Infographic: Mapping 100 Years Of The Tour De France

A century of race routes illustrates the evolution of La Grand Boucle.

It’s surprising, given the physical duress, corporate sponsorships, and celebrity status of today’s cyclists, but the Tour de France was founded by a journalist. Géo Lefèvre, with the support of his editor, launched the Tour de France in 1903 in an effort to publicize their French newspaper, L’Auto. The inaugural race comprised 60 single riders (“routiers”), 1,500 miles, and six lengthy stages.


One hundred races later (the tour took a hiatus during both of the world wars), the competition is a different beast entirely. 100 Tours: Cent Ans de la Grand Boucle, a graphic from designer Sam Potts, charts the various routes the bikers have trekked over the years.

“It’s a pretty convoluted history,” Potts tells Co.Design. “They’ve done a lot of experiments. For a few years they had national teams instead of commercial teams. So riders would be riding for Switzerland instead of a company. But often now you come to associate a rider with a team.”

100 Tours actually avoids those layers and focuses instead on just the route of the race, which is telling on its own. In the early years, kicking off around 1906, the ride closely hugs France’s borders. It’s not until 1947 that the race first detours outside of France, and not until the 1950s that the course starts to resemble a zany constellation. Over time, “there are more and more stages and complexity as a result of economical factors, instead of technological,” Potts says. “It always finishes in Paris, and there are certain cities it’s been to frequently and others it’s been to under twice.”

Potts is no stranger to exercising restraint when it comes to graphics–he also created the dizzying map of characters found in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Neither graphic pretends to be a CliffsNotes for the real thing but a closely cropped bit of storytelling: character connections in one, and the race’s evolving map in the second.

That said, 100 Tours does address the yellow elephant in the room: On the poster, Lance Armstrong retains his title as champion from 1999 to 2005. That was, of course, by design: “The news that’s coming out is that he was certainly not the only cyclist doping. The argument is that if a lot of top riders were doping, they’re all playing at this higher, albeit artificial, playing field. But he still won at that level,” Potts says. Plus, as history shows, Armstrong was hardly the first to cheat the rules of the race: “The guy who won the first year was accused of taking a train between stops.”

100 Tours is available for pre-order (until the Tour de France wraps up on July 21) for $20.13 here.


About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.