Le Tour de France – an annual sporting event on the other side of the world which has almost become an Australian passion! An opportunity to discover the beauty of the French countryside, the charm of the French people, the variety and savours of French cuisine and wine!
The 2018 Tour de France “Grand Départ” is on Saturday 7th July on Île de Noirmoutier, a small historical, picturesque island off the Atlantic coast of France. Immediately after the start the peloton travels to the mainland for three weeks of compelling racing. In a break with tradition of previous years, the whole race takes place in France, except for a short non-stop excursion into Spain near the end of Stage 16.
The first long week, from 7th to 15th July, moves mainly through the northern half of France, through the Loire Valley and Brittany, before heading northeast, via the great cathedral cities of Chartres and Amiens. On Sunday 15th July, the Tour moves over more than 20 km on sections of the notorious historic cobbled highways of French Flanders. These cobbled highways have been a feature of the Tour from very early days, and a number of stretches of old cobbled road have been preserved for the benefit of cycle racing.
The second week of the Tour, from 17th to 22nd July, will take riders from Annecy, the Jewel of the Alpine region, via an impressive number of Alpine passes and then down to the Rhone valley. From the small town of Saint Paul Trois Chateaux (which, in spite of its name, has only has one castle – due to an historical error of translation of the name of the Gallic tribe who lived there!) riders will cycle west across the mighty Rhone and the Cévennes, reaching eventually the historic walled city of Carcassone.
The final week of the Tour is essentially spent in the Pyrenees, whose peaks can be seen from Carcassonne on a clear day. Then, after time trials in the Basque country on 28th July, riders fly to Paris for the short final leg and the traditional sprint to the finish on the Champs Elysées.
A little bit of history …The race was first organized in 1903 to increase sales for a sports newspaper. The race has been held annually since, except for interruptions during both World Wars. As the Tour gained prominence and popularity, the race was lengthened and its reach began to extend around the globe. Participation expanded from a primarily French field, as male riders from all over the world began to participate in the race each year.
Australian riders have participated since 1914 – with Cadel Evans wearing the Maillot Jaune, the famous Yellow Jersey, and winning the event in 2011. The Australian presence this year will be even more impressive.