The Tour de France is cycling’s most well-known stage race, taking place over the course of three weeks every July (unless, of course, it’s a crazy year like 2020).
The elite pack of cyclists will cover hundreds of miles and climb thousands of meters of elevation as they roll through different parts of France. But how long will they ride, exactly?
The answer depends on the year, and what metric you’re using to measure length. Honestly, if you’re trying to explain the Tour de France to a new fan, it can feel a little confusing. Here, we’re looking at all the different ways to consider the length of the Tour de France.
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How long is the Tour de France last on average?
The Tour de France is usually 23 days long and split into 21 stages—days of riding—with a couple of rest days spread out during the event. Depending on how the dates are organized, though, some years it’s been run with only 20 stages, while other years have as many as 25 stages, and the first two Tours ever run in the early 1900s only had six stages.
Seriously, how long is the Tour de France on average?
In general, the total mileage of the 21 stages combined tends to hover around 2,200 miles over the 21 days of racing, which averages to around 100 miles of racing most days (via BikeRaceInfo.com).
Reminder: America is one of the only places that uses miles to measure. Distance can be tricky when it comes to the Tour de France because so much of the race coverage is from European outlets, so whenever you see a number that seems quite high, it’s likely in kilometers. For the sake of ease, in this article we’re using miles, but feel free to convert our miles to metrics with a simple Google search.
Is every stage the same length?
Not at all! Stages in the Tour de France vary wildly in length so that some days involve 180-plus mile long races and others are 30-mile fast and furious short stages. The styles of racing also change: Some stages are individual time trials, others are team time trials, and most are standard road races that take place with a mass start. (Here’s how the 2021 stages are broken down.)
What’s the shortest Tour de France stage?
In 1988, it was the shortest race of the modern era, with the shortest time trial and flat stage, and the second-shortest total distance in history at only 2,042 miles. The one-kilometer individual time trial from the prologue of the 1988 Tour de France is the shortest race ever run during the Tour, and it was won in 1 minute and 14 seconds by Guido Bontempi (and must have been incredibly painful). The 1988 race also contained the shortest flat stage, which was only 23.6 miles. That stage, by the way, was won by Adri van der Poel in 46 minutes and 36 seconds. Ardent cycling fans might recognize Adri as the father of multi-time cyclocross world champion, road and mountain bike superstar Mathieu van der Poel.
What was the shortest Tour de France?
Depends on what you mean by the shortest! The second Tour de France ever run—back in 1904—was only six stages long—but it covered 1,483 miles, so some stages lasted for nearly a full day. In the last two decades, the shortest Tour was in 2002 and covered 2,035 miles across 20 stages.
What was the longest Tour de France?
That would be the 1926 Tour de France, which covered 3,569 miles in an attempt to ride around the border of France… but close behind that is the 1919 Tour de France, which also has the dubious honor of being the slowest Tour de France in miles-per-hour.
Despite the fact that it was almost 200 miles shorter than the 1926 route, it was only a few hours faster in overall ride time for the winner. It also had the longest one-day stage—265 miles—and it reportedly took the winner almost 19 hours to complete it. That year’s Tour also only had 10 finishers out of 69 starters, the lowest number of Tour finishers ever. Yes, 1919 was rough.
What about elevation gain?
Remember, a lot of the stages of the Tour de France go up and down mountains, so not only are riders contending with 100-plus mile days in the saddle, they’re climbing thousands of feet in the process. In 2020, one stage included 14,435 feet of climbing over the course of 118 miles. That’s a half-Everest in a single stage.
How fast do riders go?
In recent years, the average speed has hovered around 24.8 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour), though it changes a bit from year to year depending on the riders, the elevation gain, the temperature, and the length of the stages. But it stays fairly close to that 25 MPH speed.
What’s the deal for 2021?
The 2021 Tour de France begins on June 26 with a route that is just over 2,100 miles. The shortest stage is 16 miles and the longest stage is 136 miles.
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