Tour de France Betting

In 1903, a French journalist named Géo Lefèvre had a bold idea. He convinced Henri Desgrange, the editor of the daily sports newspaper L’Auto, to back a promotional bicycle race—not just any race but a grueling cross-country “tour” that would cover nearly 2,500 kilometres in a series of mammoth “stages” over many days of competition. They called it the “Tour de France.”

The very first edition attracted 60 “routiers” or riders, who started out in the Paris suburb of Montgeron on the first of July to complete a circuit that would traverse most of the country. After six long days, only 21 survived to cross the finish line in Ville-d’Avray, another Paris suburb. The winner was Italian-born Maurice Garin, a former chimney sweep turned professional road racer. His prize was 3,000 francs (about €10,500 at current values).

Since then, “Le Tour” has evolved greatly. It has captured the hearts of the French populace, traveling year by year through the country’s picturesque farmlands, mountain villages, seaside resorts and historic sites. Cheering on the durable cyclists, crowds along the roadsides have swelled, especially since 1936 when paid holidays were first introduced. The Tour survived wars and economic downturns to become the most celebrated highlight of summer.

In its 98 editions through 2011, the Tour de France has rolled over 350,000 kilometres—roughly the distance between the Earth and the Moon. The bordering countries of Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium have been incorporated into its ever-changing routes, and more than 500 towns have played host to its 2,000+ stages and 10,000+ riders, of whom some 6,000 have completed the race.

The modern version of the Tour de France lasts 23 days, broken into 20 race stages, a prologue and two rest days. The race stages are further divided by terrain—flat, medium climbs and mountains—plus two individual time trials. The total distance varies each year from a high of 5,745 kilometres in 1926 to the 3,479-km course laid out for 2012. An attempt is made to incorporate new town each year, but the race has always finished in Paris, and since 1975, the final stage has climaxed with several laps along the Champs-Élysées.

Riders typically enter the event as members of sponsored teams. They help each other with equipment, strategies and the costs of participation. The entrants compete, however, as individuals, and their final finishing times are calculated as the sum of times posted for each stage. The rider with the lowest aggregate time at the end of each day wears the coveted Yellow Jersey, an honour that has been claimed by about 250 riders to date.

Apart from the Yellow Jersey, a variety of other prizes are up for grabs every year, each of which presents a wagering opportunity. The top prize, of course, goes to the overall winner of the Tour—the rider who crosses the finish line with the fastest time for all stages combined. Ante-post betting is usually heaviest on the past year’s champion and his closest competitors. Another major category of wagering is which team will have the lowest combined time at the finish in Paris.

Another major honour is the Green Jersey, awarded since 1953 to the leader of the points classification. At the end of each stage, points are earned by the riders who finish first, second, third, etc. More points are awarded for flat stages and fewer for mountain stages, so the Green Jersey tends to favour sprinters over climbers.

By contrast, the Polka-Dot Jersey is presented to the “King of the Mountains.” Points awarded toward this honour depend not only finishing position at the conclusion of each mountain stage, but also the steepness of the climb, with summits rated by category 4 (easy) through 1 (difficult) and “unrated” (most difficult). The highest climb ever was the Col Agnel in the 2011 Tour de France, at a height of 2,744 metres.

One other big honour is the White Jersey, which goes to the “Best Young Rider.” To gain this honor, the winner must be no older than 25 years of age and finish fastest among all competitors aged 26 and under.

It is possible to bet on who will be wearing each Jersey for each stage of the race as well as the overall winners of the Jerseys. Other popular bets are Podium Finish, Nationality of the Champion, Team of the Champion and Margin of Victory (in seconds over/under) at the end of the Tour.

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