The Tour de France: A Pre-Modern
Contest in a Post-Modern Context



The Tour de France is unarguably an important sporting and cultural
event. Both quantitatively and qualitatively this sporting competition
attracts a popular attention that every year confirms its status as one
of  the  premier  sporting  events  in  the  world.  Equally,  however,  the
Tour’s  scale  and  social  and  cultural  significance  demands  the
academic attention that  it  has not  always received.  As France’s pre-
eminent  sports  competition  enters  its  second  century,  the  studies
brought together in this volume hope to provide some understanding
of how and why the Tour is so important.
Quantitatively, the Tour is a huge event in terms of the logistics of
its preparation, organization, running and reporting. Every year, the
Tour’s  route  has  to  be  re-invented  over  nearly  4,000  kilometres  of
French  (and  neighbouring  countries’)  roads.  Every  year,  a  score  of
teams and some two hundred riders have to be engaged to compete.
Every  year,  a  travelling  village  of  some  4,000  people  and  1,000
vehicles wends its way through three weeks of French summer. Every
year,  millions of spectators line the roads near their homes,  or make
extensive pilgrimages  to the key points  of  the Tour’s  route to watch
the bunch of riders (peloton) and its leaders pass by.  Every year,  the
Tour is reported in ever increasing detail and accomplishment by the
written  press,  radio,  television  and  the  Internet.  Financially  and
commercially, the Tour involves significant amounts of money, and in
terms  of  rewards  for  the  competitors,  total  prize  money  amounts  to
some $2.5 million.
Qualitatively,  the  Tour  de  France  remains,  after  a  century,
unarguably the greatest cycling race in the world. No other country or
sporting  organization  has  been  able  to  invent  and  stage  a
cycling competition that matches the Tour.  Amongst countries where
cycling has traditionally been a sport eliciting mass interest,  such as
Italy and Spain, the national Tours (the Giro in Italy and the Vuelta