20 Things to Know About the Tour de France

Beginning this weekend, fans of pro cycling can dine at the all-you-can-eat buffet of race action known as the Tour de France, the oldest, most famous and most grueling among the Grand Tour races. And the table is set for an exciting showdown among the top contenders. But even if you’re not an enthusiastic fan of bike racing (ahem, like some people we know), the Tour offers plenty of zesty fare worth delving into: gorgeous scenery from the pastoral British countryside to the mountain passes (Cols) of France, remarkable stories of human courage and endurance, heart-stopping sprint finishes and over-the-top zaniness among fans who line, and sometimes clog, the roads. Here’s a basic menu of 20 things to know about the Tour de France, including key stats, handy links and a few surprises:

Top photo: Residents of Yorkshire hand-knitted more than 23,000 tiny wool jerseys in Tour colors for bunting to decorate the route of the first stage of the race. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

1. Official website: Click here.

2. Commune with fellow fans in NYC: The Rapha Cycle Club in Manhattan shows the races live during store hours and hosts a “No Spoilers” happy hour screening Monday through Friday at 6 pm. Click here for schedule.

3. Watch the tour on TV: Nightly recaps at 8 p.m. EST are found on the NBC Sports Network. Stream the Tour stages live here. The estimated worldwide TV audience is 3.5 billion.

4. Social media:

Twitter: @letour #TDF

Facebook: Le Tour de France

Instagram: @letourdefrance

5. Edition: It’s the 101st  edition of the Tour. The first was staged (at night) in 1903. Two world wars cancelled races in 1915 – 1919 and 1940 – 1947.

6. Duration: July 5 – 27 with 21 days of racing and 2 rest days.

7. Start/Finish: The race began in Leeds, England and finishes in Paris on the Champs-Élysées. Tour stages this year pass through England, France, Belgium and Spain.

8. Distance: Riders will cover 2,276 miles (3,664 kms), the equivalent of traveling from London to Cairo.

9. Speed: Average speed on a flat stage tops 31 miles per hour (50 kms).

10. Eat up: Tour contenders burn an average of 6,000 calories per day. For the duration of the Tour, that’s the equivalent of about 420 cheeseburgers or 619 Krispy Kreme Donuts per rider. For fuel, riders pass through designated feeding areas where they are handed bags containing items such as sandwiches and energy gels, which they consume while riding.

11. Cycling is a team sport: 198 riders start in 22 teams of 9. View team lists here.

12. Prize money: More than $2.7 million is awarded to the teams and the riders, including more than $600,000 to the final individual general classification winner who stands atop the podium in Paris in the yellow jersey (Maillot Jaune).

13. How riders win the famed Yellow, Green, White and Red Polka Dot jerseys. Read this article about Tour scoring.

14. Favored: Chris Froome (Great Britain) won last year’s Tour, Alberto Contador (Spain) won in 2010 but was stripped of his title amid doping allegations, Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) won the 2013 Giro d’Italia. Read more about the Tour favorites.

Above: American Andrew Talansky. Photo: Slipstream Sports 

15. Leading American contender: Andrew Talansky of Team Garmin-Sharp. He finished 10th in last year’s Tour and had a gutsy win at an important lead-up to this year’s race, the Critérium du Dauphiné. He will be supported by two up-and-coming young American riders, Ben King and Alex Howes.

Photo: Le Tour de France.

16. Yes! New women’s race: The inaugural La Course de Le Tour de France, a women’s criterium race on the Champs Élysées on the day of the Tour finale, is an important step toward heightening visibility of women’s pro racing. Read more.

17. Most Tour titles ever (now stricken): Lance Armstrong (United States) won seven titles, but was stripped of them and banned from competitive cycling in 2012.

18. Five-time winners: Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx (Belgium), Bernard Hinault (France) and Miguel Indurain (Spain) each  won the Tour 5 times. Pro tip: Your credibility will wilt if you screw up the pronunciations of their names in conversation.

Above: El Diablo jumps for joy along the Tour route. Photo: Reuters

19. Famous face in the crowd: Much-photographed Dieter Senft is known as El Diablo. The devil of the Tour de France wears a costume and paints tridents along the route.

20. Little known, but hair-raising: Riders were known to light up during the race in the 1920s. Alcohol use – the energy drink of choice was wine — was permitted until the 1960s.

And with that, Cheers! to this year’s Tour.

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