History of the Tour – with François Thomazeau

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It’s nearing the end of the Tour de France for another year, and I have been in the box seat for the first two weeks of this phenomenon of an annual sporting event, following the Tour with The Cycling Podcast. Along the way, I had the chance to chat with an absolute expert in cycling history – François Thomazeau. His encyclopaedic knowledge of all facets of the Tour is extraordinary, and I am so excited to have him on the pod today walking us through the fascinating history of the Tour, from the earliest iterations of the race, up until this, the 120th edition.

While we have all become so familiar with the modern Tour, it is an event that is steeped in so much history – over a hundred years of evolution, scandal, and drama – and the idea was to try and get a complete picture of the Tour, from how it came about, to the subtle nuances of the race, and how it has evolved over time. In my opinion, there is no one better in the world of cycling than François to answer all my questions.

We start with the origins of the event, from its inception as part of the early cycling newspaper, Le Vélo, with its epic, 300km long stages, 2 am start times, and famously ingrained methods of cheating, like jumping on the train or skipping whole sections of the course. And we chat about just how important the Tour de France is to the French people, who are bathed in TDF coverage from a young age to the point that July is synonymous with the Tour, and the race itself is a French symbol of fun, of childhood, and of long summer days.

We chat about the recovery of the Tour after its war-induced hiatus, and of the emergence of a new generation of post-war riders that redefined the sport, including the likes of Fausto Coppi – likened to a type of gold dust for the sport, with his forward-thinking methods and slick media appeal – and the beloved Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and later, Raymond Poulidor, and of course the arrival of the great man himself, Eddy Merckx, whose commanding hold on all classifications of the TDF earned him the nickname, The Cannibal.

It was fascinating to hear how this history has culminated in the version of the great race that we now know and love so much – how it became the show for television, how its riders started to emerge as household names, the evolution of the media in cycling, and how riders themselves have had to adapt, in order to succeed in the Tour de France.

I absolutely loved the chance to soak up so much of the history of the Tour de France and to get under the skin of this iconic race with François, and I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into the history of the Tour!



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Theme Music

The theme music for Life in the Peloton was composed by Pete Shelley, who was lead singer of the punk band Buzzcocks. It was commissioned by the production company behind Channel 4’s coverage of the Tour de France in the 1980s and was used as the theme music for the nightly highlights show. Pete died in December 2018. We were given permission by Pete’s widow and his manager to continue using the music for the theme tune to Life in the Peloton. To hear more about the music, listen to the Andre Greipel episode of Life in the Peloton.


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Released: July 19, 2023