Tour de France Parcours Through the Years

Le Monde has just published a handy little infographic and article that talks about the ‘winners and losers’ in France when it comes to departements who get to host the TDF, and those who don’t.

The Tour in the early days really was a ‘tour of France’, staying pretty close to our borders and coasts and totally staying away from the interior. Here’s a screenshot from near the turn of the century. Darker means more travelled. The Tour had well-worn routes in the early days and they stuck to major cities like Lyon, Marseille, Nimes (yes, we used to be a more major city than we are now!), Toulouse, Bordeaux and Roubaix.

Note the top right of the map, which was actually not even France at this time (Alsace and bits of Lorraine). The tour did cross the border into what was then an Imperial territory directly governed by the German Emperor.

Not too much had changed by the 1950s, at least in terms of the center still being ignored (along with long-suffering Corsica). They did increase the number of high mountain stages by then, though, and you can start to see the Alps and Pyrenees dominating, with the Jura going a little ‘light’ in comparison.

All these maps are ranges of years, by the way, so 1952’s Tour did not look like this. The map below represents all the years between 1903 and 1952.

Here’s the whole shebang, from 1903 to 2021. The country is more ‘filled in now’, thanks to the last 70 years or so of paying more attention to other areas of the country. Most TDF routes these days criss-cross France and are more or less concentrated on one ‘side’ or another. What never changes, however, is a chunk of stages in the Alps and another in the Pyrenees, hence the heavy blue still represented in those two areas, plus the ‘transition zone’ between them.

This one gives you a better shot of the modern Tour. Notice there is much less trace of the old ‘tour of France’ and way more departments represented over all. The Pyrenees (especially the highest parts and the Basque Country) and Alps get a lot of attention, along with the far north of the country. Other departments, like the one Nice finds itself in, are being forgotten.

And finally, the last 20 years or so. These are the Tours of full-stage TV coverage and a real internationalization of the race. Other than a few departments around Paris and bits of Brittany, you can see what the organizers are after these days, for obvious reasons – high mountains. Otherwise, there is a real effort to include all of continental France in the fun.