The Tour de France is the biggest race in the world and newcomers to the race are quickly impressed. No doubt within days you'll read one of those "the race is so much bigger than anything else I've ridden" quotes from a young rider, whether they’re referring to the scale of the organisation, the giant roadside crowds or the effort required just to hold position in the bunch.
In his first Tour de France Mark Cavendish dropped back to the team car to get a mechanic to stick some black tape on the screen of his power meter because he was he getting distracted by the amount of watts needed just to stay with the bunch on the small climbs.
Moreno Argentin had won Liège-Bastogne-Liège three times and the World Championships too. But when he showed up at the Tour de France for the first time in 1990 he declared that "The Giro d'Italia is like nursery school, the Tour de France is like university". And that's from an Italian.
If the riders are impressed, so is everyone else, all over the world. It's probably the only bike race your neighbour can name and will ask you about. The race reaches people the sport doesn't usually touch. Last year there were 121 television channels present as well as many newspapers, news agencies and of course, websites. Over 2,000 journalists try to bring you a story every day. And of course many people will go and see for themselves, an estimated 12-15 million spectators watch the Tour from the roadside every year.
First mover advantage
There are older races but in 1903 the Tour de France was the first of the three Grand Tours to be created. It quickly became a promotional success thanks to lyrical newspaper reports that enthralled the French public every day.
The Giro d'Italia started in 1909 but the early editions of the race took place against a backdrop of high illiteracy rates and the newspaper organising the race wasn't printed daily as the market wasn't big enough for sports daily back then. Over time a host of factors combined to ensure a virtuous circle of success whereby the Tour attracts most of the best riders, a bigger audience and so inspires the best racing.
Tour de France Corp
Bigger doesn't always mean better, the Tour can have its overbearing sides too. The self-contained "village" can be too exclusive, the publicity caravan is so big that apparently the race has to avoid the smaller roads of France, meaning some exciting climbs and stunning vistas are missed.
Plus the prize has become so big that riders and teams often play it safe with their tactics. Bold attacks and surprise moves can be rare amongst the favourites because this is a race nobody can afford to lose. A top-10 position in Paris is a substantial result but watching rider "defend" seventh place overall doesn't usually make for memorable racing.
The Tour de France is more than just a race. July offers a festival of cycling, and at times it's a soap opera with many different plot lines. There's the intense battle for stages and jerseys of course. But you'll also get tales of those struggling to finish despite injuries, and the cast often goes beyond the racers, there might be the commissaire tasked with ruling on a controversial sprint finish and new bikes and tech will be unveiled in July.
Let the show begin!
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