Le Tour De Facts | 15 Incredible Things You Never Knew About the Tour De France
From Greg LeMond's shotgun pellets to the Gendarmes and Pamela Anderson...
But when you start looking back through Tour de France history, you'll see that such incredible happenings are pretty much par for the course when it comes to the world's biggest bike race.
Here are 15 incredible Tour de France facts that you probably never knew about la Grande Boucle.
1) Greg LeMond won the Tour de France in 1989 with 35 shotgun pellets embedded in his body
The pellets were the result of a "hunting accident" two years before, which is immortalised in the pages of the LA Times, which in 1987 published an article stating:
"Greg LeMond, who last summer became the first American to win the Tour de France cycling race, was accidentally shot in the back by his brother-in-law Monday while on a hunting expedition and is expected to be hospitalized one to two weeks.
"The cyclist was hunting with his brother-in-law, Patrick Blades, and uncle, Rodney Barber, the son of the ranch owner. Blades fired a shotgun at a turkey and hit LeMond, who collapsed."
LeMond had to undergo two full hours of surgery and an intense recovery period to get back to his best, which of course, he eventually did. We can't confirm whether or not his relationship with his brother-in-law was quite as lucky.
2) While racing le Tour Italian cyclist Mario Cipollini taped a picture of Pamela Anderson to his handlebars for inspiration
Impractical? Definitely. A lot of work to achieve something that will ultimately make the rest of the peloton think you're a creep? Absolutely. But none of the above put Mario Cipollini off sticking Pamela Anderson to his handlebars with the hope that it would "boost his testosterone levels" and give him an advantage over other cyclists while he was climbing. He did win 12 individual stages of Le Tour between 1993 and 1999 of course, so maybe he was right. Though to be honest, it was probably more the training that helped him win rather than the fact he was physically turned on during the race.
3) With 36 wins, the French have taken more titles than any other nation at Le Tour de France
Though of course, that also includes eight of the first nine Tours, with the only one they missed out on from 1903-1911 being the 1909 Tour to Francois Faber, who was from Luxembourg.
After that, the French didn't win again until the one and only Henri Pelissier took it in 1923. The French then enjoyed a dominative spell in the 1930s, in the 1950s through Louison Bobet and 60s throughs Jacques Anquetil, and of course in the 70s and 80s through Bernard Hinault.
The French haven't actually won a Tour since the last of Hinault's wins in 1985, but they still have easily the most wins with 36, ahead of Belgium's 18, Spain's 12 and Italy's 10. Luxembourg and Britain are tied on five. Maybe Chris Froome can change that.
Still, we don't imagine France being all that keen on the idea of Team Sky and UK riders taking over the dominance of their race. Which is possibly why Bernard Hinault hit the headlines recently by claiming that all riders in the Tour de France should boycott the race if the organisers allowed Chris Froome to compete while there was still a question over the results of his anti-doping scandal. Duly, Team Sky said he didn't know what he was talking about, nobody boycotted, the UCI dropped the anti-doping case against Froome, and the Kenyan-born Englishman is racing once again in the Tour de France.
4) Four riders have died while competing in the Tour
Fabio Casartelli tragically crashed at 88kph on the descent of the Col de Portet d'Aspet, France, during the 15th stage of the 1995 Tour de France, and Tom Simpson died of a heart attack after taking a lethal combination of alcohol and amphetamines and attempting the climb Mont Ventoux in 1967. He was the undisputed leader of the British team.
In 1935 Francisco Cepeda crashed into a ravine and in 1910 Adolphe Helière managed to drown during the race. It was during one of the rest days apparently.
5) The oldest stage winner was Firmin Lambot in 1922. He was 36 years old
Cycling is a young man's game it seems, though not when Firmin Lambot was around. Lambout was a Belgian rider who twice won the Tour de France. His second win was particularly notable as he became the first rider to win the Tour without winning a single stage. Lambot was 36 at the time, and was the oldest winner of any Grand Tour until Chris Horner won the Vuelta in 2013. He remains, however, the oldest man to win Le Tour. And it seems unlikely that'll change until Chris Froome turns 37.
6) The youngest stage winner was Henri Cornet in 1904. He was 19 years old
Henri Cornet was a French cyclist who was born in 1884, the same year that work had begun on the Statue of Liberty, Dr John Harvey Kellogg patented "flaked cereal" and Queen Victoria was the head of the British Emprire. Wait. This is meant to be about him being young, isn't it?
Well, Henri Cornet won a stage in 1904 when he was just shy of 20 years old. The newspaper L'Auto described him as "the joker", having wide-spaced eyes, a nose described as "trumpet-like" and as possessing a "generous" mouth. Descriptions were weird in 1904.
7) A Tour de France rider needs over 8000 calories a day
To put that into perspective, an average adult man should consume 2,800 calories a day. Over 8,000 calories means you could afford to have four Dominoes pizzas in one day, which we're sure they all do.
A couple of years ago we reported on a Norwegian journalist who decided to sit down and consume all of these 8,000 Tour de France calories in one sitting. If you, for some reason, would like to watch that, then here is a Norwegian journalist trying to eat a Tour de France diet. But you know what you're getting in for. You're going to be a person, watching another person, try and eat lots of food. So don't blame us for that content.
8) The heaviest rider to take part in Le Tour de France was Sweden's Magnus Bäckstedt at 97kg
97kg! Imagine trying to haul yourself up Alpe d'Huez when you weight 97kg. Still, you'll find no fat shaming here. Because obviously he wasn't fat. He rode the Tour de France. This is also a man we're talking about who won Paris-Roubaix in 2004. Have you ever won a famous one-day classic? On cobbles? We didn't think so (apologies if we're wrong), so stop making fun of poor Magnus. He also managed to bag a stage win at le Tour de France in 1998.
He was eliminated from the 2008 Tour de France for being too slow though, saying: "The first 60km were up and down, but I was going fine. Then there was this fourth-category climb and about halfway up I was suddenly short of breath. It was like I shut down from the waist down. I went straight out of the back. I calmed down and got back on top of it. There was 100km to go, but I went OK. I could see the numbers on the power meter and they were normal for the kind of effort you need to get to the finish on your own inside the time limit. I think I would have made it too, but there was a real steep hill just before the finish and my breathing and legs went again. I ended up four minutes outside the cut-off."
The old cut off. It's happened to many good riders before, and it'll happen to many good riders again.
9) 13,000 Gendarmes (French Police) cover the Tour de France every year
And their protection reaches far outside of France too. They even came to Yorkshire in 2013 to police the race in England - as if they hadn't had enough of the Brits already given the endless years of having to deal with drunken university skiers and snowboarders in the Three Valleys.
10) In 1947 Albert Bourlon performed the longest solo breakaway: 253km
This is absolute chaos. But we've checked it a number of times, and it is correct. In 1947, Albert Bourlon, a French cyclist who only ever won one stage of the Tour de France, broke away almost directly from the start of the 14th stage of the Tour de France and rode solo 253km, or 157 miles, to the win. You've got to admire the spirit on that one.
11) 15 million spectators hit the route of the Tour every year
And they turn up wearing, and doing, all sorts of nonsense. Some throw urine, some dress up as penises, others, normal people, just stand at the side of the road and watch the cycling. The Tour de France, in oh so many ways, does sometimes raise a lot of questions about humanity.
Anyway, as well as all those people at the side of the road, an average of 785,000 people watched each stage of the race on Eurosport last year, with 7.3 million TV viewers tuning in to watch the final stage on the Champs-Elysees. This is a popular old bike race.
12) Throughout the 3 week race the peloton uses over 790 tyres in total
And 99% of them are put towards repairing Chris Froome's bike on minor errors we somehow never seems to lose time.
13) The overall winner of the race receives a purse of €500,000
Wearing yellow will bring you the equivalent of £426,500, which he'd usually split this with his team-mates or domestiques, plus an extra €500 for every day spent in yellow. All other wearers of yellow get €300 each day. This is a lot of money of course, but it's nowhere near the likes of the FIFA World CUp, where a reported $400 million was handed out.
If you come second in the overall at the Tour, you get €200,000, third takes €100,000, fourth €70,000 and fifth €50,000.
14) The first Tour de France in 1903 counted only six stages and attracted 70 entrants. Riders would start at night and pedal through to the following afternoon
It was, of course, started to generate revenue for a newspaper. Ironic in someways, given that the coverage of it online by many news sites is probably now putting a lot of road cycling print mag's to the knife.
The Tour gradually built up from 1903 of course. A couple of years ago we caught up with David Coventry, who wrote a historical novel about the first ever English speaking team to race in the Tour de France. What with it being France and all, they of course weren't from England, but from New Zealand and Australia. It's a super interesting story and one you can find out more about by reading the full piece.
15) In the 20's the riders would often share cigarettes while riding. The were believed to help "open the lungs" before big climbs
We've all been there, though, haven't we? We don't smoke. But a few pints down and you might have a puff of your mate's cigarette. Or you might buy a pack specially for the night out only to be horrified by the decision the morning after. Just think what was going through these lads heads then? It was 1929, they were probably firing back the whisky before races, so smoking on the bike? Just the natural next step really.
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