It lasts three weeks, attracts around 15 million spectators and is here once again – the Tour de France is back for its 95th edition starting on Saturday, July 7. Here we take you through a potted history of the Tour and present some facts and figures.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

Back in 1903, the idea of the Tour was dreamed up by French sports newspaper L’Auto as a publicity stunt to help increase its circulation. It not only fulfilled its objective, but also managed to destroy the rival paper of the time and become one of the most attractive events for competitive cyclists overnight.

Only the gutsy and the tough of the professional cycling world entered the 2,428km, 19-day event and the first champion, Maurice Garin, managed to beat 59 other cyclists to take the title by a margin of two hours and 49 minutes.

The Tour very nearly didn’t make it through to its second year with the amount of cheating involved. This was cheating of the non-chemical kind and involved riders catching trains, taking cars and dropping spikes to puncture opponent’s tyres.

Night stops, bike changes and technical help were against the rules of the Tour at this stage, so it’s not surprising that the sleep-deprived competitors were tempted to jump on the train every now and then.

Rather than cancelling the Tour, the officials only added more rules and more mountains making the challenge almost impossible and earning the organisers the label of ‘assassins.’ Now the race is very different with trainers, doctors and experts offering technical advice to every rider, not to mention the huge amounts of money wrapped up in team sponsorship.

Today, the Tour involves more riders, more kilometres and more controversy with competitors demanding the unimaginable from their bodies in the bid to get their hands on that yellow leader’s jersey.

TOUR FACTS

* American Lance Armstrong is the only person to have ever won the Tour seven times. Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain have all won five.

* The smallest Tour-winning margin was set by American rider Greg LeMond in 1989. He beat Frenchman Laurent Fignon by just eight seconds.

* The youngest winner of the Tour was Henri Cornet who was 19 years old and took the title in 1904.

* The publicity caravan arrives before the race does. This consists of a parade or around 200 floats and vehicles.

* The Tour’s podium girls are selected by the race organisers from over 500 applicants every year. Podium girls are forbidden to socialise with riders.

* Tour de France bikes weigh around 6.8 kilograms (14.9 pounds). A carbon-fibre team replica will set you back between £5,000 and £7,000.

THE JERSEY CLASSIFICATIONS

OVERALL LEADER – YELLOW JERSEY

Coloured jerseys are awarded to the leaders of each of the main race classifications. Here’s our guide to what’s what in Tour couture…

The coveted yellow jersey – or maillot jaune – is worn by the rider who has completed the race in the least amount of time. As such, they top the general classification (GC) of the race. Whoever wears the yellow jersey when the races finishes in Paris, wins the Tour de France overall.

POINTS LEADER – GREEN JERSEY

This jersey is the one that the sprint specialists want the most. Points are awarded for riders who cross the finish line first, leading to sprint specialists battling for the line on flat stages. Points are also awarded for intermediate sprints, which are positioned along the route. The rider with the most points wears the green jersey.

KING OF THE MOUNTAINS LEADER – POLKA-DOT JERSEY

When the race hits the mountains of the Alps or Pyrenees, it’s the wiry climbing specialists who wrestle for the mountains jersey. The distinctive red and white polka-dot jersey is awarded to the rider who collects the most mountain points – the most points are awarded to the rider who reaches the top of designated climb first. There are several categories of climb dependent on the severity of the ascent. The bigger the mountain, the more points on offer.

PAST TOUR DE FRANCE WINNERS
Year Winner Nationality
1903 Maurice Garin France
1904 Henri Cornet France
1905 Louis Trousseller France
1906 Rene Pottier France
1907 Lucien Petit-Breton France
1908 Lucien Petit-Breton France
1909 Francois Faber Luxembourg
1910 Octave Lapize France
1911 Gustave Farrigou France
1912 Odile Defraye Belgium
1913 Phillipe Thys Belgium
1914 Phillipe Thys Belgium
1919 Firmin Lambot Belgium
1920 Phillipe Thys Belgium
1921 Leon Scieur France
1922 Firmin Lambot Belgium
1923 Henri Pellissier France
1924 Ottavio Bottecchia Italy
1925 Ottavio Bottecchia Italy
1926 Lucian Bruysee Belgium
1927 Nicholas Frantz Luxembourg
1928 Nicholas Frantz Luxembourg
1929 Maurice Dewsele Belgium
1930 Andre Leducq France
1931 Antonin Magne France
1932 Andre Leducq France
1933 Georges Speicher France
1934 Antonin Magne France
1935 Romain Maes Belgium
1936 Sylvere Maes Belgium
1937 Roger Lapeble France
1938 Gino Bartali Italy
1939 Sylvare Maes Belgium
1947 Jean Robic France
1948 Gino Bartali Italy
1949 Fausto Coppi Italy
1950 Ferdinand Kubler Switzerland
1951 Hugo Koblet Switzerland
1952 Fausto Coppi Italy
1953 Louison Bobet France
1954 Louison Bobet France
1955 Louison Bobet France
1956 Roger Walkowiak France
1957 Jacques Anquetil France
1958 Charly Gaul Luxembourg
1959 Federico Bahamontes Spain
1960 Gastone Nencini Italy
1961 Jacques Anquetil France
1962 Jacques Anquetil France
1963 Jacques Anquetil France
1964 Jacques Anquetil France
1965 Felice Gimondi Italy
1966 Lucian Almar France
1967 Roger Pingeon France
1968 Jan Jansen Netherlands
1969 Eddie Merckx Belgium
1970 Eddie Merckx Belgium
1971 Eddie Merckx Belgium
1972 Eddie Merckx Belgium
1973 Luis Ocana Spain
1974 Eddie Merckx Belgium
1975 Bernard Thevenet France
1976 Lucien Van Impe Belgium
1977 Bernard Thevenet France
1978 Bernard Hinault France
1979 Bernard Hinault France
1980 Zoop Zoetemelk The Netherlands
1981 Bernard Hinault France
1982 Bernard Hinault France
1983 Laurent Fignon France
1984 Laurent Fignon France
1985 Bernard Hinault France
1986 Greg LeMond United States
1987 Stephen Roche Ireland
1988 Pedro Delgado Spain
1989 Greg LeMond United States
1990 Greg LeMond United States
1991 Miguel Indurain Spain
1992 Miguel Indurain Spain
1993 Miguel Indurain Spain
1994 Miguel Indurain Spain
1995 Miguel Indurain Spain
1996 Bjarne Riis Denmark
1997 Jan Ullrich Germany
1998 Marco Pantani Italy
1999 Lance Armstrong United States
2000 Lance Armstrong United States
2001 Lance Armstrong United States
2002 Lance Armstrong United States
2003 Lance Armstrong United States
2004 Lance Armstrong United States
2005 Lance Armstrong United States
2006 Oscar Pereiro Spain
2007 Albert Contador Spain
TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE

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TOUR DE FRANCE 2007: LAST YEAR’S STAGE REPORTS

Forgotten what happened last year? This will remind you…

Tour de France 2007: full final results

Stage 20: Alberto Contador wins Tour de France 2007

Stage 19: Contador set for Tour victory

Stage 18: Casar wins last transition stage

Stage 17: Bennati sprints to victory

Stage 16: Rasmussen takes all on Col d’Aubisque

Stage 15: Vintage Vino

Stage 14: Vino’s Tour hopes crumble in Pyrenees

Stage 13: Vinokourov blasts back in time trial

Stage 12: Boonen back to win the stage

Stage 11: Hunter storms eventful stage

Stage 10: Vasseur takes stage by a tyre width

Stage 9: Soler goes solo

Stage 8: Rasmussen wins stage and takes race lead

Stage 7: Gerdemann takes stage and the yellow jersey

Stage 6: Boonen wins sprint with broken gears

Stage 5: Pozzato wins stage

Stage 4: Mighty Thor takes the stage

Stage 3: Cancellara powers home

Stage 2: Steegmans wins

Stage 1: First blood to McEwen

Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins fourth