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The complete guide to the Tour de France

PUBLISHED: 13:20 10 May 2017 | UPDATED: 13:20 10 May 2017

Guide to the Tour de France © B. Bade / ASO

Guide to the Tour de France © B. Bade / ASO

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Discover the route of the 2017 Tour de France, the best places to cheer on the peloton and the history of the world’s most famous cycle race

Tour de France 2017 route © ASO Tour de France 2017 route © ASO

THE 2017 TOUR DE FRANCE ROUTE

Unveiled last October, the official 2017 Tour de France route contains two time-trial events, both of which are individual. For the first time since 1992 the route includes all five of France’s mountain ranges in the following order: the Vosges, the Jura, the Pyrénées, the Massif Central and the Alps.

This year’s Grand Départ will begin in Düsseldorf in Germany with a 13km time trial along the banks of the Rhine River. From there the Tour will pass through Belgium and Luxembourg before heading into the Vosges mountains in eastern France. The cyclists then head south along the eastern side of France passing through the Jura and Alps mountains before moving to the western side of France and travelling from Dordogne down to the Pyrénées. The route then passes through Tarn and Aveyron and into the Massif Central before heading across the Rhône Valley and back into the Alps. After some strenuous climbs the cyclists will race through Provence before a time trial in Marseille. As always, the race will end on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

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Le Puy-en-Velay © pviolet / Fotolia Le Puy-en-Velay © pviolet / Fotolia

BEST PLACES TO WATCH THE TOUR DE FRANCE

Troyes

Home to some of the finest examples of half-timbered houses in France, the quaint town of Troyes will welcome riders after a journey across the fairly flat landscape of Grand-Est on 6 July. The next day, the peloton will head 214km south, passing through the iconic Burgundy vineyards before arriving in the commune of Nuits-Saint-Georges, where some of the region’s best wine is produced, later that evening.

Périgueux

Riders will enjoy a day’s rest in this charming, white-stone Dordogne town before starting stage 10 on 11 July. The peloton will travel on to Bergerac, making a detour east to travel across the bucolic pastures and vine-clad hills that are typical of this idyllic corner of France. One highlight along the route is the Lascaux cave, which the riders will pass as they near the end of their 178km journey to Bergerac.

Pau

Set along the Pyrénées Mountains’ northern edge, this southern city will be the start of an extremely difficult sequence of climbs. On 13 July, the peloton will begin its longest stage of those taking place this year in the Pyrénées, climbing up to the Col de Menté, before heading for the Port de Balès mountain pass. This stage will culminate in an agonising climb – the last kilometre will have a 16% gradient - to the ski resort of Peyragudes.

Le-Puy-en-Velay

Nestled in the tranquil Haute-Loire countryside in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, this city famous for its lace-making will be a welcome stop for many riders after the exhausting climb up on 17 July to the Col de Peyra Taillade, which has gradients of 14% in some places. Riders will take to their bikes again the next morning for the 165km journey across to Roman-sur-Isère, in the flatter Rhône Valley.

Marseille

Marseille will host the penultimate stage of the 2017 Tour de France with an individual time trial on 22 July. The time trial will start and finish inside the Vélodrome football stadium and there will be plenty of opportunities to see the riders as they make their way around the city. The course takes in the Corniche, the Vieux-Port and a climb up to the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde cathedral.

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Tour de France 1936 © Agence Rol [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons Tour de France 1936 © Agence Rol [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

HISTORY OF THE TOUR DE FRANCE

The first Tour de France

At just after 3pm on 1 July 1903, 60 cyclists lined up in Montgeron to the south-east of Paris to embark on the first Tour de France. The cyclists rode through the night for 467 kilometres to complete the epic first stage to Lyon. When Maurice Garin and Émile Pagie crossed the line the next morning after 18 hours of cycling only one minute separated them. This exciting climax to the first-ever stage would ensure the Tour’s lasting popularity.

Garin won two more of the six stages and took the Tour title by almost three hours, a margin that still hasn’t been beaten. Despite the start being delayed by two weeks due to a lack of interest among cyclists, 20,000 fans turned out to cheer Garin into the Paris Vélodrome on 18 July. Only 20 other riders completed the race.

The development of Le Tour

For L’Auto, the magazine that had organised and promoted the race, and its editor Henri Desgrange, the race had been a huge success and would help to reverse its falling circulation. By 1933 sales had increased 40-fold to more than 800,000. A year later Desgrange’s instinct was to call the whole thing off. The Tour had become a monster. Such was the devotion of fans to their chosen riders that cheating was rife.

In the early days the thinking had been that the Tour should as far as possible follow the outline of France, which meant conquering the Alps and the Pyrénées. So in a move that could have put an end to the Tour, Desgrange gambled in 1910 on organising a stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Bayonne in the Pyrénées that would include the Col de Tourmalet (2,115 metres).

Cycling through the Alps during the 2014 Tour de France © ASO/B.Bade Cycling through the Alps during the 2014 Tour de France © ASO/B.Bade

Octave Lapize, riding a gearless bike, was first over the Col du Tourmalet, despite having to get off and push at one point, and he went on to win the stage and the Tour. Since then the col has been included 79 times. The massive Col du Galibier in the Alps (2,645 metres) followed a year later.

It was during the 1919 Tour, the first after four years of war that the yellow jersey for the leader in the general classification was awarded for the first time.

Gradually the race became more professional and individual riders known as tourists-routiers were replaced by trade-sponsored teams. However, the latter were banned in 1930 because of fears that technological advances were giving them an unfair advantage, so riders had to compete in national teams. The ban remained until 1962.

Le Tour during the two World Wars

During the slaughter of World War I there had been no question of holding the Tour. In World War II the occupying Germans were keen that things continued as normal, but L’Auto refused requests to hold the Tour.

The Tour returned in 1947 after a seven-year absence, but L’Auto lost the rights to run it because France’s first post-war leader, General Charles de Gaulle, believed the magazine had collaborated with the Germans. Rights were eventually granted to the Amaury Sport Organisation, which still runs the event.

The Tour de France today

The Tour continues to grow in importance and has become a worldwide phenomenon. The race is now covered by 2,000 journalists and is televised in 190 countries, of which 60 transmit live coverage. Inevitably such a high profile attracts those with a point to make.

Like this? You might also enjoy:

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