The Tour de France is the biggest and most prestigious prize in world cycling.
But if you’re a new fan with a budding interest in bike racing, all the buzz around the Tour might leave you wondering: How long is the Tour de France?
To give you the lowdown on the mammoth efforts required to compete for cycling’s greatest honor, we’ll be covering:
- How Long Is The Tour de France In Terms Of Distance?
- How Long Does The Tour de France Take?
- How The Tour de France’s Length Has Evolved Through History
Ready to learn more about the Tour de France and its route?
Let’s dive in!
How Long Is The Tour de France In Terms of Distance?
The 2022 Tour de France is the 109th edition of the race, and kicked off with the Grand Départ in Copenhagen on July 1st. The route taken by Le Tour across France – and beyond – changes every year, so the race is never exactly the same distance.
The route will see the peloton race across four countries: Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, and (of course) France. This continues a tradition of the race venturing beyond France’s borders that stretches all the way back to the fourth edition of Le Tour in 1906.
This is slightly shorter than the 2021 Tour’s route, which weighed in at 3414 km. In the modern era, Tour organizers tend to keep the distance around the 3500 km ballpark, with plenty of variety between individual stages.
The longest ride on this year’s route came on Stage 6, which ran 220 km through the Ardennes forest from Binche to Longwy. By contrast, the opening time trial from Copenhagen was a comparatively minuscule 13 km.
As a general rule, flat stages (which generally favor sprinters) tend to be among the longest, mountainous stages are typically a little shorter to accommodate the extra challenge of climbing, and time trials tend to be the shortest.
The Tour de France is the biggest and most historic of cycling’s three Grand Tours; the other two being Italy’s Giro d’Italia and Spain’s Vuelta a España. The three races are equally epic in scale (this year’s Giro route is actually slightly longer than the Tour’s at 3410 km), but the Tour de France trumps both in magnitude and prestige.
Despite the herculean effort required to win – or even finish – the Tour de France, it’s a long way from being the world’s longest cycling race: that distinction belongs to the Trans-Siberian Extreme.
Riders endure a brutal 9103 km (5656 miles) slog from one side of Russia to the other over just 15 stages – an average of over 600 km (373 miles) per day!
How Long Does The Tour de France Take?
In the modern era, the standard format sees the Tour comprise 21 stages, plus two rest days, to give a total duration of 23 days.
There can be some deviation from this standard. For this year’s Tour, the journey from Scandinavia down to France required the addition of a non-racing “travel day”, taking the total timespan of the race to 24 days.
In some years, Tour organizers also decide to include a short “Prologue” stage. This is a short time trial (never more than 8 km) that takes place the day before the official race start on Stage 1, and is sometimes referred to as “Stage 0”. This year’s opening-day time trial around Copenhagen was included as Stage 1, because at 13 km it was too long to be a prologue.
The main purpose of a prologue is to put a rider in the leader’s yellow jersey for the first stage, which is important for Tour organizers because of the sponsorship revenue that comes with it. It’s also an opportunity to show off the city that’s paid for the privilege of hosting the Grand Départ for the TV cameras.
Even with prologues, rest days, and travel days included, it’s very rare for the Tour to last longer than 25 days in the modern era.
In terms of the actual time spent in the saddle, Tadej Pogačar won last year’s Tour in a grand total of 82 hours, 56 minutes, and 36 seconds – an average of just under four hours per stage.
How The Tour de France’s Length Has Evolved Through History
The Tour’s format has evolved continuously since its birth in 1903.
The inaugural Tour was only 2428 km (1509 miles) long and comprised just six stages – but each was absolutely colossal compared to modern editions. They averaged over 400 km (250 miles), and the final stage was so long the organizers had to set the start time as 9 pm the preceding evening to ensure the race finished in daylight.
Over the following decades, the Tour’s overall length increased dramatically – but was divided between a growing number of stages.
The longest Tour de France came in 1926, when the race covered a gargantuan 5745 km (3570 miles). Marathon routes remained in fashion until the 1980s even as Tour organizers became increasingly ambitious, sending cyclists up ever more mountainous terrain. Total Tour lengths regularly passed 4000 km throughout this period.
From the 1980s onwards, the distances began to decline, as Tour bosses realised that shorter stages could generate more intense, concentrated racing – as well as making stage finish times more predictable with the arrival of television coverage.
Nowadays, Tour de France distances have settled into a standard of around 3500 km (2175 miles). This may be shorter than the monstrous Tours of the past – but it’s still a colossal distance to ride a bike in our book!