The 5-minute essential guide to the Tour de France


Cycling TourismSporting Activities

ASO / Aurélien Vialatte
© ASO / Aurélien Vialatte

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 8 January 2024

It is the biggest cycling race in the world: a national event that France cherishes almost as much as its Eiffel Tower and its 360 native cheeses! Every year in July, the Tour de France sets off on the roads of France and crosses some of its most beautiful landscapes. Here’s everything you should know in advance of the 2018 race…

‘La Grande Boucle’

In over a century of existence, the Tour has extended its distance and passed through the whole country. Almost 3,500 kilometers are now covered each year in the first three weeks of July, with 22 teams of 8 cyclists. The 176 competitors criss-cross the most beautiful roads of France in 23 days, over 21 stages. More than a third of France’s departments are passed through, on a route that changes each year.

A little tour to start

The first ever Tour de France took place in 1903. It had just six stages – Paris-Lyon, Lyon-Marseille, Marseille-Toulouse, Toulouse-Bordeaux, Bordeaux-Nantes and Nantes-Paris – and 60 cyclists at the start line. At the time, the brave cycled up to 18 hours at a stretch, by day and night, on roads and dirt tracks. By the end, they’d managed 2,300 kilometers. Must have had some tight calves!

Polka dots

Mountain events are often the most famous and hotly contested. Spectators watch in awe as the riders attack the passes and hit speeds of 100 km/h. In the Pyrenees and the Alps, the Galibier and Tourmalet ascents are legendary sections of the Tour, worthy of a very elegant polka dot jersey for the best climber…

The darling of the Tour

In terms of the number of victories per nation, France comes out on top, with 36 races won by a French cyclist. In second place is Belgium with 18 wins, and in third is Spain with 12. The darling of the Tour remains Eddy Merckx, holding the record of 111 days in the yellow jersey. This Belgian won 5 times the Great Loop as Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Michael Indurain.

‘Le maillot jaune’

The yellow jersey is worn by the race winner in the general classification (calculated by adding up the times from each individual stage). This tradition goes back to 1919. It has nothing to do with the July sunshine or the sunflower fields along the roads; it was simply the colour of the pages of newspaper L’Auto, which was creator and organiser of the competition at the time.


The Tour de France is the third major world sporting event after the Olympic Games and the World Cup, covered by 600 media and 2,000 journalists. The race is broadcast in 130 countries by 100 television channels over 6,300 hours, and is followed by 3.5 billion viewers.

The Champs-Élysées finish

Each year the Tour departs from a different city, whether in France or in a neighbouring country. Since 1975, the triumphal arrival of the cyclists has always taken place across a finish line on Paris’ Champs-Élysées. It’s a truly beautiful setting for the final sprint.

And the winner is…

Seen from the sky and filmed by helicopters or drones, the Tour route resembles a long ribbon winding its way through France’s stunning landscapes: the groves of Normandy, the peaks of the Alps, the shores of Brittany and the beaches of the Côte d’Azur. In 2017, it was the Izoard pass in Hautes-Alpes that was elected the most beautiful stage, at an altitude of 2,361 metres. Which one gets your vote?

Find out more on the official Tour de France site:


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