There's no doubt that the Tour de France is the biggest event in the cycling calendar, attracting hundreds of thousands of track-side spectators and home-viewers from around the globe. Each year, the race route changes and new teams take part in what is regarded as the most notable cycling race in the world. Whether you're a cycling enthusiast or not, witnessing the Tour in action is a real sight to be seen, so here's our first instalment on the 102nd Tour de France, taking a look at this year's race and the highlights of the first nine stages.
Spectators at stage one of the Tour de France 2014
The first ever Tour de France was held in 1903 as a way of reviving L'Auto, a failing sports newspaper. The race was made up of six stages, each with an average distance of 400kms, starting in Paris and passing through Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes, before returning to the capital. The innovative and unique nature of the race captured the attention of people everywhere, popularising long distance cycling races and boosting newspaper circulation rapidly. The Tour was a huge success. It has since been taken over by the Amaury Sport Organisation, who continue to run the race today.
What's new in 2015?
The 2015 Tour de France will run from Saturday the 4th of July until Sunday the 26th, with nine stages in the northern part of France and the remainder in the south. The race starts in Utrecht and finishes, as has become tradition, with the final stretch along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. This year, there will be six new stage cities: Utrecht, Zélande, Livarot, La Pierre-Saint-Martin, Muret and Sèvres - Grand Paris Seine Ouest. The race will take place over 23 days, including two rest days, and will test 22 teams in 21 stages of varying difficulty, terrain and distance. The entire race distance will amount to a massive 3,360km.
Cambridge, England, in the 2014 Tour de France
What's the same in 2015?
As with previous years, the Tour will feature various award categories, each signified by a different coloured jersey, including best climber, young rider and points classification. The most coveted is the yellow General Classification jersey, which is awarded to the cyclist with the best aggregate time. The leader in each category is calculated at the end of each stage, so the jerseys will change hands throughout the race.
Highlights of The Tour de France: North
Stage one: The northern part of the 2015 Tour de France begins with the Grand Départ in Utrecht in the Netherlands. As the first stage in the Tour and the only individual time trial of the whole race, this 13.8km stretch is guaranteed to be an exciting one to watch. The atmosphere will be buzzing and the crowds will be out in full force - a great stage to be track-side.
Stage two of the Tour de France 2014
Stage four: Stage four of the route sees the return of cobblestones for the second year running, with a whopping seven secteurs of pavé for riders to navigate. It also happens to be the longest stretch of the race, covering a huge distance of 223.5kms. Cyclists will begin at Seraing, Belgium and make their way to Cambria, France, providing spectators with plenty of places to catch a glimpse of the racers in action.
Stage six: During stage six, competitors will race along the French coast, from Abbeville to Le Havre, passing through beautiful scenery as they go. Watch from one of the many picturesque spectator spots in the Seine-Maritime region, including the famous cliffs of Etretat.
Yorkshire, England, in the Tour de France 2014
Stage nine: As well as being the final stage in the north of France, stage nine is also the team time-trial stage. The 28km stretch will go from Vannes to Plumelec, and will end with a climb at Côte de Cadoudal. This stage could prove tricky as some cyclists are bound to have exited the race already, leaving teams short of competitors.
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