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Having survived 113 years, two world wars and welcomed over 15000 entrants, the Tour de France is as popular as ever. We look back on its history, and its previous visits to Britain

The event began in 1903 as an attempt to boost the sales of fledgling newspaper L’Auto. Despite being billed as ‘the world’s greatest cycling event’, the organisers struggled to attract entrants due to the amount of prize money on offer and the Herculean task that they would have to undertake. The  initial start date was postponed, the prize money increased and eventually, 60 riders set off to compete in the first ever  Tour de France; only 21 completed the course.

The race originally took place over ninety-four and a half grueling hours, with riders covering colossal distances on heavy, single speed bicycles. The nation quickly warmed to the event and its popularity soared, attracting competitors from across Europe and inspiring a host of similar races in other countries.

As time went by the route and rules were modified, introducing more stages, mountain climbs and a points system to try and eliminate the cheating that was taking place at the hands of both competitors and spectators. The race continued to thrive, and over the highs and lows of the years that followed saw controversy, tragedy and some of the greatest cycling ever to be played out on the international stage.

2014 will be the fourth time in its history that the Tour has visited England and only the 20th time that it has set off outside of France. Starting in Leeds, the world’s greatest riders will once again come together to test the limits of human endurance, writing the next chapter in the history of the world’s greatest cycle race.


The Tour's English Visits

The tour has only visited England four times in its history.


1. 1974 – Plymouth

This was the first time that the Tour de France visited the UK and was in celebration of the nation’s entry into the common market.  Riders traveled to Plymouth for the second stage of the race, which covered 164 km along the Plympton bypass. The stage was ultimately won by Dutch rider, Henk Poppe, but the event failed to draw the crowds due to its unappealing location.


2. 1994- Stage 4:  Brighton to Dover, Stage 5: Portsmouth

 20 Years after its first visit, the Tour ventured back onto English soil to mark the opening of the Channel Tunnel. The event was infinitely more successful than in 1974 with enthusiastic crowds turning out to show their support during stage four, which took place between Dover and Brighton and Stage 5, which began and concluded in Portsmouth.  Despite having earned the yellow jersey in Lille as the result of an astonishing time-trial performance in the prologue, British rider, Chris Boardman was unable to reclaim the lead on home ground and the stage victories went to Spanish rider,  Francisco Cabello and Nicola Minali of Italy respectively.


3. 2007- Prologue: London, Stage 1: London to Canterbury

2007 was the first time that the Tour would begin in England. The date of the Grand Depart coincided with the second anniversary of the 7/7 bombings and celebrated the resilience of the city and its people as huge crowds turned out to show their support for the event. The prologue saw Swiss rider, Fabian Cancellara claim victory in a 5 mile time trial around London and was followed by a first stage win for Australian, Robbie McEwen when the race journeyed from London to Canterbury.


4. 2014- Yorkshire Grand Depart

This year the Tour de France will be kicking off in Britain for the fourth time in its history and signifies the 20th time that the race has started outside of France. We will be lucky enough to host three race stages and excitement is already building as thousands of fans gear up to catch a glimpse of their cycling heroes on home soil as they take part in the world’s most historic cycle event. Setting off in Leeds on Saturday, 5th July, the riders will cover 546.5 km before stage three culminates in London on Monday, July 7th.



12 Great Riders of Great Britain




Brian Robinson came out of Yorkshire to become one of the first British cyclists to complete the Tour de France in 1955.  He claimed his first stage victory in 1958  after Italian rider, Arigo Padovan conceded the win due to questionable tactics. Robinson quashed any doubts that there may have been regarding his ability the following year when he won a further stage in the 1959 Tour finishing 19th overall and went on to enjoy further success before retiring at the age of 33.










Hailing from Wakefield, Yorkshire, Barry Hoban forged his place in cycling history, excelling in international competition and setting a series of  Tour de France records. He has completed the Tour more times than any other British rider, passing the finish line eleven out of the twelve times he has take part. Between 1967 and 1975 he won eight Tour stages, earning him the record for most stage wins won by a British rider and, until it was matched by Mark Cavendish in 2008, he was the only Briton to win two consecutive Tour stages.







Glasgow born Robert Millar is one of the most successful riders that Britain has ever produced, having claimed stage wins and top ten finishes in all of the Grand Tours. He made his name as a climber, and was the first Britain to win a Tour de France jersey when he became King of the Mountains in 1984. He remains the only British rider to win the classification and until 2009 was the highest finishing Briton, coming 4th overall. He continued to ride in the Tour until 1993 and finally retired from racing in 1995.









Arguably the fastest man on two wheels, Mark Cavendish has risen to prominence in world of cycling with his explosive sprints and passionate conduct both on and off the bike. He has a long list of achievements to his name, including World Road Race Champion and an MBE for services to British cycling. He has won 25 stages of the Tour de France and in 2012 he became the first person to win the final Champs- Elysee stage four times in a row. This not only earned him the record for the most stages won by a British rider, but placed him third on the all-time list of Tour de France stage winners.



Michael Wright was born in Hertfordshire and emigrated to Belgium when he was three years old. A natural athlete, he turned to cycling following the death of his stepfather and used his British nationality to compete in several tours and World Championships.  He rode the Tour de France eight times and despite struggling in the climbing stages, was a strong sprinter, claiming three stage wins during his tenure, which helped to boost the profile of the British team.







Max Sciandri was born in Derby but is of Italian descent. He rode for Italy until 1995 when he adopted British citizenship, and since then has become an extremely important part of the nation’s cycling heritage. Later that year he became a Tour de France stage winner and shortly after, in 1996 brought home a bronze medal for road cycling at the summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. He went on to work extensively with British Cycling as head coach of the Under 23’s Endurance Academy, helping to nurture exceptional talent like that of Geraint Thomas and Mark Cavendish.



Chris Boardman MBE rode to fame in the 1992 summer Olympics when he won a gold medal for Britain in the individual pursuit. Known for his high speed performances on both road and track, Boardman set a number of national and international time trial records during his career, including the UCI 1 Hour record, which he held between 2000 and 2005. He made a name for himself in the 1994 Tour de France when he won the Prologue with the fastest time ever recorded, a feat that is still to be matched.  He went on to win further Tour stages and wore the yellow jersey on three separate occasions before retiring in 2000.









Bradley Wiggins made his first major strides as a track cyclist, winning a succession of gold medals  in the World Track Championships and the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. After deciding to take a break from the track he proved his ability in stage racing, coming third overall in the 2008 Tour de France, making him the highest finishing British rider since Robert Millar. Many achievements were to follow, but none so great as  in 2012 when Wiggins and Team Sky brought home the first overall Tour de France victory for Great Britain. The win secured his place in cycling history and was followed by an Olympic gold medal for Time trial and a well-deserved knighthood.



Tom Simpson was a star on the road and the track, winning Britain the bronze track medal in the 1956 summer Olympics and the silver at the 1958 Commonwealth Games. He became the country’s first great hope of producing a Tour winner after finishing 6th in the 1962 race and becoming the first British rider ever to hold the yellow jersey. The tours that followed were plagued by accident and injury, and when Simpson set out on the 1967 he was focused on victory. Sadly the 13th stage of the ’67 Tour was to be his last. Simpson collapsed a kilometer from the summit of the Ventoux; the result of heat exhaustion, a stomach complaint and a cocktail of alcohol and amphetamines. He died in hospital later that day.




A commanding force both on and off the bike, Sean Yates’ impact on Britain’s Tour de France history has continued long after his retirement. In 1994 he became the third British rider to wear the yellow jersey, after riding to victory in stage 6 of The Tour. He retired from riding in 1996 and moved into management before signing as director for Team Sky in 2009. The team flourished during his tenure and made Britain a dominant force in international cycling, delivering an impressive string of victories including two Tour de France wins.










Scottish rider David Millar has had a turbulent career, paying the price for past mistakes and striving to earn back his place at the forefront of British cycling, resulting in gaining a coveted place on the 2012 Olympic road race team. He was the first British rider to wear the leader’s jersey in all of the Grand Tours, a feat that has only been achieved by one other rider since. He has enjoyed a series of stage wins and is the only British cyclist to have worn all of the Tour de France leader’s jerseys as well as being one of only five to wear the coveted yellow jersey.




In an interview with The Times, Sean Yates (Team Sky’s former Director Sportif) explained that he had turned down a role with another top team, partly because he saw the sport being dominated by Chris Froome for years to come. ” in my opinion, Chris Froome is too good for anyone to unsettle him. If there were cracks in his armour, that would be more motivating.”

Froome led Team Sky to victory in the 100th edition of the  Tour de France with an astonishing ride that saw him win three stages and hold the King of the Mountains title for six. Despite being affected by illness and injury in the earlier part of this year, all eyes will be on him when 101st Tour de France gets underway. Can he ride his way to a second successive Tour victory?

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