What is Le Tour de France?

What is Le Tour de France?

by Clara Avrillier

Updated May 11, 2022

Le Tour de France is a French cycle race that is part of the Grand Tours, a set of three major cycling stage races in Europe held for professionals. Le Tour de France is held in France, while the other two races are held in Italy and Spain: Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. If you’re visiting France this year and you’re looking for an interesting activity on top of the wonderful hikes and regions of the country, the Tour de France is completely free to attend and is a top-notch, elite sporting event! This article will focus on Le Tour de France, including what it is, how it works, who participates and some fun facts about the race itself.  

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What is Le Tour de France?

Le Tour de France (also known as Le Tour) is the World Cup of bike races. It is the biggest men’s bike sporting event in the world. It is held in France but often starts in another country, before finishing up on the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

It first began in 1903 with a French newspaper, L’Auto: it was struggling with sales and in a marketing attempt to boost turnover, it decided to advertise a Tour de France, to encourage cyclists to take part in a race around the country. It was such a success that it stuck, and has been running as a race ever since. Nowadays, the winner earns a coveted trophy and a cool €500,000 ($550,000)! 

How does it work?

The race is divided into 21 stages held over 23 days. Each stage is timed to the finish and lasts a day, therefore there are two rest days. The overall course of Le Tour de France is around 3500 kilometers (2200 miles). 

The cyclists have to take on a variety of terrain throughout the race, and it is split up as follows:

  • 9 flat stages
  • 7 mountain stages
  • 3 hilly stages
  • 2 individual time trial stages

When does the Tour de France start?

The Tour de France is held every year in July. It did not run however during both World Wars and it was delayed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tour de France often starts in a neighboring country, before moving to France. For example, the 2019 edition began in Brussels, Belgium. The 2022 edition will start in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Who takes part?

The Tour de France is an elite sporting event, so only the very best are able to qualify. What may surprise some people is that Le Tour is a team event: cyclists must be part of a team in order to participate in the race. On top of that, teams can only take part if they have been invited by the Tour de France. This is often based on their rankings in the Union Cycliste Internationale (International Cyclist Union).

There are around 22 teams each year, made up of eight riders. Remember that only men can participate in the race, although a fun fact, Le Tour de France Femmes for women is launching in 2022.

Some notable winners

The most famous Tour de France winner is Lance Armstrong – he won the title seven times from 1999 to 2005. However, he has now been stripped of the title due to a doping scandal. 

Other famous winners include Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault (who incidentally was the last Frenchman to win in 1985), Spaniard Miguel Induráin and Tadej Pogačar from Slovenia.

What do the colored jerseys represent?

As with any sporting event, we all want to know who is winning. Le Tour uses a system of colored jerseys to show this. The main jersey is yellow and represents the leader of the pack, i.e., the rider who currently has the lowest combined time over the stages. This is the most important jersey. However, there are other colored jerseys: a white jersey is worn by the highest performing rider under 26 years old; a green jersey is awarded to the top sprinter. This is a great opportunity for French learners to put their knowledge to the test with colors in French!

Some useful vocabulary

If you come across Le Tour when in France, it might be helpful to know some of the main vocabulary used. Here’s a short list of terms we think you should know:

Grand départ – The first stage of the race

Flamme rouge – the red flag used to show the last kilometer of the race

Peloton – no, we’re not talking about the American company! In French, a peloton is the word used to describe a group of riders. 

Maillot – the French word for jersey 

Tête de la course – the leader of the race; literally ‘head of the race’

Le parcours – the route of the race


Get involved with Le Tour de France 

Now that you know what the Le Tour de France is, it’s time to brush up on your French, get your cycling gear ready and put the champagne on ice for the next race! Details of the upcoming race and route can be found on Le Tour’s website, so you can make sure you are best placed for when this sporting event comes riding into town!

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Clara Avrillier is a writer, linguist and content manager living in the South of France. She loves getting out in nature, doing sport, reading and playing music. She also works with many expats looking to move to France. Find out more on her website, ON IT Translations, or connect with her on LinkedIn

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