The Ever Evolving Tour de France, By the Numbers


When we consider that this will be the 100th Tour de France, it becomes obvious that the race has changed significantly in the past century. But just how much has it changed? In true TrainingPeaks style, we set out to quantify how much harder or easier, faster or slower, longer or shorter, the Tour has gotten.

Here’s the history of the ever-evolving Tour de France – by the numbers.

1903: The first Tour is scheduled to be a 5-week race – but no riders signed up. Organizer Henri Desgrange shortened the event to 18 days. 60 riders start with Maurice Garin winning in 93:33:14. Today, 180 riders start the Tour.

1910: The first Tour to add in true mountain stages. Four major climbs including the Tourmalet were introduced. Coincidentally, the broom wagon was also first used this year for non-finishers though they were allowed to start the next day. The longest stage was 424km – nearly twice as long as the longest stage in this year’s Tour!

1912: Until 1912 freewheels were banned! Power guru Hunter Allen has estimated that to win a road race, a rider has to save energy by NOT pedaling for 15% of the race time or greater. Before 1912, Tour riders did not get the energy-saving benefits of coasting for 15-20% of the race like they can today.

1919: sees the introduction of the yellow jersey, fashioned by Desgrande to highlight the leader of the race. Yellow was chosen to mimic the yellow-colored paper of L’Auto newspaper, of which Desgrande was the editor. This was also the slowest Tour ever, with 5560km raced at an average speed of 24.1 kph. Only 10 classified finishers completed the race out of 67 starters.

1926: The 1926 Tour was the longest ever – 5795km over 17 stages. The average ride time for each day was 14.2 hours. This Tour was also has the longest winning time, 238:44:25 by Belgian Lucien Buysse. 126 started, 41 finished.

1930: Desgrande introduces national and regional teams to replace trade teams and all 100 starters that year rode the same bike – painted yellow of course.

1931: Aluminum wheels were first allowed into the Tour. Previously, wood was used and Desgrande worried that aluminum would not be able to dissipate the heat during long descents. 28.7 kph was the average speed that year.

1933: The King of the Mountains competition is born. Vicente Trueba of Spain was the first winner. Trueba barely weighed 100 lbs. – an exaggerated “climber’s build”.

1937: Rear derailleurs first allowed. 

1940s: During this decade the Tour was only held twice, due to WWII.

1951: The Tour climbs Mt. Ventoux for the first time from Malaucene covering 21.5km and rising 1570m. Frenchmen Lucien Lazarides was the first to summit, but his countryman Louison Bobet wins the stage.

1952: The next year, 1952 the Tour goes over L’alpe d’Huez for the first time. Italian Fausto Coppi took the victory up the 21-turn, 13.8km massive Col.

1960s: During this era, it was not uncommon for the riders to eat a steak, usually rare, in the morning before a stage. Then Swedish doctor Dr. Gunvar Ahlborg discovered the benefit of carbs for performance – and the concept of “the carbo load” was born. Carbohydrate loading can increase muscle glycogen levels anywhere from 25% to 67%, which is estimated to be able to improve performance over a set distance by 2-3%.

1964: Jacques Anquetil wins his fifth Tour de France. This year, the Tour started only 14 days after the Giro d’ Italia, which Anquetil also won that year. Antequil was the first rider to win the Tour de France five times, as well as the first French rider to win the Giro (in 1960).

1965: Felice Gimondi of Italy wins aboard a Bianchi with Campagnolo Super Record that reportedly weighed in at a hefty 24.2 lbs. Today, the weight limit for the bikes in the Tour de France is 14.9 lbs., nearly 10 lbs. lighter.

1975: The best climber competition begins and is won by Belgian climbing specialist Lucien van Impe, who was also third overall. This year also marks the start of the Best Young Rider, which was won by Francesco Moser in his only Tour appearance.

1986: Greg LeMond takes his first of three Tour wins, becoming the first American to win the Tour.

1987: Irish all-rounder Stephen Roche wins the Tour, becoming only the second rider to win the Giro, Tour and World Championships in a single season.

1989: After surviving and recovering from a severe hunting accident that nearly killed him, Greg LeMond wins his second Tour by just 8 seconds, or 82 meters, over Frenchmen Laurent Fignon.

1993: Spanish rider Miguel Indurain wins the Tour. His Pinarello was claimed to be 9kg, or 19.8 lbs.

2000: By 2000 the bikes had become so light the UCI set a bike weight limit at 6.8kg, or 14.99 lbs.

2005: The highest average speed ever for the Tour was set at 41.654 kph. The slowest average speed for a Tour winner was set by Ottavio Bottechia at 24.25 kph in 1924, when riders raced a staggering 5,425 km. That year, only 60 of the 157 starters finished.

2012: Britain’s Bradley Wiggins wins the 2012 Tour with an average speed of 39.83kph. Wiggins also becomes the first Briton to ever win the Tour de France, and the first rider to ever win the Tour as well as an Olympic gold medal in the same year.

2013: For the centennial Tour de France, the total route is 3,360k. The longest stage will be Stage 15 on July 14, covering 242k from Givors to Mont Ventoux. That’s 2430km less that the longest Tour ever in 1926.


About the Author

AJ Johnson

AJ Johnson is the Content Editor and Power Analyst for TrainingPeaks. He is also a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified coach. A jack of all trades in endurance sports, he has raced everything from IRONMAN and marathons to road, mountain, and track cycling. A former freelance writer and editor of TRI and ROAD Magazines, when not editing or writing he spends his time with his family or out on long rides to think of more great content for TrainingPeaks readers.

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