Spoke Talk: Fun facts about the Tour de France | SteamboatToday.com

Spoke Talk: Fun facts about the Tour de France

Alan Perkins/For the Steamboat Today

Spoke Talk is a weekly column by the Routt County RIders.

To many cyclists and fans, July is the month of the Tour de France, one of the largest sporting events. Here is a collection of interesting facts and figures about the world's most famous bicycle race.

The Tour de France is one of three multi-day Grand Tours administered by Union Cycliste Internationale, the governing body of professional cycling. The other two are the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) and the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain).

The first Tour was held July 1, 1903, to promote circulation of a sports newspaper, L’Auto-Velo. To rival a competing paper, publishers decided on a distinctive yellow pulp. That yellow later was adopted in 1919 as the race leader jersey color.

Géo Lefèvre was a chief cycling journalist for L'Auto, who based upon the current popularity of the punishing six-day velodrome races, thought a race circumnavigating France could boost waning paper popularity. It did.

The first planned Tour initially was a grueling 36 days long. However, it was shortened by the newspaper's editor, Henri Desgrange, to a more reasonable 19 days and nights. The actual tour was just more than 1,500 miles in length, with rest days given between the 400-mile stages.

The first stage leader and eventual winner, Maurice-Francois Garin, won by a large margin, but ironically, he was disqualified from the 1904 Tour for cheating. Fans were so fanatical about the results of the 1904 Tour that they felled trees on the race route, sabotaged bicycles and harassed competitors to improve the odds for their favorite rider.

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The 1930 Tour consisted of teams from five nations: France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Belgium. Luxembourg, Switzerland and Austria couldn't submit teams because they lacked the required eight registered professional racers.

Four men have won the Tour de France an unparalleled five times: Jacques Anquetil (France), Eddy Merckx (Belgium), Miguel Indurain (Spain) and Bernard Hinault (France). Hinault's sixth potential win was stripped by a scrappy newcomer, American Greg LeMond, who won two more Tours.

Dominant not only in the Tour, Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Merckx, won nearly one-third of the more than 500 races he entered. No sports professional in any discipline ever has achieved that type of unprecedented success.

Besides the four men winning the Tour five times, remaining Tour winners hold some of the most fabled places in bicycle road racing history, including Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Louison Bobet and Charly Gaul.

With competitors Charly Gaul and Frederico Bahamontes present, Jacques Anquetil claimed he would wear the yellow jersey the entire 1961 race. He did.

The cost to sponsor a world-class team to race in the Tour de France is an estimated $10 million to $50 million, with the entrance fees for the three grand tours being nearly $12 million. However, the average professional cyclist earns only $140,000 in salary.

A professional cyclist will ride 20,000 to 30,000 miles per year, every year, rain or shine.

Alan Perkins is a Routt County Riders member and volunteer.

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