The Tour de France
is the pinnacle of professional cycle racing. It’s where legends are borne and rascals exposed. It’s an epic physical challenge that combines endurance, strength, stamina and speed.
Riders like the Kenya born and raised four-time champion, Chris Froome have experienced the dark side of the race. Others have gone to extraordinary lengths to claim the yellow jersey - some legal, others not so much.
Right now, the best cyclists in the world are competing in the 106th
edition of a race known as the Tour de France 2019.
In recognition of the men who are competing in the arduous 3,460 km course, let’s take a look at some of the remarkable facts and figures that have made the Tour de France a household name:
Smashing Racial Barriers
It took more than 108 years for an affable Guadeloupe resident to smash the racial barrier at the Tour de France. In 2011 Yohann Gène became the first black cyclist to take part in the race. The talented sprinter competed regularly after that, achieving his best finish in 2017.
Alcohol as a Stimulant
As most of you probably know, doping has become synonymous with the Tour de France - largely thanks to the sophisticated doping system used by the disgraced Lance Armstrong and his team.
What’s more interesting is that performance enhancing drugs were part of the Tour right from its inception. Rather than chemicals, cyclists would quaff copious amounts of liquor in the belief it would act as a simulant.
Amphetamines Claim a Life
Five or so decades later and amphetamines became the drug of choice. One cyclist paid the ultimate price in his quest for glory. During the 1967 race, British rider Tom Simpson suffered a fatal heart attack on the climb up Mount Ventoux.
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Tonedron - which is today’s equivalent of crystal meth - together with high levels of alcohol were found in his system, substances that combined to create the lethal cocktail that ended his life.
The 2018 Tour De France was marred by the shocking behaviour of unruly fans. Chris Froome was not only booed, mooned and spat at; one particularly irate fan punched him in the face.
If that wasn’t alarming enough, locals crowded Vincenzo Nibali on a hair-raising descent, so much so he ploughed into the back of a motorbike. The result? A cracked vertebra and the end of the race for the former champion.
However unacceptable, the latest incidents pale in significance when compared to the 1904 event. During that race fans actually attacked riders with sticks. They also poured broken glass and thumb tacks onto the road to puncture the tyres!
Most Audacious Cheat
Some of the most audacious examples of cheating happened in the early days of the Tour. In fact, a fellow called Hippolyte Aucouturier was probably the cheekiest of all.
The professional racing cyclist from France actually attached a wire to the rear bumper of a car and forced the other end into a cork which he gripped in his teeth. That way he got a speedy lift to the next stage but arrived before the match officials… and his cover was blown!
The Fastest Race… Kinda!
These days cyclists can reach speeds of up 40 kmph in short sharp bursts. In 2005 the average speed was 41.7 kmph but guess who was leading the race? Lance Armstrong of course.
The now notorious American rode the 3592,5 km course in just over 86 hours and 15 minutes, a course record that for obvious reasons was later annulled.
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