Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wednesday search challenge (7/24/13): Have the Tour riders really gotten faster over the years?

The Tour de France is an amazing spectacle, no matter how you see it.  A couple hundred riders in waves of color racing over the French countryside for three weeks in July.  You might see them as insufferably French, with tight racing shorts and inscrutable European-style rules for the race leader, but you can't deny that it's a beautiful thing that involves the entire country (and much of the rest of the world) in a remarkable feat of athleticism.  Imagine riding your bike that far, that fast, that long--it's still mind-boggling. 

The Tour has been around for 100 years--this year, 2013, was the centennial ride.  It seems as though the riders have gotten stronger and faster over the years.  It got my friend Steve and I to talking about this--is it really true? 

It's certainly the only race I know of where the racers drink champagne on the last lap (just outside of Paris, naturally, before the grand finish on the Champs Elysee).  And while the sport of bike racing has been tainted (as have nearly all sports) by recent findings of chemically augmented performances, we were still curious about the overall trend for the past 100 years.  In the early days (see above), the teams didn't have much by way of support (carry your own tires!) or health and nutrition information (bring your own cigarettes on the tour too!).  So... 

That leads to today's search challenge: 
1.  Has the Tour de France been getting faster over the past century?  
Of course, you'll find articles that say "yes," but we want proof!  The best answer for SearchResearch will be a reliable data source AND some kind of analysis from you showing the answer.  

I realize that this is yet another data analytic search challenge, but it's that kind of data summer.  This isn't big data (only 100 samples with only a couple of columns), but you get the idea.  Can you produce a chart and/or some kind of analysis showing that the race has been getting faster?  

And, if you're curious about this kind of thing, I noticed that there are some peculiarities in the data.  (I'll let you look at the data on your own to make your own observations.)  

For extra credit, can you: 
2.  Offer a data-driven explanation for the "pecularities" in the Tour race time data?  
Search (chart, and analyze) on! 


  1. Good day, Dr. Russell, fellow SearchResearchers


    [tour de france speed statistics]‎


    [tour de france race speed official statistics]

    Data from 1903 to 2012, The Guardian

    In this page we can download data and see different statistics from 1903 to 2012

    [tour de france quicker the economist]
    Found: The Economist Chart


    1. Has the Tour de France been getting faster over the past century?
    A: Yes. (That is taking out Lance Armstrong)

    2. Lance Armstrong was faster and because he admitted to doping his records are not valid. Data also shows each year more particpants end The Tour.

    1. This is nice, Ramon. How did you make the chart? Google Spreadsheets?

    2. Good Morning, Dr. Russell. Yes I did it with Google Spreadsheets.It was a good exercise to move data and customize it.

      I like a lot your answer to the Challenge. Charts and the use of formulas teach me a lot, thanks Dr. Russell. And your second answer a surprise for me. Very interseting.

      Have a great day.

  2. Yes, but not to the extent expected through improved nutrition, improved training, and improved technology. The average speed for the entire race peaked in 2005. Data is available at

    1. This is a great article... thanks for pointing it out.

  3. Not sure this can be answered. TDF is not a speed race but rather endurance modified by team strategy where the winner needs to be only fractionally faster for a short time than the guy in second place. There is no need to be faster all the time. And what is meant by "faster" ? Than what ?

    Most excellent and detailed discussion with many charts at

    Another great graphing source with many options data download is

    I found these 2 references instantly then spent a good hour reading all the stuff.

    I still think that with so many variables over the century and no need for speed that is impossible to answer in any meaningful way


    jon just in from biking - slowly

  4. Before I begin I have to tell you I was thrilled to see this challenge. You see I rode the Tour de France, all 21 days in an international online competition. Now I didn’t actually ride it in France but in my home country. The challenge was to ride everyday the pro racers rode and your average speed, time and distance and your data was uploaded. It was live and you could see your daily and overall position throughout the competition. There were almost 25,000 around the world competing and I have the bragging rights of saying I finished in the top 1%. So having this question is fantastic.

    On the surface the question “Is the TDF getting faster” doesn’t seem too difficult knowing there will be loads of stats online. There were several considerations I felt would impact the results. I researched some and have indicated my observations within the table I edited. Considerations I haven’t included that I do think factor into this question are:

    Mountainous Climbs (elevation gains/losses) I believe there are more climbs now and they are the focus of the event. You can see the changes in the mountain categories and various climbs

    Support Vehicles - Race Radios, Domestiques, Backup Bikes/ Wheels and Mechanics were not always allowed.
    Rest Days - are now consistent but that wasn’t always the case giving cyclists fresh legs.

    The most reliable source TDF Official Website

    This is the official TDF website the table showing 100 years of racing is used by most other sources.
    The Guardian Data Blog has the best interactive chart showing the history of the TDF. For our question I feel the Distance and Average Speed are most relevant.

    I have uploaded a table and have edited it down to essential criteria. In addition I added two additional columns “Specified Factors” and “Observations” (facts and/my opinions referring to the data). As well I’ve added in 2013 TDF Winner Christopher Froome’s data from the Le Tour website. I have made this link public.

    Here’s the original table link

    The following website without a doubt has the most detailed analysis from various individuals. I found this after doing my own research on items like the introduction of clipless pedals (1984) and carbon fiber bikes (1986)

    This table was downloaded from

    Another chart that at Wikipedia gives up a snapshot of the 100 years of the TDF- As well they have abbreviated data showing some of the highlights.

    One last chart I would like to present I think is a significant one indicating an inverse relationship between distance and overall speed. Here’s the link

    My conclusions are that many factors affect the average speeds but they have increased. We see in 2013 that the Average Speed is once again over the 40 km/hr. It reached this milestone in 1999 with Lance Armstrong and since then three other cyclists have also reached this average speed. It also is apparent to me that the distances have dropped since 1997 and as the above chart will show there is a relationship. Despite suggestions when you look at just speed that yes, they have increased. There are a lot of factors impacting speed and despite the advances made the speeds aren't showing significant gains.

    1. Rosemary -- this is a great writeup! Thanks.

      I tried to look at your last chart ( ) but that's not a shared link. Can you repost it with the right chart ID?

  5. Edited
    I don't think a couple of the links I included worked. Here's one that is essential regarding distance & speed inverse relationship.

    The other one was regarding the Mountains climbed over the years. I suspect this link isn't going to work because of the french accents in the link. Query [tdf mountain categories]

    1. Okay... THAT's the right URL.

      Would it be okay if I used that in the blog post? (I'll write an update.)

    2. Absolutely use as you wish. I had so much fun doing it. .Thanks.

  6. 1. Yes, the races have been getting faster over the years for the most part. The highest speed was clocked in 2005 at 41.65 kilometers per hour. The distances in the race often determine the speed, and these distances have been decreasing since 1932. Also, riders now get rest days.
    2. The peculiarities can be explained by the race organizer's decisions about the routes they take, according to this analysis: (check out the answer Winner's Speed by Distance). The routes are one of the key factors in determining the average speed of a race.