For many cycling fans the Tour de France is the highlight of their year, while a substantial number of people have found themselves strangely obsessed with the sport having stumbled upon the race on television.
There are many reasons why the Tour is the most-watched cycling race around the world, with interest in the race reaching every continent. Here are a few things that make the Tour so special for us.
1. The Caravan
What’s there not to love about a series of novelty vehicles chucking out poor quality gifts to the fans along every stage of the race?
You’ve not been to watch the Tour de France unless you come back with three polka dot hats, a handful of Skoda keyrings and some disgusting biscuits from a company you’ve never heard of.
Sometimes you may have to fight off several small French children to get your mitts on a giant green hand, but it’s well worth the extra effort of turning up four hours early.
2. Gary Imlach
It’s one of the most remarkable streaks in professional sport, but Gary Imlach seems to have presented every Tour de France since time began – and he’s not aged a day in all those years.
An enduring vision of the watching the Tour on ITV4, and previously Channel 4, is Imlach standing on whatever beach the race happens to be near, hair flopping in the wind and a pair of old skool sunglasses shading his eyes.
An encyclopaedic knowledge of pretty much any sport, mixed with the ability to not take himself or his profession too seriously pretty much make Imlach a national treasure.
There. I said it.
3. Mountain battles
Everyone loves the excitement of a bunch sprint, but it’s the mountains that set the Tour apart from a lot of other races.
The 2015 edition of the race features many of the iconic Tour climbs – the Tourmalet and Alpe d’Huez, to name but two.
Races are won and lost in the mountains and the grueling gradients show off a cyclist’s true character. Defining Tour moments often come on the mountain passes as well.
Be it Alberto Contador ‘attacking’ Andy Schleck when the Luxembourger’s chain came off on the Port de Balès in 2010, or Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond reaching the top of Alpe d’Huez arm in arm in 1986, the battles are never forgotten.
4. The jerseys
Yeah, the Giro’s pink jersey and the Vuelta’s red one are nice, but it’s the Tour’s yellow jersey that cyclists grow up dreaming of.
Very few sprinters these days seem to target winning the points jerseys at the Italian or Spanish tours, but the best fastmen eye up the Tour’s green jersey as their season’s goal.
And who doesn’t love seeing a cyclist wearing a polka dot jersey because he’s really good at riding up mountains?
The only shame is that the organisers decided to ditch the Combination jersey in 1989, where the rider who was best at doing everything would wear a jersey made up of bits of the other jerseys.
Just imagine Contador wearing a yellow/green/polka dot ensemble…
5. Alpe d’Huez
The mountain of all mountains. Alpe d’Huez is pretty much a fixture of the Tour these days, described by author Tim Moore as the “Glastonbury for cycling fans”.
But instead of hoards of unwashed hippies playing bongo drums you get hoards of mostly Dutch people drinking beer outside their camper vans.
Like Glastonbury, the crowds turn up days before the event actually starts to find a good place to pitch their tent, but thankfully, to date, Bono has not sung on Alpe d’Huez.
The 21 hairpins are stuff of legend among cycling fans, with each of the turns named after former winners of the stages which finish atop the mountain.
It’s back again for 2015 and it promises to be another cracking stage.
6. The ITV theme tune
Instantly recogniseable among non-Eurosport-watching fans, the theme tune for the Tour on ITV is enough to make a grown man rub his hands together with glee.
And the best thing is that ITV have so many advert breaks in their coverage you get to hear the tune about 100 times each stage!
7. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen
Another staple of the ITV coverage is the double act that is Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. As the lead commentator Liggett brings the cycling fans an insight into the world of two wheels, only regularly getting his facts wrong.
Sherwen, meanwhile, actually rode the Tour so can give a different insight into what is going on in the race. He also knows at least three facts about every chateau and church in the whole of France.
8. The Champs-Élysées
Unfortunately every Tour de France has to come to an end, but what better way to finish it than with a sprint on the most famous street in France?
Like the mountains, the Champs-Élysées has seen its fair share of special moments. From the Lemond/Laurent Fignon time trial in 1989, to Tour winner Bradley Wiggins leading out Mark Cavendish on the final lap.
The final stage is known as the unofficial sprinter’s championship, with the likes of Cavendish having won there four times and Marcel Kittel winning the last two editions.
But it’s not just about the stage winner, it’s the tradition that comes with rolling into Paris as the Tour winner. Drinking champagne on your bike is a rare occurence, but Tour winners get that honour as they lead the peloton across the start line.
9. The fans
Sport is nothing without the fans. We all saw the pictures of the crowds along the side of the roads in Yorkshire last year, but the French aren’t bad at turning out either.
Show up in a sleepy Tour de France village and you’ll see the local residents setting up tables and chairs outside their house, enjoying a baguette or two before the race comes by.
No matter how remote the location, the locals will get excited about the Tour coming to town.
10. The racing
There’s a lot of great peripheral action in the Tour, but there’s also a lot of great racing. And with 21 exciting stages in the pipeline this year we are surely in store for a classic edition of the race.
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