What does it take to be a Tour de France contender?

Relentless drive, unwavering resilience, exceptional fitness – all required just to make it to the startline of the Tour de France. What more, then, does it take to challenge for the win?

Tadej Pogačar racing Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour de France
(Image credit: Getty Images - Tim de Waele)

The Tour de France is an almighty undertaking. This year’s edition packs in 3,404km over 21 stages, with an accumulated elevation total in excess of 56,000 metres. Just getting selected for the start requires all the riders to be in peak physical condition, but winning the biggest race of all demands an even more finely turned body. The general classification (GC) contenders are arguably the fittest athletes on the entire planet – but what exactly does it take, in terms of talent and training, to get there? In other words, what makes them the best of the best?  

The basic description of a Tour de France winner – the last being Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) – won’t shock anyone: almost always European, typically aged between 24 and 34; usually with a height between 175 and 185cm (5ft 9in and 6ft 1in), and low body weight of between 60 and 66kg. But there have been exceptions: two-time champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) was only 21 when he claimed his first title in 2020 – 98 years after the race’s oldest winner, 36-year-old Firmin Lambot, took the title in 1922. The race’s first ever winner in 1903, Maurice Garin, was a petite 162cm (5ft 4in), while 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins was 190cm (6ft 3in). On the scales, five-time winner Miguel Induráin was 80kg, some 28kg heavier than his Spanish compatriot Luis Ocaña who won in 1973. As for non-Europeans, there have been three: American Greg LeMond won in 1986, 1989 and 1990; Australian Cadel Evans won in 2011; and Colombian Egan Bernal became the first South American winner in 2019. 

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