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Tour de France

The start of the Tour de France bicycle race, in Lourdes, France. Founded in 1903, every July this event attracts the best riders in the world for a gruelling race through France and neighbouring countries. The winner of each stage gets to wear the famed yellow jersey. French road race for professional cyclists held annually over approximately 4,800 km/3,000 mi of primarily French roads. The race takes about three weeks to complete and the route varies each year, often taking in adjoining countries, but always ending in Paris. A separate stage is held every day, and the overall leader at the end of each stage wears the coveted ‘yellow jersey’ (French maillot jaune).

First held in 1903, the Tour de France is now the most watched sporting event in the world, with more than 10 million spectators. Although it is a race for individuals, sponsored teams of nine riders take part, each with its own ‘star’ rider whom team members support. The yellow jersey was first awarded in 1919. Four riders, the French cyclists Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx, and the Spanish cyclist Miguel Indurain, have each won the Tour five times.

The Tour of Britain is the English equivalent of the Tour de France but on a smaller scale, and involves amateur and professional teams.

The 1998 Tour de France was marred by the greatest scandal in its 96 year history when the Festina team was expelled for drug taking. On 8 July, three days before the Tour was due to start, Willy Voet, a Belgian physiotherapist with Festina was detained by French police after customs officers, searching his official team car, discovered 400 phials of assorted banned substances including the large quantities of the hormone EPO. On 17 July Festina were expelled from the Tour after the team's director Bruno Roussel admitted under police questioning that illegal drugs had been supplied to Festina riders under medical supervision. Five Festina riders including Alex Zülle, two times winner of the Tour of Spain, later admitted to taking EPO.