Think you know everything about the Tour de France? Here are some fascinating facts and figures about the incredible endurance, speed, fitness and technology involved in the tour.
1. The Tour de France is an annual bicycle race that covers on average 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles) throughout France.
2. The idea for a Tour de France came from the French newspaper L'Auto's chief cycling journalist, Géo Lefèvre. L'Auto announced the race on 19 January 1903. The plan was a five-week race from 31 May to 5 July. This proved too daunting with only 15 riders entering. It was reduced to 19 days, which attracted 60 entrants, not just professionals but amateurs as well. The demanding nature of the race (the stages averaged 400 km and could run through the night) caught public imagination. L'Auto's circulation rose from 25,000 to 65,000; by 1908 it was a quarter of a million, and during the 1923 Tour it reached 500,000.
3. Nowadays the race lasts 23 days and is broken down into 21 stages with two rest days and only professionals taking part, that’s over 80 hours of LIVE television on Eurosport!
4. The Tour is made up of flat, mountainous, and time-trial stages, with each favouring different types of riders. Individual times to finish each stage are totalled to determine the overall winner for the race. It is possible to win the Tour de France without actually winning a stage.
5. There are four classification jerseys on offer; The yellow jersey is worn by the Tour de France leader i.e the rider with the lowest overall total time. Whoever has the lowest time at the end of the Tour wins the yellow jersey and the overall general classification title. The green jersey is awarded for sprint points which are attributed depending at what point the rider finishes the race, i.e more points for a better finish. Points are higher for flat stages as sprint finishes are more likely. The polka dot jersey (white with red spots) is similar to the format of the green jersey, however points are awarded depending on at what point the rider reaches the top of the hill or mountain in a stage. This jersey is known as the “King of the Mountains.” The white jersey is awarded to the most up and coming rider under 25 who has performed well on the Tour. All jerseys can switch between riders as the race unfolds.
6. In 2012, Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins will compete to become first Brit to win the Tour de France and Mark Cavendish aims to become the first Brit to retain the Green Jersey and add to his record haul of stage wins.
7. The course changes every year but it has always finished in Paris. There are similar races in Italy and Spain but the Tour de France is the oldest, the most prestigious and the best known.
8. The race has finished since 1975 with laps of the Champs-Élysées avenue. This stage rarely challenges the leader because it is flat and the leader usually has too much time in hand to be denied victory. In 1987 Pedro Delgado attempted to change this by breaking away on the Champs to challenge the 40-second lead held by Stephen Roche. However he was unable to keep his break away going and ended finishing in the pack giving victory to Roche.
9. To host a stage start or finish brings prestige and business to a town. The prologue and first stage are particularly prestigious. Usually one town will host the prologue (too short to go between towns) and the start of stage 1.
10. The Tour is important to fans across Europe with some camping up to a week in advance prior to the event to get the best view possible. Farmers build dioramas out of hay or mow fields depicting bicycles and “Vive le Tour.” Fans will take to the roads in a carnival atmosphere playing music until they are touching distance of the passing riders.
11. The combination of endurance and strength needed led the New York Times to say in 2006 that the "Tour de France is arguably the most physiologically demanding of athletic events." The effort was compared to "running a marathon several days a week for nearly three weeks", while the total elevation of the climbs was compared to "climbing three Everests."
12. Eurosport has broadcast the Tour for over 20 years and has acquired unparalleled experience and know-how to give fans each year the best overall coverage of the greatest cycle race in the world
13. Number of pedal strokes taken per rider for the three weeks: 324,000 (at 60 rpm); 486,000 (at 90 rpm)
14. Calories burned by a rider in the course of the Tour: 123,900 (based on 5900-per day average at 21 days of racing).
15. 10 - fewest ever finishers (1919, out of 69 starters)
16. 8 - most riders to wear yellow jersey in one Tour (1987)
17. 96 - most days spent in yellow jersey (Eddy Merckx in seven Tours)
18. 253 km - longest solo breakaway (Albert Bourlon, 1947)
19. 40.276 kph - fastest average over entire Tour (Lance Armstrong, 1999)
20. 7 - highest total number of "King of the Mountains" victories (Richard Virenque)
21. 20 - age of youngest winner (Henri Cornet, 1904)
22. 36 - age of oldest winner (Firmin Lambot, 1922)
23. The tallest rider was Johan van Summeren at 1.98 meters or 6' 5.5".
24. The shortest was Samuel Dumoulin at 1.58 meters or 5' 2".