Le Tour de France
In July 2007 the famous Tour de France started off from London! It was a great opportunity for people living near London or near the route to the Channel Tunnel to go and see for themeselves the cyclists and the fantastic caravane, which is the word used for the large number of vehicles which follow them. In France it’s a bit like a carnival, with festival floats – and lots of free gifts!
© MAE - F. de La Mure
About the race…
The Tour de France was first organized in 1903 by the Frenchman Henri Desgrange.
It’s called the Tour de France, or sometimes La Grande Boucle (the Great Loop), because for three weeks, the cyclists follow a route taking them all over France, in what are called étapes (stages). Actually, if you follow it you can learn a lot about France’s geography (and sometimes a bit about neighbouring countries too).
Follow the route of the 2007 race on the map: starting off from London, it crossed the Channel into Belgium, before travelling through France, with étapes in the Alps and the Pyrenees, and ending up on the finishing line on the famous Avenue des Champs-Elysées.
© Official Tour de France website
The route always has several étapes. Some of these are flat (étapes de plaine) and the riders can reach high speeds. But others are in the mountains (étapes de montagne) and, for these, the riders have to be very fit and have lots of energy, because they are extremely tough. There are also 2 individual time-trial étapes, when the riders race "contre la montre" (against the clock).
The Tour goes on for three weeks, but, of course, the competitors don’t cycle non-stop or at night! They ride for 6-8 hours a day and don’t have lunch or tea breaks, but get handed drinks as they ride. They stay overnight in hotels. They also sometimes take their bikes by train between 2 étapes.
Racing round Europe by bike
Although, being the Tour de France, most of the route is in France, 2007 wasn’t the first time it included étapes in other European countries. They have also taken place in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. It was the third time in the UK. The first was in 1974 with an étape in Plymouth and the second in 1994 with one from Dover to Brighton and then Portsmouth.
© F. de la Mure / MAE
The Tour de France is very popular in France.
Every year, thousands of French people line the route of the Tour and enjoy the special events which are generally organized months in advance. They also like the free gifts!
Spectators applaud French champions!
Of course, most of the Tour de France winners have been French. But one of the most famous recent winners (seven consecutive wins) was the American Lance Armstrong, who even won again after suffering from cancer. There have been some excellent British cyclists too, with several, like Chris Boardman and Sean Yates, wearing the legendary maillot jaune (see below). In 1984, Robert Millar came top in the mountain stage, winning the Grand Prix de la Montagne.
Jerseys of different colours
Watch out for the famous different maillots (jerseys). The one every rider dreams of wearing is yellow (maillot jaune), worn by the winner of the previous étape and then the outright winner. The polka dot jersey (maillot à pois) is worn, in turn, by each winner of an étape de montagne and then awarded to the rider with the fastest overall time in the étapes de montagne. There’s also a green jersey (maillot vert) for the rider with the fastest overall time in the étapes de plaine ("flat" stages) and a white jersey (maillot blanc) for the best rider under 26.