On Sunday July 27, 2014, the 101st Tour de France ends on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. It has been a particularly challenging event; there have been spectacular crashes, and very bad weather. A crash at the end of the first stage took out one of the favorites, Britain’s Mark Cavendish, who was unable to ride the next day. Since then, several other race favorites have also withdrawn from the Tour because of injury: Luxumburg’s Andy Schleck, Britain’s Kenya-born Christopher Froome, Spain’s Alberto Contador, and America’s Andrew Talansky. Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali wears the leader’s yellow jersey and is expected to ride down the Champs-Elysées as the winner. Much to the delight of French cycling fans, two French riders are racing for the second and third spots on the podium: Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Péraud.
The first Tour de France was organized in 1903 to increase circulation of L’Auto, a daily sports newspaper. Initially envisioned as a five-stage race that started and ended in Paris, the stages went through the night and finished the following afternoon; cyclists found that format very daunting, so no one entered. Henri Desgrange, the newspaper editor, changed the race to a more feasible 19 days, and the Tour debuted on July 1, 1903. The race is run in a clockwise fashion in even years, counterclockwise in odd years; the Tour has started in other countries, such as Germany, and England. The Tour has been held every year, with the exceptions of World War I and II.
There are 19 stages over 21 days, with flat stages, hilly stages, and the ever popular mountain stages in the Alps and the Pyrénées. The most challenging stages are
those that climb Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux, the Col du Tourmalet. The most visited mountain is the Col du Galibier, located in the Alps near Grenoble; it is the ninth highest paved road in the Alps.
Besides the yellow jersey, awarded daily to the rider who has the lowest elapsed time, and then overall at the end of the race, there are other categories that have their own jerseys. The best in the mountains wears a white jersey with red polka dots; the best young rider wears a white jersey. The most aggressive rider is awarded daily with a special number – white on red – to wear the next day. In addition, there is a jersey
for the rider who collects the most points during the stages and there is a special jersey designation for the best team.
The last stage of the Tour de France concludes in Paris, when the cyclists race through the streets of the capital. If the competition for the yellow jersey is concluded, the winner will often enjoy a glass of champagne just before finishing the race and climbing the podium. So, as you watch the cyclists cruise up the Champs-Elysées, lift your own glass to celebrate such a storied bicycle race.