TOUR DE FRANCE: The race in numbers
Sports writer Felix Lowe gives the lowdown on the world’s most gruelling cycling event.
On Saturday July 1, the 104th edition of the Tour de France gets under way in Düsseldorf. After visits to Belgium and Luxembourg, the 21-stage race will enter France and tackle all five of the nation’s mountainous regions before concluding with the traditional final stage on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Eurosport cycling journalist Felix Lowe takes a look at some stand-out stats for Tissot, the official timekeeper of the Tour.
After three weeks, 3,250 kilometres and the best part of 88 hours in the saddle, Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon were separated by just eight seconds in the 1989 Tour de France – the narrowest winning margin in history. A pulsating duel saw the bespectacled Frenchman twice seize the yellow jersey from his American rival before the final showdown in Paris.
Poised to win a third Tour crown, Fignon crumbled on the very last day in a rare individual time trial on the famous Champs-Élysées. Suffering from a saddle sore and apparently slowed down by the drag of his ponytail, Fignon conceded the best part of a minute to LeMond, who used an aerodynamic helmet and clip-on triathlon bars to cap a sensational return following a freak shooting accident that almost cost him his life two years earlier.
The largest winning margin of the Tour, incidentally, came in the race’s first edition in 1903, with Frenchman Maurice Garin coming home 2hr 49min faster than his nearest rival.
On conceding the yellow jersey at the eleventh hour, Fignon broke down and wept. When often asked the question “Aren’t you the guy who lost the Tour by eight seconds?” in the years to come, he would always reply, “No, I’m the man who won it twice.” The 2017 Tour features a time trial to Marseille on the penultimate day with Tissot named once again as official timekeeper of the Tour. Will every second count this July? The watch in the illustration above is part of Tissot’s Tour de France collection and is available to buy online
Integral to making the Tour de France the third largest global sporting event are the 60 kilometres of cables used each day in the technical zone of the race to ensure the smooth running of the host broadcast, which reaches 190 countries worldwide.
The man responsible for directing the host feed is Frenchman Jean-Maurice Ooghe, who describes the complicated process of broadcasting the Tour as filming a Champions League final every day in a different location – and on a moving pitch with 200 protagonists and several balls.
On top of all those cables, 120 trucks, 500 technicians and a zone téchnique covering no fewer than 5,000 square-metres is needed each day – not to forget the five video motorcycles, two sound motorcycles, one helicopter, two airplanes and 16 GoPro cameras mounted to selected bikes – to keep the show on the road (and on our TVs). Every day, all 60 kilometres of those cables are wound back up, driven on, and unravelled again at the next finish town.
One of the enduring appeals of the Tour de France is its annually changing route – the race a moveable feast spiriting riders and spectators alike through everything the French countryside, and beyond, has to offer.
The 1926 edition featured longest route ever used in the Tour – a mammoth 5,745-kilometre trek that did a clockwise loop of France’s periphery before finally heading inland to Paris. Taking place over 17 stages with an average length of 338 kilometres, the race lasted the best part of a month and was won by the tough-as-nails Belgian Lucien Buysse.
By contrast, the shortest Tour route was the first ever edition in 1903: just 2,428 kilometres. This year, the 104th edition of the race is somewhere in between: a 3,540-kilometres squiggle that skips most of northern and western France, but still manages to squeeze in all five of France’s mountainous regions – the Vosges, Jura, Pyrenees, Massif Central and Alps – into its 21 stages.
It may be one of the most gruelling sporting events in the world, but the Tour is also big business: there are around 250 applications per year from cities, towns and villages prepared to pay north of €50,000 to hold a stage start and €80,000 for a finish.
To host the opening of the entire race, the Grand Départ, the fee is estimated to rise to at least €2m – a staggering amount, but peanuts compared to the revenue the race can generate. After all, with its wondrous aerial images and sumptuous landscape shots, the Tour is not merely a bike race; it’s the most successful marketing campaign imaginable – far more beneficial than anything the cast of Mad Men could come up with.
Take the grandest of Grand Départs in Yorkshire in 2014, for instance. The entire budget for hosting three days of racing in Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and London was put at £27m, but with an estimated £102m boost to Yorkshire’s economy through tourism.
This year, there are 10 new start and finish towns making their Tour de France debut, the smallest of which – Laissac – boasting just 2,100 residents. Let’s hope the Tour tab was not subsidised by their council tax bill…
Last year, some 460,000 packets of mini saucissons were distributed from eye-catching red and white Cochonou cars to the estimated 10 to 12 million spectators on the roadside. If that’s not too appealing a strike rate for hungry fans, then things are more positive in the cake department: some 2,000,000 St Michel madeleines are usually distributed – giving fans roughly a one-in-five chance of devouring some of France’s traditional shell-shaped sponges before the peloton zips by.
All this is part of the race’s publicity caravane – a corporative circus that stretches out for 12 kilometres ahead of the race, featuring a procession of 170 vehicles, 35 brands and 600 people. In total, some 18 million goodies are distributed during the three-week race, making the Tour perhaps the largest giveaway on the globe.
This year, Cochonou aims to distribute nine tonnes of charcuterie from seven classic Citroën 2CVs during the race. If you’re very lucky, you may even get one of the brand’s sought-after sun hats, too.
Tissot, a member of the Swatch Group, is Official Timekeeper of the Tour de France and all cycling time trials run by Amaury Sport Organisation. Already Official Timekeeper from 1988 to 1992, the Swiss brand will provide its innovative timekeeping systems at all ASO time trials until the end of 2020 after signing a five-year deal before the start of last cycling season.