24 Fascinating Facts about the Tour de France

July in France is a month-long party as the Tour de France winds its way around the countryside for 23 days. This year, there’s even more reason to be festive, because this race marks its 100th running. To celebrate this milestone, here are 24 things you probably didn’t know about the Tour de France:

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1. While 2013 marks the 100th running of the Tour, the race is actually 110 years old. The race wasn’t run during the two World Wars.
 
2. Despite covering 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) over 21 days of riding, the time between first and second place has often been measured by mere seconds. Eight times, less than a minute separated first and second place. The closest was the 1989 Tour, when American Greg LeMond beat Frenchman Laurent Fignon by a mere 8 seconds.
 
3. Each day of the race is called a stage and is a race unto itself. Typically, the Tour is made up of 21 stages. Only three riders – Belgian Eddy Merckx, Frenchman Charles Pélissier, and Belgian Freddy Maertens – have won eight stages during a single Tour.
 
4. The 2005 Tour had the fastest average speed at 41.5 km per hour (25.8 mph), which is nearly double the slowest year, which was 1919 at 24.1 km per hour (15 mph).
 
5. Twenty-two teams participate in the race, and each team is made up of nine cyclists, meaning 198 riders (unless any pull out prior to the start). Rules mandate that each team member be dressed identically: the same team shorts, jersey, socks, shoes, gloves, and helmet.
 
6. The only exceptions are the leader jerseys. Most people know that the overall leader – that is, the rider with the lowest cumulative time, wears the yellow jersey. But there are other competitive classifications. The leader in points (a complicated system is used to calculate a rider’s “points”) wears a green jersey. The “King of the Mountain” wears a white jersey with red polka dots; it’s determined by a point system based on performance on mountain climbs. The rider under age 26 who has the lowest cumulative time wears a white jersey.
 
7. The King of the Mountain jersey is red polka dots because the original sponsor of the jersey, Chocolat Poulain, sold candy bars with polka dot wrapping.
 
8. There are two other “minor” competitive classifications that don’t get you a jersey, but a different colored number to pin to your jersey. First is the most combative rider of the day; the following day, he wears a number printed white on red, instead of the usual black on white. And the team classification goes to the team with the lowest cumulative time among their three best riders. The next day, that team would wear numbers printed black on yellow.
 
9. The Tour de France was created as a promotion for the French newspaper L’Auto-Velo. Because the pages of the paper were yellow, race organizers designated that the race leader’s jersey should be yellow, too. But originally, race leaders were indicated by green armbands. Race organizers thought the bands were too difficult to spot, hence the maillot jaune (French for yellow jersey) has become part of cycling lore.
 
10. Known as “The Cannibal,” Eddy Merckx of Belgium has won the most Tour stages at 34.
 
11. Tour de France riders have a gentlemen’s agreement that allows riders to take what’s called “pauses pipi” – or quick potty breaks – without trying to make up time on each other. And breaks are needed; a day’s race often lasts more than five hours.
 
12. During the early years of the Tour de France, gearing systems were banned. Cyclist would grind up steep hills on a single speed – or riders could stop, remove their chain and flip their rear wheel for another gear.
 
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