Anyone who pays attention to the sports world, and cycling in particular, has probably heard of the Tour de France. Most know it as a bike race, and aside from being the race that made Lance Armstrong famous, it is arguably the most prestigious bike race in the world. But what most people don’t know is that it’s just one of three major European cycling races. Together, the three races are referred to as the Grand Tours. For those who don’t know much about the Grand Tours, let’s take a closer look at these three bike races.
First up, the Vuelta a Espana, which translates to the Tour of Spain. The first running of the race was in 1935, and after missing a few years during the Spanish Civil War and World War II, the race has been run every year since 1955. The Tour de Spain is made up of 21 daylong stages, with two days of rest planned into the schedule, making it a 23-day event. The leader heading into each stage wears a red jersey to signify their lead. The race always wraps up in Spain’s capital city of Madrid, and always includes a grueling trek through the mountains of the Pyrenees, although the exact route changes every year, making it a new experience for riders every time. Of course, as the name implies, the race does take riders all throughout Spain, although the route has been known to take them into bordering countries at times.
Next is the Giro d’Italia, which translates to the Tour of Italy. Much like the Tour de Spain, the route changes every year and often involves a few twists and turns that temporarily lead racers into neighboring countries. In fact, on 11 different occasions, the race has started in a foreign country. For the most part, the race comes to an end in the city of Milan, but there have been plenty of exceptions to that over the years. For the Tour of Italy, the starting and finishing cities for each state change every year, as Italian cities all across the country are willing to pay large sums of money for the right to have one of the stages of the race start or finish in that city. Of course, the popularity of the race is so great that the investment is often a wise one for those cities. Just like the Tour de Spain, there are 21 stages over the course of 23 days, with two days to rest during the course of the race. In Italy, the mountainous stages of the race come courtesy of the Alps, while the leader heading into each stage earns the right to wear the coveted pink jersey.
Finally, there is the Tour de France. Aside from the time during the World Wars, the Tour de France has been run every year since 1903, and much like the other two races, the route is different every year, and consists of 21 stages spread out across 23 days. Also, while the focus is obviously on France, the race does incorporate nearby countries, and on 21 occasions the race has begun in a foreign country. Although the race is known for its mountains, there are stages that are quite flat. However, the race incorporates both the Pyrenees and Alps, creating plenty of challenging mountains for riders to climb. There have been various starting points of the race since, but since its inception, the Tour de France has ended on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Finally, as you may already know, the leader at the start of every stage has the honor of wearing the famous yellow jersey.