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Our Tour de France coverage will feature extracts from John Wilcockson’s book, “Speed Read: Tour de France,” to deepen your knowledge of the race through the next three weeks, starting with this Introduction.
Most-Watched Sporting Event
The Tour de France is the most-watched annual sports event in the world. More than half a million spectators line the roadside every day in the three week race, while a daily average of 166 million people watch the race on television in one hundred countries. The estimated total viewership of 3.5 billion is similar to that of the Summer Olympics and soccer’s World Cup— though their maximum viewership on a single day was 593 million for the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies and 695 million for the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil.
The Tour de France, often regarded as one of the most demanding athletic contests ever invented, takes place on closed roads and has up to six hours of racing per day through some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. The winner is the rider with the lowest accumulated time for the twenty-one separate stages of racing. The Tour was founded in 1903 by a French sports newspaper and was originally held on a course that connected six major cities in France, starting and finishing in Paris. The Tour still finishes in Paris every year, but sometimes has several days of racing in nearby countries. By visiting every part of France over the years, the Tour has become a national institution, usually attended by the French president. It has been held every year except for a four-year break during World War I and a seven-year hiatus for World War II.
The Tour, held in July, is the centerpiece of the professional cycling season, which starts in January with Australia’s Tour Down Under and ends in October at China’s Tour of Guangxi. Only the very best professional teams (with eight riders per team) are selected to compete at the Tour. Its most famous competitors are the five-time winners Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault of France, Eddy Merckx of Belgium, and Miguel Indurain of Spain.
Buy the book here.