14 Questions You’ve Always Had About The Tour de France

How riders pee on the bike, the age of the youngest winner - no matter what your questions are about the Tour de France, we’ve got your back.

Molly Hurford |

Let’s be honest: Pro cycling is difficult to watch and enjoy without some basic knowledge. But once you’ve figured out the essential logistics – What’s up with the jersey colours? What’s a breakaway? Which channel is this race even on? – a few more nuanced questions still linger. Here are answers to 14 things you’ve likely wondered about the Tour de France, which we hope get you thinking about even more questions!

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How do Tour de France Riders pee?

Long, hot, July days mean the pros are hydrating a lot on the bike, which means bathroom breaks are inevitable.

In the first five to 10 minutes of a race, when the pace is more leisurely, “riders pull to the side of the road, pull their shorts down just like you would underwear – you know, pull front down, do your business,” says retired pro cyclist Ted King, who’s ridden the Tour de France several times. During this neutral roll out, King says, there’s plenty of time to catch back on to the peloton before the race starts in earnest.

Once the pace picks up, riders still use this tactic to pee while racing. “It’s a lot easier to wait for a lull in the race when a big fraction of the peloton pulls to the side of the road rather than doing it solo, because that solo chase is tough!” King says.

But nature calling doesn’t mean riders even have to slow down: You can also pee off the bike while riding. (Too much information? Maybe, but now you’ll know why riders sometimes look awkward when they’re coasting.) “If peeing to the right, your right leg is in a 6 o’clock position, left at 12. Left hand on the handlebars, right hand holds the shorts down, and coast while relieving yourself,” King advises.

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Who’s won the most Tours de France?

That depends whether you’re counting titles that have been taken away (cough—Lance—cough). If you’re not, says Christopher Thompson, author of The Tour de France: A Cultural History, the answer is a four-way tie between Jacques Anquetil, Miguel Indurain, Eddy Merckx, and Bernard Hinault. They’re in good company.

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Has the Tour ever not happened since it started in 1903?

Only the two World Wars caused the race to be put on hold, says Thompson. All in all, battles cost the world 11 editions of the Tour: WWI broke out a few days after the 1914 Tour, he says, and didn’t run again until 1919; it again went on hiatus during WWII from 1940 to 1946, running again in 1947—two years after the end of the war.

“WWI was a war of attrition and the French were fighting the whole time—and there were several Tour winners who were killed in the trenches,” he says. “But in WWII, France was defeated and occupied quite early, and that was different. There was a government that went along with the Nazis, so there was some racing to prove that things were normal under the occupation, but the Tour wasn’t held. After, France was so devastated by WWII that it took a while to get restarted.”

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Why is the leader’s jersey yellow?

Simple, says Thompson: L’Auto, the newspaper that first started and sponsored the race, was printed on yellow paper, so it was essentially an advertising strategy. (That’s also why the Giro d’Italia leader’s jersey is pink—the newspaper that created the Giro was printed on pink paper.)

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The Tour de France isn’t run by L’Auto anymore, but current organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) is still part of a media group Éditions Philippe Amaury (EPA). ASO also organises the Vuelta a España and Paris-Nice.

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Has anyone died in the Tour?

Sadly, four riders have passed away over the course of the race’s history. In 1910, Adolphe Heliére drowned on a rest day; in 1934, Francisco Cepeda crashed into a ravine on a descent; in 1967, Tom Simpson passed away after a heart attack; and in 1995, Fabio Casartelli was killed after crashing and hitting his head.

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What do Tour riders do on rest days?

They ride! At least, they go for short rides to keep their legs from cramping up.

Max Testa, MD, chief medical officer for Team BMC and former team doctor with 7-Eleven and Motorola, says that the short rides (which can be up to three hours for Tour racers!) help keep inflammation at bay and keep muscles ready for another hard day in the saddle.

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Why isn’t there a women’s Tour de France?

“Many Europeans define sport—especially a difficult sport like cycling—as a masculine thing, only something hyper-virile men were capable of,” Thompson says. “So even as women were getting into sport—running, tennis—European cycling remained a male monopoly with rare exceptions.”

There was a women’s Tour in the ’80s, but it was short-lived. Today, there is a women’s race during the Tour called La Course, but it’s a one-day only event on the last day of Tour racing. But never say never.

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How many people watch the Tour?

According to the organisers, 3.5 billion people tune in to watch the Tour each year, in 190 countries. (To put that into perspective, the Superbowl is only watched by 114.4 million viewers.)

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How old was the oldest Tour de France racer, and how young was the youngest?

Both distinctions occurred in 1904: Henri Paret was the oldest competitor at age 50 when he competed in 1904, while 20-year-old Henri Cornet was the youngest. Cornet was also the youngest winner. The oldest winner was in 1922, when 36-year-old Belgian Firmin Lambot took the yellow jersey.

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Do TDF racers make their stage data public?

Sometimes—but don’t count on all of them to spend their evenings uploading. Still, you can keep an eye on some top pros’ Strava accounts: Here are the ones associated with Taylor Phinney, Laurens ten Dam, Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet and Andre Greipel.

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What tyre pressure do the pros run at the Tour?

Every racer and mechanic has a specific (usually top-secret) tyre pressure that he or she considers to be the ‘best,’ but there are some general guidelines.

Garmin-Sharp’s mechanic Geoff Brown told Bicycling,” In general, with all of those variables [like weather and riders’ personal preference], that tyre pressure is 8 to 8.5 bar for the road stages, and then 9.5 to 10 bar for the time-trial stages. And we drop that by 10 or 15 for rainy days.”

They run about 0.5 bar lower in the front for more control as well, and with tubular tyres, they tend to run slightly lower pressures. Clinchers need to be kept around 7.5 to 8.5 bar in order to avoid pinch-flatting.

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How much do Tour de France bikes weigh?

In the 1900s, the bikes that Tour de France cyclists pedaled up and down mountains weighed in at a whopping 18kg each. In fact, Fiets, a Dutch cycling magazine, showcased a bike from the 1903 race weighing in at 18kg… with a fixed gear. Today, bikes weigh in at just under 7kg—but not any lower, since the UCI’s minimum bike weight is 6.8kg.

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Why aren’t there more South Africans in the Tour?

While there isn’t a definitive answer to this, in part, there are fewer Saffers in the Tour because cycling has historically been more of a pastime than a competitive endeavour here in South Africa. Compared to Europe, where children are groomed for competitive racing from a young age, it’s hard for South African racers to compete. Added to that, the cost of competing is higher: Racers need to go where the big races are, and that almost always means moving to Europe.

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