With the UCI publishing its 2012 WorldTour Calendar this week, there is a timely reminder that due to the London Olympics taking place in early to mid-August, the Tour de France starts in June, something of a rarity these days. Okay, the Grand Depart in Liege is on the very last day of the month, but if you have holidays to schedule or are thinking about riding the Etape, it’s worth planning ahead now.
Under the pattern that has become established in recent years, ordinarily the Tour would in all likelihood have started on Saturday 7 July. But with the men’s road race in London taking place three weeks later to the day, and the day before the final sage of the Tour, the two events would have clashed.
As a result, the Tour starts on 30 June, unusual in recent years but by no means anything out of the ordinary once you start looking further back.
Indeed, between the race resuming in 1947 after World War II and Bernard Hinault becoming the last Frenchman to win the maillot jaune in 1985, the Tour started in June 30 times and in July on just nine occasions.
In some years, the race started so early there wasn’t even a Bastille Day stage – although we imagine that probably mattered less back in the days when French riders actually started the race among the favourites to win the overall title.
Since the 73rd edition in 1986, however, which started on the Fourth of July and ended, perhaps fittingly, with Greg LeMond becoming the first American Tour winner, two editions in 28 have started in June, in 1990 and 1996.
Instead, next year it’s the London Olympics that are unusually early. The Games are the fifth edition since professional sportsmen and women were first allowed to compete at Atlanta in 1996, which actually started while the Tour was under way.
With the road cycling events taking place towards the end of the Games, that meant there were nearly two weeks between the end of the Tour and Chris Boardman finding out what the third step of the podium was for when he picked up time trial bronze, the same colour medal as Britain’s Max Sciandri had picked up three days earlier in the road race.
The Sydney Olympics in 2000 started in September, while the Athens and Beijing Games both began in August, at least a fortnight after the end of the Tour. Next year, however, there are only six days between Mark Cavendish potentially winning on the Champs-Elysées for the fourth year running and clinching Olympic gold on the Mall six days later.
Predictions are though that the closing days of next year’s Tour will be a lot kinder on the non-climbers than this year’s race was – remember those summit finishes on the Galibier on the Thursday and Alpe d’Huez on the Friday? In 2012, it looks likely that the race will instead head out of the Pyrenees midway through the third week. We’ll know for sure when the route is announced in less than a fortnight’s time.
In the meantime, here’s the full UCI WorldTour Calendar for the 2012 season:
17-22 January Tour Down Under 4-11 March Paris - Nice 7-13 March Tirreno-Adriatico 17 March Milano-Sanremo 19-25 March Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 23 March E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - Harelbeke 25 March Gent - Wevelgem 1 April Ronde van Vlaanderen 2-7 April Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco 8 April Paris - Roubaix 15 April Amstel Gold Race 18 April La Flèche Wallonne 22 April Liège - Bastogne - Liège 24-29 April Tour de Romandie 5-27 May Giro d'Italia 3-10 June Critérium du Dauphiné 9-17 June Tour de Suisse 30 June-22 July Tour de France 10-16 July Tour de Pologne 6-12 August Eneco Tour 14 August Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian 18 August-9 September Vuelta a España 19 August Vattenfall Cyclassics 26 August GP Ouest France - Plouay 7 September Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec 9 September Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal 10-14 October Tour of Beijing 20 October Il Lombardia
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.