What are the reasons why the Tour de France captivates so many people year after year, despite the many scandals and doping problems?
The Tour de France takes place in July. This month the school holidays start in France and many other European countries. Many professionals take vacation and have time to come to the Tour de France route with their families. In addition, the race does not cost any entry. Individual areas in the stage start and finish locations are excluded. The fans can experience the best racing cyclists in the world up close, often not even separated by a barricade. For this, you sometimes take on great exertion in order to get the best places on the race-decisive sections of the route. It is not uncommon for countless fans to camp on the high mountain passes of the Alps and Pyrenees days before the drivers arrive. They not only look forward to the field of drivers, but also enjoy the advertising caravan. The colorfully decorated vehicles of the Tour de France sponsors distribute sweets and other small gifts to the waiting fans. But also thrown away drinking bottles (»bidons«) and refreshment bags (»musettes«) by the drivers are coveted souvenirs.
In addition, thanks to its long history, the Tour de France is firmly rooted in France and its neighboring countries. It is the countless stories of heroism, drama and passion that fascinate the French and fans around the world. The mishap of Eugène Christophe at the Tour de France in 1913 is one such example. On the descent from Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees, he damaged the fork of his bicycle in a collision and had to walk the 14 km down to the valley. Once there, Christophe maderepairshis bicycle in hard work in a small forge. The regulations forbade him to accept outside help. He lost hours through the repair work and the commissioners also punished him with three minutes because a little boy had operated the bellows in the forge. Particularly bitter for Christophe, who went down in history as the »Smith of the Tour«, was the fact that until his mishap he was placed in a promising position in the overall standings and had the best chance of winning the 1913 title. Ultimately, he finished seventh in Paris.
Raymond Poulidor (* 1936, † 2019) was also very popular in France. The French competed 14 times in the Tour de France, finished three times second and five times third, but never won the race. Even a day in the yellow jersey was denied, as it was repeatedly thrown back due to defects and unfortunate falls, among other things. Nonetheless, he won the hearts of the French more than his compatriot Jacques Anquetil, who was much more successful at the same time and was a five-time winner of the Tour de France.
Laurent Fignon (* 1960, † 2010) also became a tragic hero in the 1989 Tour de France. The Frenchman was in the lead until the last stage, an individual time trial with the finish line on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. He was 50 seconds ahead of the American Greg LeMond (* 1961). However, he was able to make up so much time in the fight against the clock that he had a full 8 seconds ahead of Fignon at the finish. To date, that is the narrowest margin with which a Tour de France was decided.
But the audience’s interest is not only in the battle for the podium, but also in the weaker drivers who struggle with great effort and time lag over the high mountain passes. The last-placed driver in the overall classification is given special attention. Reporters and journalists report extensively on the so-called Red Lantern bearer (“Lanterne Rouge”) and this, like the best drivers, receives an entry in the history books. In 2018, for example, the American Lawson Craddock (* 1992) fellat the beginning of the first stage and suffered a tear in the collarbone. He continued the race and finished the stage a long way behind in last place. With great pain but with great media attention, he then tormented his way to Paris and was celebrated for his last place just like the Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (* 1986).
But the daily struggle for the stage win also inspires the masses on the roadside. Can the outliers make the victory among themselves? Or will the mostly small top group (“tête de la course”) be caught up and sprinted over by the field (“peloton”) that is chasing you just before the devil’s rag (“Flamme Rouge”), which shows the last kilometer? Most of the time this is the case, but individual drivers try again and again. Always in the hope of achieving a long-awaited stage victory through a successful breakaway attempt. This passion for racing is also noticeable off the track. Many private individuals, above all farmers, but also entire municipalities and regions, erect real works of art in fields and meadows next to the route,
In addition, many artists have taken up the Tour de France theme in their works. In Germany, the band »Kraftwerk« memorialized this race in the 1980s with the song »Tour de France« and in 2003 with a complete album. But the artist Horst Brozy also regularly depicts special moments and moments during a Tour de France in his works.