cycling event (other than Olympic events) that universally receives news coverage. Today, the event draws thousands of spectators. The city chosen for the start of the race (usually called the Prologue) receives a huge boon to tourism. Cities have included Rotterdam in the Netherlands and London in the UK. The climax of the last stage is the route along the Champs Elysees—though the route changes from year to year, the race always ends in Paris. Thus the Paris hotels are filled to capacity during the days leading up and after, so you should make your arrangements as far in advance as possible if you plan to visit the "City of Light" during this period.
Tour de France History
Tour de France Fans Image: A.S.O.
Road race cycling has been an organized sport since 1868. The first world championship was held in 1893, and this type of cycling has appeared in every modern Olympic Games since the opening Athens Games of 1896. The first Tour de France was held in 1903 as rivalry between two competing newspaper magnates who were of differing political opinions regarding the infamous Dreyfus spy affair. The checkered history of this penultimate bike race has mirrored the social and political upheavals of the twentieth century. Sixty riders lined up for the first race. They pedaled their way over six stages over the first nineteen days in July between the village of Montgeron (now a suburb of Paris) and Lyon, Lyon and Marseille, Marseilles and Toulouse, Toulouse and Bordeaux, Bordeaux and Nantes, and Nantes to Paris (the finish). 21 of the 60 riders were sponsored by bike manufacturers. Today, Tour de France bikes remain vitally important to the sport.
Tour de France Mountains Image: A.S.O.
In the early days, cars and groups of fans tried to block the way of certain competitors and sometimes even threw nails in front of their favorite’s rivals. The riders fortified themselves with champagne and feasting in between stages, and they puffed nicotine to give them extra strength before climbs. This kind of artificial stimulation (and other cheating) continued as competition became fiercer and "Le Tour" became more and more popular. Riders were disgraced and disqualified when they were caught taking a train instead of pedaling a stage. In 1967, Tom Simpson (a cyclist from England) died halfway through the race from an overdose of amphetamines. The Tour de France rules were changed and drug screening was instituted. Today, all Tour de France stage winners are screened every day; only the final winner is allowed a trace of champagne in his last drug test.
Tour de France 2016 is set to be a major event just like its many predecessors. Paris hotels book up quickly and offer a prime location at the end of this fiercely competitive race!
Top image: A.S.O / B. Bade