Tour 2023: Foreign starts
01 July 2023, by Mark van der Linden
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The Basque Country, a region where cycling is woven into the fabric of daily life, where passionate cycling enthusiasts flock to the roadsides when the peloton whizzes past and where the aromas of txakoli and pintxos tantalize taste buds and satisfy hungry stomachs. This region is set to take center stage as the proud host of the Tour de France's Grand Depart, the first weekend of July.

Bilbao has been bestowed the honor of welcoming and bidding farewell to the Tour peloton as it embarks on its three-week journey through France. Against the backdrop of this city, an arduous first stage awaits, challenging riders with punchy power.

Fun fact: if Pello Bilbao were to win the first stage starting and finishing in Bilbao, and that is not impossible, he would only be the second rider in our complete database to win a race in a city whose name matches the rider's surname. 

The only rider who ever achieved that was Romain Bacon, who became the French junior time trial champion in Bacon in 2008. The only Spanish rider ever to win a Grand Départ of the Tour de France in Spain before was (also) a Basque rider in Basque Country: Miguel Indurain in 1992. The omens are looking good for Pello! :)

Anyway, today we are talking about Grand Departs and stage starts outside France!

The Tour embarks on its grand adventure from the Spanish side of the Basque Autonomous Community, marking the 25th instance when the Tour de France sets off from a location beyond the French borders. The first time the Tour de France began outside of France was in 1954, when Dutch cyclist Wout Wagtmans brought joy to his compatriots by winning the stage that started in Amsterdam. (The finish line was drawn just across the border in Brasschaat, Belgium.)

Following that, the world's greatest cycling spectacle has commenced on five more occasions in the Netherlands, more times than any other country outside of France. Additionally, the Tour has also started consecutively in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Spain (once before), Ireland, England and Denmark. Among all the foreign cities that have had the honor of hosting the Grand Départ of the Tour de France, there are two cities that have had the privilege not just once, but twice. These cities are both located in Belgium: Liège and Brussels.

One impressive record during Grand Départs outside France was set by Fabian Cancellara. The Swiss specialist at prologues, time trials and northern classics has won the Grand Départ stages at all Grand Départs outside France between 2004 and 2012! (4 prologues, 1 individual time trial.)

Three times, a Frenchman proudly donned the first yellow jersey when the Tour set off from foreign lands. André Darrigade accomplished this feat in 1958, when the Tour commenced in Brussels, whilst Bernard Hinault claimed victory in the first stages of the 1980 and 1982 editions, starting in Frankfurt and Basel. Only Darrigade entered France with the yellow jersey still around his shoulders.

Figure 3. French winners of Grand Départs Tour de France in other countries than France

Interestingly, there just as many times when a rider triumphed in the first stage of the Tour de France, starting outside of France, in their own homeland: Joop Zoetemelk in 1973 in Scheveningen, Netherlands, Jan Raas in 1978 in Leiden, Netherlands, and, like mentioned before, Miguel Indurain in 1992 in San Sebastian, Spain.

The Tour de France's start in Amsterdam in 1954 was far from the first time that the Tour caravan set itself in motion beyond the borders of France. Throughout the history of the Tour, a total of 212 stages have commenced on foreign soil.

France ventured beyond its borders for the first time in Tour de France history with the 12th stage of the 1913 edition. With Belgian cyclist Philippe Thys wearing yellow jersey, the peloton embarked on its journey from Geneva in Switzerland. This firs timer paved the way for future visits to Geneva in subsequent editions. 

Monaco, in the final pre-WWII Tour de France, became the first country outside France to host a stage AND finish within its own borders: stage 13 both started and finished within the borders of the principality. Eight years later, the Tour achieved another nation-milestone: a stage starting outside of France and finishing in a third country. The 3rd stage of the 1947 Tour de France commenced in Brussels, Belgium, and culminated in a climax in Luxembourg. That day, Aldo Ronconi won his first and only stage at the Tour. After 1947, this happened another 20 times.

Added all up, it comes as no surprise that Belgium claims the distinction of hosting the highest number of stage starts in the Tour de France outside of France. 79 stages has commenced within its borders. In total, 13 different countries hosted stage starts in Le Tour:

Figure 6. Foreign countries hosting most stage start in Tour de France

CountryNumber of stage startsGrand Départs
Great Britain82

As far as stage arrivals outside of France concerned, this is how the numbers look like. Again it is Belgium topping the chart, ahead of Switzerland and Germany. With three stage starts in Spain this year coming up, Spain is closing in on Germany...

Figure 7. Foreign countries hosting most stage arrivals in Tour de France

In total, a rider from the country (other than France) where the stage finished has emerged victorious on 31 occasions. The Swiss cyclist Leo Amberg achieved this feat for the first time in stage 5c of the 1937 Tour de France, which concluded in Geneva. Gert Steegmans, with his victory in Ghent in 2007, stands as the most recent rider to accomplish this remarkable feat, at least for now. (TTT victories not included. Sorry, Wout van Aert...)

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