He can ride on cobbles, he can do everything. He’s phenomenal. Former winner –Geraint Thomas, on last year’s winner and 2022 favourite, Tadej Pogačar 

By Roger Childs

Tough, and rewarding

It’s the most grueling annual sporting event on the planet —  3349.8 km in 2022 — and also one of the most dangerous. Riding in a peloton of 100 hundred or more cyclists, you require intense focus, as a touch of wheels can bring you down in a massive pile-up with many others. It is also one of the most watched sporting contests, with millions spectating on the side of the roads, in urban areas, and on hillsides, while tens of millions view the superb television coverage. For the fans at home the race is the key focus, but the varied, picturesque geography of France from farmland and historic towns and cities, to river valleys and narrow mountain roads are a great spectacle.

Plenty of history

Le Tour started as a publicity stunt for the French sports magazine L’Auto in 1903 and over the years a huge number of sponsors have been involved. After problems involving cheating, threats and interference by spectators, strict rules were laid down in 1905.

This year’s event is the 122nd and started with three stages in Denmark.  Naturally, most of the legs are in France with the climax being on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, however, there will be brief excursions into Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. The event has 21 stages ranging from a 13.2 km time trial to a 220km leg over undulating terrain, and in total there are 6 flat, 7 hilly and 6 mountain stages as well as two time-trials. To win the event you have to be versatile and be able to handle the demands of all the terrain, especially the mountains.

After a week the favourite is in yellow

Stage 8 has just finished in Lausanne, Switzerland and the 2020 and 2021 winner Slovenian Tadej Pogačar already has the leader’s yellow jersey on his back, and barring injury or accident is likely to take it to Paris. Survival is the name of the game and slippery surfaces, cobble-stones, tight corners and narrow roads need to be negotiated with great care. Pogačar is a very competitive rider and likes to win as many stages as he can. In the past yellow jersey holders have often depended on fellow team riders to ‘look after them’ and hold off the competition. The Slovenian needs little help. However one rival he needs to watch is fellow countryman Primož Roglič who was close second in 2020.

The green jersey is worn by the rider who wins the most sprint points and currently Belgian Wout van Aert has a handy 264 to 149 lead. This year one New Zealander, George Bennett, is taking part.

The wonderful spectacle

As well as the spectacular and varied scenery the drones and motor bikes show the fascinating ways different regions use in the farmland, towns and hillsides to demonstrate their support for Le Tour. There are different coloured flags, dressed up animals, patterns in the fields and spectators dressed in the various jerseys vigorously demonstrating their support. Officials sometimes have to work hard to ensure that riders are not impeded by over-exuberant fans, especially near the top on the mountain stages.

Interesting information is also provided visually in the landscapes – did you know it’s the 200th anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s death?

It is possible to watch every stage live on SKY TV – sometimes over 4 hours — or an excellent daily highlights package of 30 minutes. Whatever you do, the coverage of the cycling is superb and the scenery and the landscapes are a bonus.