Tour de France 2014: 20 things you might not know about the iconic bike race

First held in 1903, the Tour de France has a rich history

Mike Clark

The Tour de Yorkshire is just weeks away - and Huddersfield will become part of Tour de France history.

The iconic bike race was first held in 1903, 111 years ago, and millions line the route each year to catch a glimpse of their cycling heroes in action.

 

The so-called 'La Grande Boucie' has a rich history - here's 20 things you might not know about Le Tour:

  1. The race was first held in 1903 in a bid to boost sales for L'Auto, a French daily newspaper devoted to sport. Now known as L'Equipe, it also formulated the competition that eventually became the UEFA Champions League. Le Tour is now organised by L'Equipe's parent company, the Amaury Sport Organisation.

  2. It has been held ever year since 1903, except between 1915-1919 and 1940-1947, when it was stopped due to the two World Wars.

  3. The Tour de France is the oldest of the three Grand Tours, held over three consecutive weeks - the other two are the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) and the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain).

  4. The first ever Tour de France winner was Maurice Garin - he also won the 1904 race, but was stripped of his second title when it was discovered he and eight others had cheated. Tut tut.

  5. The second Tour de France in 1904 was almost the last - organiser Henri Desgrange was dismayed by the amount of cheating that went on, and rival fans were beating up competitors along the route. However by spring 1905 he was planning the third, longer Tour de France - held in daylight to make cheating more obvious.

  6. The Tour de France has 21 daily stages and is around 2,200 miles long - the shortest and longest Tour routes were 1,509 miles and 3,570 miles long in 1904 and 1926, respectively.

    Geert Schneider/Flickr The Tour de France in Brussels
    The Tour de France in Brussels
     

  7. In 1939, no riders from Italy, Germany or Spain took part due to pre-World War Two tensions - a tour was originally planned for 1940, but the Germans invaded France before it took place.

  8. Historians Jean-Luc Boeuf and Yves Leonard said most French people did not know the shape of their country until L'Auto started publishing maps of the race route.

  9. German band Kraftwerk released hit record Tour de France in 1983, and followed-up with their Tour de France Soundtracks album in 2003 to mark the 100th anniversary of the race.

  10. And did you know Freddy Mercury was inspired to write their cycling tune Bicycle Race after observing a stage of the 1978 Tour de France?

  11. The Tour has also entered the literary world - the race's first Italian winner, Ottavio Bottecchia, who won in 1924 and again in 1925, is mentioned at the end of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

  12. In 1950, during an unusually hot summer, many riders got off their bikes and ran into the Mediterranean sea at Sainte Maxine in the south east of France during the race. Some competitors rode into the sea without dismounting - and all involved were penalised by Tour judges.

  13. In 1968, reporters covering the race went on strike for a day after the third organiser of the Tour de France, Felix Levitan, said they were watching 'with tired eyes'. Journalists had previously complained the race was dull.

  14. Four cyclists have died taking part in the Tour de France. In 1910, French rider Adolphe Heliere drowned at the French Rivera; in 1935 Spaniard Francisco Cepeda crashed down a ravine on the Col du Galibier; in 1967 Tom Simpson died of heart failure during the ascent of Mont Ventoux - amphetamines were found in his blood and in his jersey; and in 1995, Fabio Casartelli crashed at 55mph while descending the Col de Portet d'Aspet.

  15. Lance Armstrong formerly held the record for most Tour de France wins, with seven victories - until he was stripped of his titles and banned from competitive cycling by the Union Cycliste Internationale in 2012 following doping allegations made by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA).

    Wayne England/Flickr Lance Armstrong
    Lance Armstrong
     

  16. Four riders - Jacques Anquetil (France), Eddy Merckx (Belgium), Bernard Hinault (France) and Miguel Indurain (Spain) have won the Tour de France five times.

  17. Three riders - Philippe Thys (Belgium), Louison Bobet (France) and Greg LeMond (USA) have won three times.

  18. Cycling champ Bradley 'Wiggo' Wiggins, who  became the first ever British winner in the 2012 Tour de France, was actually born in Belgium - where his Australian father, also a professional cyclist, lived.

  19. A total of 198 riders start the Tour in 22 teams of nine. Each member has to be dressed identically - with team shorts, jerseys, socks, shoes, gloves, and helmets.

  20. Fitness wasn't always a priority for Tour de France riders - during the early Tours, some riders smoked while participating in the race. And instead of energy drinks, riders would share bottles of wine. Cheers!

How well do you know your Tour de France jargon? Test your knowledge with our quiz

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