The Tour de France is coming up, and if you aren’t particularly familiar with the race, you’re not alone. This cyclist-friendly sport isn’t exactly a major sporting event amongst Americans. In the United States, interest in the event piqued with Lance Armstrong’s involvement – at first through dominance and later through controversy.

In fact, Armstrong’s ugly episode might have turned people off from the Tour de France, which is a shame. It’s actually an exciting and admirable contest once you understand what it is, how it works, and what exactly is at stake.

What is the Tour de France?

The first ever Tour de France occurred on July 1, 1903. Incredibly, a troubled french newspaper called L’Auto dreamed up the epic competition in an effort to sell extra newspapers in the immediate aftermath of losing a lawsuit. The level of endurance involved was unlike anything anyone had seen, and the Tour de France quickly became a national spectacle. What began as a desperate bid to make extra money ended with the creation of one of the most prestigious cycling competitions in the world.

Sixty participants took part in the inaugural Tour de France and the very first winner was a man named Maurice Garin. Right before Garin’s victory, more than 20,000 people arrived to the finish line to witness his historical achievement. Today, the Tour de France is closely followed by fans around the world and enjoys a greater variety of participants.

How does it work?

The Tour de France typically takes place in July of every year and lasts three weeks. The 2017 race will commence at the “Grand Départ,” or starting point, in Düsseldorf, Germany. The race itself is 21 days long, with two days allotted for rest. There are nine cyclists on each team, and the race draws an average of 22 or 23 teams.

The location of stages often changes except for the final stage, which always ends at the Champs-Élysées. It’s possible to win an individual stage. The cyclist in front who has the overall best time is allowed to wear the coveted “yellow jersey.” There’s also the “Laterne Rouge,” an actual distinction for biker who finished dead last. Some argue that the yellow jersey might be the most memorable and fought for achievement, aside from winning the race of course.

To win the Tour de France, a cyclist must complete each stage of a more than 2,000 mile race and finish ahead of everyone else with the best time. For bike racing fans, the Tour de France is the ultimate test of endurance and talent.

What is the 2017 route?

The 2017 route is noted for its “atypical mountain stages.” There are reportedly “fewer climbs than usual.” However, the official Tour de France website boasts “the steeper gradients will separate the men from the boys.” In addition to the German first stage, another key feature of the race are dips into Belgium and Luxembourg. 

Which participants should you watch out for?

Want to know who’ll likely win it all? Look no further than the bookies. Even if you’re not a gambler, betting odds usually indicate which cyclists are the ones to look out for during the Tour de France. This year, as Eurosport reports, there are several favorites:

  • Chris Froome 13/8
  • Richie Porte 2/1
  • Nairo Quintana 15/2
  • Alberto Contador 16/1
  • Jakob Fuglsang 18/1
  • Alejandro Valverde 22/1
  • Romain Bardet 25/1
  • Tom Dumoulin 66/1

As you can see, the odds are in favor of Chris Froom and Richie Porte. Still, with such a long course anything is possible, which is what makes the entire competition that much more exciting.

Now that you have a better understanding of the Tour de France, no doubt you’ll be wanting to check it out. If you’re not among the lucky attendees who can watch the event unfold in person, you should check with your cable provider to learn how and when to watch.

(Image courtesy of Graham Duerden via Flickr.)