What Is the Tour de France?

What Is the Tour de France

Without a doubt, the most famous cycling race in the world is the Tour de France. Since 1903, the race has been held in France and its surrounding countries, occurring in 21 stages across 23 days, usually beginning at the end of June or the beginning of July, and coinciding with Bastille Day, the national holiday of France. Over the years, there have been hundreds of famous riders and dozens of notable events at the Tour de France, as well as a few major scandals. Read on below to learn all about the Tour de France.

  • Location: France and surrounding countries
  • First Race: 1903
  • Dates: Late June or Early July - Mid-to-Late July (annually)
  • Distance: Varies
  • Stages: 21
  • Length: 23 days
  • Most Rider Wins: Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Induráin (5 wins each)
  • Purse: €2.2 million ($2.7 million)


tour de france history

The Tour de France first started in 1903, and was actually more than simply an athletic event. The race was first conceived and sponsored by the French newspaper L’Auto, which created the event with the intent of garnering national interest in order to boost its sales, which were in heavy decline. Fortunately for L’Auto, the venture proved successful, and tens of thousands gathered to watch the race unfold.

The early years of the Tour de France were drastically different from the race of today. For one, there were fewer stages. Rather than the 21 stages of the modern race, the first Tour de France consisted of only six stages, which covered a total distance of 2,428 kilometers. Because of those long stages, the first Tour de France actually included periods of racing at night, as well as across rough and unpaved roads. Additionally, in the early years of the race, riders were not allowed to be members of a cycling team, and instead rode individually.

The first winner of the Tour de France was Maurice Garin, a part-time chimney sweep. Garin won by a margin of three hours, which to this day remains the largest winning margin ever, and won a prize of 3,000 francs for his victory, equivalent to around €12,000 in modern money. Today, the Tour de France’s prize purse is much larger, consisting of about €2.2 million, with €500,000 alone going to the winner of the race. In the modern day, the Tour de France is viewed by 10-11 billion annually, and most riders participate in teams of eight or nine, competing in a 21-stage race.


The Tour de France is, not unexpectedly, a race that occurs largely in France. However, over the course of its history, many editions of the Tour have started or ended in other countries surrounding France. Editions of the Tour which have started or ended outside of France, or will do so, include:

  • 1954: Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 1958: Brussels, Belgium
  • 1965: Cologne, West Germany
  • 1973: The Hague, Netherlands
  • 1975: Charleroi, Belgium
  • 1978: Leiden, Netherlands
  • 1980: Frankfurt, West Germany
  • 1982: Basel, Switzerland
  • 1987: West Berlin
  • 1989: Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
  • 1992: San Sebastián, Spain
  • 1996: Den Bosch, Netherlands
  • 1998: Dublin, Ireland
  • 2002: Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
  • 2004: Liège, Belgium
  • 2007: London, United Kingdom
  • 2009: Monte Carlo, Monaco
  • 2010: Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • 2012: Liège, Belgium
  • 2014: Leeds, United Kingdom
  • 2015: Utrecht, Netherlands
  • 2017: Düsseldorf, Germany
  • 2019: Brussels, Belgium
  • 2022: Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 2023: Bilbao, Spain
  • 2024: Florence, Italy


The specific details of the Tour de France, including its length, locations, and route, change annually. However, the format of the race is largely the same, consisting of 21 stages held over 23 days. Each stage is approximately a day long. The 21 stages over 23 days are divided into three categories: Mass Start, Time Trials, and Rest Days. There is a winner for each stage, and the cyclist with the most stage wins in the shortest timeframe wins the overall Tour.

Mass Start Stages

The mass start stages of the Tour are grouped into three categories: “flat,” “hilly,” and “mountain.” There are 19 mass start stages in the Tour de France: nine flat stages, three hilly stages, and seven mountain stages. Five of the mountain stages have what are known as “summit finishes” at the top of a mountain.

Time Trials

In addition to the mass start stages, time trials make up the remaining two days of the 21 stages. The time trials in the Tour de France are both individual time trials, and they often consist of the first overall stage (known as the prologue) and the penultimate or final stage.

Rest Days

The other two days out of the total 23 in the Tour that are not stage days are rest days. On these days, the cyclists recuperate and prepare for the upcoming stages. Rest days are often held at the beginning of a week, or at the end of a stage where there will be travel between two countries.

Classification Types

There are five main types of classifications that cyclists can win during the Tour de France, including:

  • General Classification
  • Mountains Classification
  • Points Classification
  • Young Rider Classification
  • Team Classification

General Classification

General classification is won by the rider in the Tour de France with the fastest cumulative time. It is the oldest and most-desired classification in the history of the Tour. The riders’ times are recorded after each stage, and the rider with the lowest cumulative time at the end of the final stage wins the general classification, and the coveted yellow jersey given to Tour de France winners.

Mountains Classification

Mountains classification was added to the Tour de France in 1933. These classifications are given out to riders who manage to reach the top of specified climbs on the race route. Points are awarded based on the difficulty of the climb, and the climbs are graded by difficulty from 1 (most difficult) to 4 (least difficult), as well as HC climbs (hors catégorie), which are harder than category 1 climbs and worth double points. The winner of the mountains classification receives the polka dot jersey.

Points Classification

The points classification was added to the Tour de France in 1953. In this classification, the first 15 riders to finish a stage receive a certain number of points, and at the end of the race, the rider with the most points in the category wins the green jersey. Flat stages offer more points for the points classification.

Young Rider Classification

Introduced in 1975, the young rider classification awards points to riders under a certain age. It is scored the same way as the general classification, and the winner of the young rider classification receives the white jersey.

Team Classification

Team classification has existed in the Tour de France since 1930. It is scored by taking the times of the top three finishers from each team at every stage, aside from the team time trial). The team with the lowest cumulative time earns the right to wear numbers with yellow backgrounds rather than white, but do not win a jersey.


In the modern Tour de France, riders typically compete in 20-22 teams, each of which has between eight and nine cyclists. This means that a total of 160-198 riders typically participate in the race.

Notable Champions

In the race’s long history, there have been many champions and strong competitors throughout the years. Some of the most notable race champions and the year(s) they won are:

  • Jacques Anquetil (1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964)
  • Eddy Merckx (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974)
  • Bernard Hinault (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985)
  • Miguel Induráin (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995)
  • Christopher Froome (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017)
  • Lance Armstrong (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)*

*Armstrong’s victories were famously stripped from him in 2012 after investigations proved that he had participated in illegal doping throughout the period of his wins.


What is the Tour de France?

The Tour de France is an annual cycling race that occurs in the month of July, in the country of France and its surrounding neighbors. The Tour de France consists of 21 stages over 23 days, and includes multiple winning classifications, such as general, mountains, points, young rider, and team classifications.

Who races in the Tour de France?

Approximately 22 different teams of eight riders compete in the Tour de France each year. These teams and riders are invited by the tournament based on their International Cycling Union rankings. Some teams that have shown promising results but are not at the top of the rankings are often invited as well, to provide a wild-card team for the race.

Who has won the most Tour de France races?

Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Induráin are all tied for the most Tour de France wins, at five each. Previously, Lance Armstrong was the cyclist with the most Tour de France wins, at seven straight victories. However, Armstrong’s wins were stripped from him in 2012 after he was found guilty of having engaged in doping throughout his winning career.