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Beer cheat, peeing, Donald Trump: Six facts about the Tour de France

We pick out some little-known stories about the famous cycling race ahead of this year’s event that begins on Friday

The Tour de France involves nearly 200 cyclists racing nearly 3,500 kilometres in just 23 days Pic: A.S.O./ Alex Broadway

This year’s Tour de France kicks off on Friday (July 1) in Copenhagen for the 109th edition of the world’s most famous cycling race. 

New this year is that the first-ever Tour de France Femmes will be staged. This all-women event will begin the day the men’s race ends on July 24 and will last for eight days. 

A previous women’s race, La Course, was launched in 2014 but after initially positive reviews was criticised for not being challenging enough, meaning it was overshadowed by the men’s race. 

In preparation for these two events, we pick out six facts and stories about the Grande Boucle – a French nickname for the race. 

Read more: 7 French expressions to talk about the Tour de France

The beer stand cheat

The Tour de France has long been linked to controversies around cheating, mainly in the form of doping. 

However, in 1935 French cyclist Julien Moineau found a more wholesome way to get an advantage. 

At that time it was not uncommon for the competitors to stop along the route for some refreshments, sometimes at cafes or stands. At one stage of the 1935 race, between Pau and Bordeaux and on a particularly hot day, the peloton (the main group of riders), spotted a beer stand that had been set up at the side of the road. 

They all dismounted for a hard-earned pint. All except Mr Moineau who continued on his way and went on to win the stage. It turned out that the stall had been set up by Mr Moineau’s friends as a deliberate ploy to distract his rivals. 

‘I look like a canary’

Many people may know the origins of the Tour’s famous yellow jersey (maillot jaune), which is worn during the race by the leader of the general classification and eventually the overall winner. 

It was first brought in in 1919 to help distinguish the race leader for the journalists covering the event and yellow was chosen in honour of L'Auto, the sports magazine that originally sponsored the race and which was printed on yellow paper. 

However, less known is the fact that the original yellow jersey was made of wool. Apparently the first cyclist to be given it, Eugène Christophe, complained that it looked silly and made him look like a canary. 

Despite that, the colour stuck and is now an iconic element of the race. 

It does not come cheap for host towns

There are 21 stages during the Tour de France meaning 21 places in which the riders must set off and arrive. 

These departure and arrival points serve as great advertisements for towns and cities along the route with the world’s eyes suddenly upon them. On top of that, flocks of tourists arrive to spend money in local shops, cafes and restaurants. 

But securing a departure or arrival point is not easy - or free. 

The places have to apply to Amaury Sport Organisation, the event organisers, for a spot. 

For the 2021 race, it cost €65,000 to host a departure, €110,000 for an arrival and €160,000 to host both a departure and arrival. Cities such as Saint-Étienne and Carcassonne will serve as both start and end points for different stages this year. 

Further to this, it can cost between €2million and €10million to host the Grand Départ – the first stage of the tour, Ouest-France reported. 

There are also extra costs such as setting up road signs, paying security, fan zones, etc. 

Rennes, the capital of Brittany, famously refused to host the Grand Départ in 2021 with local authorities saying it costs too much. 

Usually towns make their money back in the medium-term due to the tourism boost. 

Poupou le perdant magnifique

God may love a tryer but the French love Raymond Poulidor. 

Poulidor was an extremely accomplished cyclist who scored 189 race victories during a 17-year professional career. Despite this, he never won the Tour de France and never even got to wear the yellow jersey. 

He did finish second in the Tour de France on three occasions and third five times, including his final Tour at the age of 40 in 1977. 

Because of this he earned the nickname the Eternal Second. He was more affectionately known as Poupou by the French, who loved him for his humility, humbleness and the fact he never stopped trying. 

The French even coined an expression after him, “être un Poulidor” (to be a Poulidor), used to describe someone who comes second during a competition. 

Poulidor died in 2019 aged 83, leaving behind a legacy as one of France’s most loved cyclists. 

Former French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu wrote of him:

“He was and will always be a legend of cycling and the Tour de France. A French legend.

But it was his closeness to the public, his kindness and his immense modesty that made him our favourite. Farewell Poupou.”

Tour de Trump

In the late 1980s there was an American rival to the Tour de France and it was sponsored by none other than former US President Donald Trump. 

The race took his name and was called the Tour de Trump. Its inaugural event began on May 5, 1989 and the race covered around 1,347km (837 miles), spanned five US states and had 10 stages. 

In total there were 19 teams, including one from the Netherlands - Sauna Diana - that was sponsored by a brothel. 

There were protests along the route against Mr Trump, who at the time - as is still true today - was a controversial figure.

Despite that and a few other hiccups, such as the lead rider taking a wrong turn almost on the home straight, the race largely went well. 

There were only ever two editions of the Tour de Trump before Mr Trump withdrew as its main sponsor owing to financial difficulties. 

Still, the former head of USA Cycling Derek Bouchard-Hall told Politico in 2016 that the Tour de Trump was “great for American cycling”. 

He said that the race, along with its successor the Tour DuPont, were “wildly successful endeavours which raised the profile of American cycling internationally and, within the US, raised the profile of the sport of cycling”. 

When you gotta go you gotta go

Tour de France cyclists can spend up to six hours in a row on the saddle without a break, so what do they do when they need to pee?

This question was put to Lars Boom and Maarten Wynants back in 2014 – both have now retired from road cycling. 

The answer: Many just pee in the saddle.

They said that some choose to stop at the side of the road to relieve themselves but others just go for it while cycling. 

For those who do choose to stop, it can sometimes be difficult to find a private place to go and they can, in theory, be fined if they urinate in front of spectators. 

It is considered poor etiquette to overtake a race leader who has stopped for a pee break, although it is not against the rules. 

Read more: ‘I’ve learned to pee in the saddle’

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