For over a century, cycling enthusiasts from all four corners of the globe have flocked to Europe every summer for the Tour de France. While the race was called off during the two World Wars, the bike race endured and has grown to be the largest annual sporting event in the world. Despite doping scandals, cheaters, and Lance Armstrong, the tour attracts millions of spectators and thousands of journalists to watch as cyclists race through the idyllic scenery of France. With all of the miles covered by cyclists and fans, there are all sorts of fascinating bits of trivia that happen during the race. Here are 11 things you never knew about the Tour de France.
1. Over 3,000 Miles of Pedaling
Apparently cyclists in the 1920s were up for a bigger challenge than bike riders of 2016. This year’s Tour de France route is a measly 2,197 miles, compared to the 3,570 path cyclists had to travel during the 1926 edition of the French race. That’s a difference of over 1,300 miles. The 1926 Tour de France was the longest one in the race’s history, and ran from June 20 to July 18.
2. Step Aside, Super Bowl
The Super Bowl, World Series, Masters Tournament: these are all massive annual sporting events that involve tons of athletes and even more fans. However, the Tour de France is the world’s largest annual sporting event. The race is broadcasted to over 180 countries around the globe and upwards of 12 million spectators fly to France to catch a glimpse of the cyclists whizzing by. Additionally, 2,000 journalists are in there to cover the tour and over 4,700 hours of TV coverage are broadcast to fans who couldn’t make trip.
3. Don’t Call Cyclists ‘Yellow’
There’s quite a bit of history, folklore, and myth surrounding the tour’s yellow jersey. At the first tour hosted after World War I in 1919, the classic yellow jersey (in French maillot jaune) was introduced in the eleventh stage of the race. The very first person to don the yellow jersey was Eugène Christophe. The maillot jaune is given to the leader of the Tour de France’s general classification, the person finishing all stages of the race in the fastest time.
4. Don’t Drink and Ride
While France is known for its fine wines, tour rules prohibit the consumption of alcohol during the race. This might sound like a standard practice for athletes competing in a sporting event but until the 1960s, riders in the Tour de France were allowed to throw a few back while cycling to help ease the pain of their ride. However, race runners felt that alcohol was a stimulant for athletes and banned its usage during the tour.
5. Cheating Scandals
Unfortunately, cyclists have tried to improve their times through less-than-honest methods throughout the Tour de France’s history (we’re looking at you, Lance Armstrong). The most widespread form of cheating among tour cyclists is doping. Race organizers began testing cyclists at the 1966 Tour de France. However, cyclists are very clever and have found other ways for working the system to their benefit. For instance, in 1953 French rider Jean Robic swapped his water bottle for one filled with lead so he could soar down inclines faster than his competitors.
6. Best Workout EVER
A Tour de France cyclist burns an average of 4,000 to 5,000 calories per stage of the race, usually totaling about 123,000 calories for the whole shebang. That means riders could enjoy almost two full servings of brûléed french toast found on the menu at The Cheesecake Factory or nearly three full servings of the Super Cinco Combo served at Chevys Fresh Mex. So what’s your excuse for not hitting the gym this week?
7. 90 Revolutions per Minute
After crunching the numbers, it was found that cyclists average 486,000 pedal strokes throughout the entirety of the race. That works out to about 90 revolutions per minute during the Tour de France. With nearly half a million pedal strokes over three weeks, riders usually go through three bicycle chains. Furthermore, the main peloton of the race will use almost 800 bicycle tires during the tour.
8. No Rest for the Weary
With only two rest days scheduled during the Tour de France, you’d think the riders would spend those days sleeping and carb loading. However, that is not the case. Top race competitors take at least two hours on rest days to ride in an effort to stay focused on the task at-hand and to flush lactic acid out of their system. A day of Netflix binge watching and junk food sounds much more appealing but apparently these dedicated athletes choose to keep themselves in peak performance mode.
9. Thank You, Ms. Anderson
Every cyclist is motivated by different things. For one Italian cyclist, Mario Cipollini, the will to keep pedaling while competing in the Tour de France came from Baywatch star, Pamela Anderson. Cipollini taped a picture of Anderson to his bicycle’s handlebars, and to make things really interesting, it was a nude photo of the Playboy playmate. Fortunately, naked pictures are much safer to use than performance-enhancing drugs so more power to you, Cipollini.
10. Race to the Grave
While cycling is a great method for getting healthy, four cyclists have lost their lives during the Tour de France. In 1910, Adolphe Heliere drowned during a rest day in Nice. Spanish cyclist Francisco Cepeda plummeted to his death in a ravine during the race in 1935. During the descent up Mont Ventoux, British cyclist Tom Simpson experienced fatal heart failure and lost his life. Eleven years ago, Fabio Casartelli, an Olympic gold medal cyclist, died from serious head injuries following a crash on the road. Riders beware.
11. Spoiler Alert: France Usually Wins
The winner of the 2016 Tour de France will earn himself over €2.03 million as a grand prize, normally divided up amongst teammates. As past performance would indicate, the winner this year will probably be from France, as most of the winners over the race’s history have been French. As of last year, France had 36 wins under its belt. The nation with the second most wins at the Tour de France goes to Belgium with 18, followed by Spain with 11.