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Tour de France preview, part 2: The Tour in numbers

Cycling, and the Tour de France in particular, is all about numbers. Body weight. Power output. VO2 max. Many of these numbers are irrelevant to all but the geekiest of fans, but they are all important in their own way – although none more so than the most critical number-keeper of them all: the clock.

At the end of 21 days of gruelling racing, the winner can expect to have spent over 80 hours racing at an average speed of around 41 kph (and a maximum of at least twice that on the fastest descents). At this pace, you would run the 100 metres nearly a second faster than Usain Bolt. (Slow-coach.)

Three weeks. Two wheels. One living hell. Welcome to Le Tour. Here are a few numbers to convey a brief history of this most challenging of races.

This year’s race

97 – This year sees the 97th running of the Tour de France.

3,642 – Total race distance (in kilometres).

21 – Days of racing, consisting of one prologue and twenty stages. There are also two rest days.

23 – There are 23 high mountain passes to negotiate (category two, one and hors catégorie).

2 – Number of times the Col du Tourmalet will be climbed, as part of a route which celebrates 100 years of racing in the Pyrenees.

2,115 – In metres, the height of the Tourmalet, the highest point on this year’s course.

227.5 – In kilometres, the longest stage on this year’s route, stage six from Montargis to Gueugnon.

13.15 – In kilometres, the total length of the seven cobbled sections which will provide the peloton with a unique and potentially hazardous challenge on stage three from Wanze to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut.

History of the race

Seven-time winner Lance Armstrong

1903 – The year of the first Tour de France.

56 – Number of different riders who have won the race, 20 of whom are multiple winners.

7 – Lance Armstrong holds the record for the most wins, winning seven consecutive races from 1999 to 2005.

8 – In seconds, the narrowest margin of victory, when Greg LeMond beat Laurent Fignon in 1989.

36 France has produced more race winners (36) than any other country, but none since Bernard Hinault‘s fifth win in 1985.

6 Erik Zabel has the most wins in the green jersey points competition, winning six times in a row from 1996 to 2001.

34 – Five-time winner Eddy Merckx holds the record for individual stage wins, with 34.

1 – Merckx is also the only man to win the yellow, green and polka dot jerseys in the same year (1969).

4 – Total number of deaths during the race. (1910: Adolphe Helière, drowned. 1935: Francisco Cepeda, plunged down a ravine. 1967: Tom Simpson, heart failure related to amphetamines. 1995: Fabio Casartelli, crashed on a descent.)

16Joop Zoetemelk holds the record for most race starts, with 16 starts. He won one Tour de France, was runner-up six times and – equally impressively – finished each of his 16 races.

3 – Only three times in the race’s history has a single rider led the race from start to finish, the last occasion being in 1935.

Runners and riders

Defending champion Alberto Contador

198 – The number of riders who will start the race, in 22 teams of nine.

35 – France is the most-represented country, with 35 starters. (Spain is just behind, with 32).

31 – In total, 31 countries are represented at this year’s Tour, including participants from Japan (Yukiya Arashiro), Lithuania (Ignatas Konovalovas) and New Zealand (Julian Dean).

1 – The race number which will be worn by defending champion Alberto Contador.

156 – The number of riders who finished the 2009 race (42 retirements).

10 – The winners of ten of the last eleven Tours – Armstrong (1999-2005), Contador (2007 and 2009) and Carlos Sastre (2008) – will line up on the start ramp in Rotterdam. (2006 winner Oscar Pereiro has been left out of Contador’s Astana squad.)

39Christophe Moreau, the oldest man in this year’s race, is nearly twice the age of Fabio Felline, who at 20 is the youngest.

Brits in the Tour

Mark Cavendish, seen here winning the final stage of the 2009 Tour

8 – Number of British riders competing in this year’s Tour, the most since 1968. (The Brits are David Millar, Jeremy Hunt, Daniel Lloyd, Charlie Wegelius, Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, Steve Cummings and Geraint Thomas.)

4 – Bradley Wiggins finished fourth in last year’s race, the joint-highest ever finish by a British rider (Robert Millar also finished fourth in 1984).

124 – Wiggins’s only other Tour finish came in 2006, when he finished a lowly 124th.

0 – Wiggins has never won a stage at the Tour.

10Mark Cavendish set a new record for Tour stage wins by a British rider (ten) last year, adding six victories to his four in 2008. He is among the favourites for this year’s green jersey.

4 – Four Brits have worn the yellow jersey at some stage during the Tour (although none have won): Tom Simpson (1962), Chris Boardman (1994, 1997, 1998), Sean Yates (1994) and David Millar (2000).

3 – The Tour has visited Britain three times: 1974, 1994 and 2007.

Watch out for my preview of the key riders (tomorrow) and the stages which will most likely determine the outcome of the race (Saturday), and keep reading here for regular race analysis as the Tour progresses. For the first part of my Tour preview, click on the link below:

Part 1: Who to support?

For full coverage of the Tour de France, I would recommend either the official website or alternatively steephill.tv as your one-stop shop for race reports, photos and videos.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

7 Responses to Tour de France preview, part 2: The Tour in numbers

  1. Terrific post. I cannot wait for the TDF.
    As a student in 1991 I worked a summer on a campsite in Luz St-Sauveur, in the ‘foothills’ of the Tourmalet, and saw Laurent Fignon go flying past the campsite.
    And in 1986 I saw the finish in Paris when LeMond beat Hinault. It seemed like most of Brittany had turned out to support Hinault in his final tour. Amazing

    • Tim says:

      Fignon has cancer now, doesn’t he? Very sad indeed, and a shame that he is remembered more for losing the 1989 Tour in such dramatic fashion than for his two previous wins.

      We watched the prologue when the Tour came to London three years ago. In glorious sunshine, I had a great spot in Hyde Park and got some good photos out of it. (I really must post them some time …) A wonderful day.

      I’m really excited about the Tour, even though I fear it will prove to be be a walk in the park (relatively speaking) for Contador. What do you think?

      • Jeremy Smith says:

        The 1989 finish to the Tour is one of the greatest moments in the wonderful history of the Tour. I agree that Contador is without a doubt the clear favourite, but there is a lot of talent in that field. Should be interesting.

        Looking forward to your posts!

  2. Pingback: Tour de France preview, part 3: The contenders « The armchair sports fan

  3. I was thrilled (and not a little surprised) by Bradley Wiggins’ strong performance last year. He’s talking a good game today but surely not again?

    The best stages last year were the Schleck Brothers trying to attack Contador in the Alps and on Mt Ventoux but to no avail. Hoping for more of that.

    • Tim says:

      I would love Wiggo to do well, but his climbing form at the Giro looked terribly poor. I know he didn’t want to peak in May and two months is lots of time to find form, but if you compare him to where, say, Basso or Evans were form-wise, he wasn’t in the ballpark.

      Even last year Wiggo was just barely good enough to hang on in the high mountains – he certainly didn’t have the capacity to attack. It was only the fierce headwinds on Ventoux that helped neuter all the attacks a bit and allowed him to cling on to 4th. And this year’s third week looks even tougher than last year’s, so he will have to up his game again just to hold on.

      The Tourmalet stage (18) is this year’s Ventoux, and if the final order is still in doubt there will be much throwing of kitchen sinks on its slopes. Andy S in particular will be desperate to build a lead ahead of the following day’s ITT.

  4. Pingback: Tour de France preview, part 4: Key stages and prologue preview « The armchair sports fan

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