What’s The Tour de France Average Speed?

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reviewed by Rory McAllister
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As the starting gun echoes through the morning air, a swarm of cyclists surges forward, their eyes fixed on a singular goal: the Champs-Élysées.

But what factors decide who gets there first, and what is the Tour de France average speed?

In our comprehensive analysis, we delve into the nuances that define the pace of this iconic race. We illuminate the forces at play in the ceaseless pursuit of speed.

Additionally, we pay homage to the breathtaking records, breakneck descents, and courageous athletes who continue to push the boundaries.

Yet, as we applaud these feats, we also question the delicate balance between the relentless quest for speed and the safety of the athletes.

So buckle up as we take you on a thrilling tour through the science, history, and ethics of speed in the Tour de France, covering:

  • Definition And Calculation Of Average Speed In The Tour De France
  • Comparison Of Average Speeds Over The Years
  • Factors Affecting Average Speed At The Tour De France
  • Fastest Speeds Ever Achieved
  • The Balance Between Safety And Speed

Let’s dive in!

Tadej Pogacar leads Jonas Vingegaard on the final climb os Stage 6 of the 2023 Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Charly Lopez

Definition and Calculation of Average Speed in the Tour de France

At its most basic, average speed is a measure of the distance traveled over time.

In the context of the Tour de France, it is typically calculated by dividing the total distance (usually about 3,500 kilometers) by the total time taken to complete it by the yellow jersey.

Comparison of Average Speeds over the Years

Maurice Garin poses with his son prior to the 1903 Tour de France.
Maurice Garin prior to the 1903 Tour de France.

The history of the Tour de France, which began in 1903, unsurprisingly shows an increasing trend in the average speed of participating cyclists as technology, training, and nutrition have improved.

Widespread doping is also likely to have played a part during certain eras, with Tours in the ’90s and early 2000s regularly blisteringly quick.

Maurice Garin, the winner of the first-ever French Grand Tour, maintained 25.7 km/h (16 mph) throughout the race. However, this is not the slowest record in the race’s history.

The edition held in 1919, the first after World War I, saw Belgian cyclist Firmin Lambot achieve an even slower pace, averaging just 24.1 km/h (15 mph).

Contrast this with the current era, where winning contestants typically maintain an average speed around 40 km/h (24.9 mph), which demonstrates a considerable increase over a span of more than a century.

Observing the trend over the last decade, there has been minimal variation. However, the data shows a gradual but consistent upward trend.

Notably, the 2022 edition marked a historic moment as it was the fastest event to date.

Factors Affecting Average Speed at The Tour De France

Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar pedal past cheering spectators at the Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

Route Design

Mountain Stages vs Flat Stages

Flat stages primarily take place on level terrain.

The absence of elevation changes means that riders can maintain a consistent pace throughout the stage, often forming a peloton that travels together.

This group dynamic can lead to higher speeds due to drafting, a technique where cyclists ride closely behind one another to reduce wind resistance and conserve energy.

On the other hand, mountain stages, with their significant ascents and descents, present a more formidable challenge.

During steep uphill climbs, riders need to exert considerably more energy to overcome the force of gravity, which inevitably slows them down.

Descents can be fast – but are rarely enough to offset the slower climbing pace.

Moreover, in the mountains, the peloton often fragments as riders have different climbing abilities, and the benefit of drafting is less significant.

Cyclists must also carefully navigate tight turns and control their speed to prevent accidents on the descent, which adds an additional layer of complexity.

Time Trial Stages

A cyclist rides in a time trial at the Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Charly Lopez

In these shorter stages, riders set off individually or in teams at fixed intervals, racing against the clock rather than directly against each other.

Cyclists in time trials can focus purely on maintaining the highest speed possible over the entire course. In individual TT, a rider can reach and sustain their personal maximum speed without being affected by the pace of a peloton.

In team time trials, team members can strategically rotate who takes the lead, allowing other members to draft and conserve energy.

This rotation can help maintain a high pace throughout the stage, exceeding what might be achievable by an individual rider alone.

The terrain can vary, with some being relatively flat and others featuring more challenging terrain.

Weather Conditions and Their Role in Determining Speed

What's The Tour de France Average Speed? 1
© A.S.O./Alex Broadway

Wind Direction

Wind is an invisible but influential force that riders must contend with. Its direction and intensity can significantly affect the peloton.

A headwind, blowing directly against the cyclists, can slow them down considerably. Riders must expend more energy to overcome the wind resistance.

In such conditions, cyclists tend to group closely in a peloton, allowing riders behind the front to save energy by drafting.

Conversely, a tailwind, blowing from behind, can aid riders by pushing them forward. Cyclists can use less energy, effectively turning the wind into a beneficial factor.

Crosswinds, blowing from the side, present a unique challenge.

They can break up the peloton into smaller groups known as echelons. The formation of echelons is a strategic response to crosswinds, where riders stagger themselves diagonally to gain protection from the wind.

A cyclist pedals through an onrushing crowd at the Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Charly Lopez

Effects of Temperature and Humidity

In hot and humid conditions, cyclists can quickly become overheated and dehydrated. These factors can lead to increased fatigue, slowing riders down.

Moreover, high humidity can make the process of sweating less effective at cooling the body, as the moisture in the air prevents sweat from evaporating quickly.

Tour de France Average Speed: The Last 10 Editions

  • 2020: Tadej Pogačar – 39.9 km/h (24.8 mph)
  • 2019: Egan Bernal – 40.6 km/h (25.2 mph)
  • 2016: Chris Froome – 39.6 km/h (24.6 mph)
  • 2015: Chris Froome – 39.6 km/h (24.6 mph)
  • 2014: Vincenzo Nibali – 40.6 km/h (25.2 mph)
  • 2013: Chris Froome – 40.5 km/h (25.2 mph)

Evolution of Doping Practices

A needle is inserted into a bottle of anabolic steroids.

The history of the Grande Boucle has, unfortunately, been marred by the prevalence of doping.

Doping refers to the use of banned substances or methods that artificially enhance a cyclist’s performance, allowing them to recover faster, exert more effort, and maintain higher average speeds for the Tour de France.

One of the most notorious doping scandals involved the American cyclist Lance Armstrong and his team, U.S. Postal Service. Armstrong won seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, setting record-breaking performances.

However, in 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) concluded that Armstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career. Consequently, his titles were revoked.

Festina, a top-ranked professional team in the late 1990s, was also at the center of a significant doping scandal.

In 1998, customs officials found a large quantity of doping products in a team car during the race. The incident, known as the “Festina Affair,” resulted in the team’s expulsion from the Tour and led to several arrests, trials, and suspensions.

Doping scandals have invariably led to questions about the legitimacy of past records.

While these controversies have led to more robust testing regimes, they have also cast a shadow over exceptional performances achieved during certain periods in the race’s history.

Technological Advancements in Cycling

Mark Cavendish rides in a time trial at the Tour de France.

Bike Design and Materials

The materials used in bike construction have evolved significantly over the years, resulting in lighter and more robust bikes. For instance, steel frames were once the norm but have largely been replaced by carbon fiber, a material that is both lighter and stiffer.

Similarly, wheel design has evolved, with many modern bikes using deep-section aero wheels that reduce air drag.


Modern bikes feature aerodynamically optimized frames, handlebars, and helmets that reduce air resistance.

Wind tunnel testing has become common practice in professional cycling. Teams use these tests to study and minimize the aerodynamic drag a cyclist produces when they ride, leading to tweaks in riding position, equipment choice, and even clothing design.

These technological advancements have raised questions of fairness. Not all teams and riders have equal access to these cutting-edge technologies due to budgetary constraints, potentially creating disparities in performance.

The Tour de France peloton descends down a mountain road.
© A.S.O./Alex Broadway

Fastest Speeds Ever Achieved at the Tour de France

  • The title of the fastest average speed in a mass-start stage goes back to 1999, from Laval to Blois (194.50 km), a victory clinched by Mario Cipollini with an astonishing speed of 50.4 km/h (31.3 mph).
  • The quickest time trial was earned by Rohan Dennis during the first stage of the 2015 Tour de France in Utrecht, who triumphed with an average speed of 55.5 km/h (34.5 mph).
  • The 2013 Orica GreenEDGE team holds the record for the fastest stage win in a team time trial. They impressively covered a 25 km time trial at 57.70 km/h.
  • On the challenging side of climbs, Marco Pantani set the fastest climb record of Alpe d’Huez in 1997, reaching a remarkable 23.10 km/h.

Record Tour de France Speeds on Descents

In 2019, a spine-chilling descent of the Col de Vars registered the highest outright speed ever recorded at the Tour de France.

Nils Politt of Katusha-Alpecin, known for his top-five finishes at Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, was the first to shatter the 100 kilometers per hour barrier according to the official data from NTT.

Politt managed to reach an incredible 101.5 km/h (63.1 mph) on a section of the Col de Vars descent featuring a steep -7% gradient, the fastest speed ever recorded officially at the Tour de France.

Some riders are rumored to have clocked even more spectacular speeds during Stage 9 of the 2016 edition, according to Strava upload data. Leigh Howard was recorded moving at 122 km/h (75.9 mph) at one point, but he wasn’t the fastest on that day.

Jeremy Roy (FDJ) registered 127 km/h (78.9 mph) on the descent of the Côte de la Comella, and Marcus Burghardt (BMC) achieved a whopping 130.7 km/h (81.2 mph) on the downhill stretch after the first climb.

The long, smooth, straight roads descending from the Bonaigua climb gave the riders a chance to recover their strength, but maintaining 130 km/h (81.2 mph) certainly required immense mental focus.

However, Strava speed data isn’t 100% reliable, so the official record still belongs to Nils Politt at 101.5 km/h (63.1 mph).

A rider descends at speed into fog at the Tour de France. Such speeds have raised questions over the safety of Tour de France average speeds.
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

the Balance Between Safety and Speed

These thrilling descents, while exciting to watch, also spark debates about rider safety. Discussions on striking a balance between encouraging riders to test their limits and guaranteeing their safety are ongoing.

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycling’s governing body, outlined new safety measures introduced in 2021. Comprehensive information and illustrations were shared with race organizers, teams, and riders to explain the changes effective from April 1.

The measures included banning resting your forearms on the handlebars for an aerodynamic advantage, as well as sitting on your top tube.

The UCI states that while racing, riders should only use their feet on pedals, hands on handlebars, and the seat on the saddle for support.

These rules aim to eliminate hazardous positions often seen before, like the memorable downhill attack by Chris Froome in the Pyrenees during Stage 8 in Bagnères-de-Luchon in 2016.

However, these regulations won’t prevent the best riders from taking calculated risks, as demonstrated in 2022 by the exceptional talent Tom Pidcock.

His breathtaking downhill run on the Col du Galibier was followed by a triumphant performance on the notorious Alpe d’Huez, securing his first-ever stage win.

However, the tragic death of Gino Mäder on a descent at the 2023 Tour de Suisse has reignited debate on the risks riders are required to take to be competitive, and what measures the sport can take to improve their safety further.

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Quentin's background in bike racing runs deep. In his youth, he won the prestigious junior Roc d'Azur MTB race before representing Belgium at the U17 European Championships in Graz, Austria. Shifting to road racing, he then competed in some of the biggest races on the junior calendar, including Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, before stepping up to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Paris-Roubaix as an U23. With a breakthrough into the cut-throat environment of professional racing just out of reach, Quentin decided to shift his focus to embrace bike racing as a passion rather than a career. Now writing for BikeTips, Quentin's experience provides invaluable insight into performance cycling - though he's always ready to embrace the fun side of the sport he loves too and share his passion with others.

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