Data visualization & Business Intelligence analyze Tour de France

Sacre blue! The European sporting action continues in frenetic fashion, swiftly shifting from Serb sensation Novak Djokovic’s triumph over the almost undeniable Rafael Nadal (check out our blog Data visualization & Business Intelligence predict Wimbledon final to see how wrong we were), to the scenic mountain passes, picturesque countryside and sprawling estates of le Tour de France.

The 2011 tour is an already tantalizing prospect, with three-time winner Alberto Contador (Spain) struggling to steady himself after an early setback, Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) showing unexpected signs of weakness, and Cadel Evans (Australia) exhibiting newfound grit. Meanwhile, Norwegian Thor Hushovd clings tentatively to the yellow jersey, surviving a torrential downpour.

The inclusion of 15 new stage towns and array of nationalities amongst not only the top contenders, but the entire field, got us thinking. How has this iconic race changed since its inception in 1903?

Distance vs speed of the Tour de France (1903 – 2010)

Immediately, when can see that the race distance has steadily decreased, while the average speed has progressively increased from year-to-year.

However, 2001 – 2005 saw a plunge in both distance and average speed. Without having done the research, we assume this sudden change is due to a marked increase in the number of mountain stages.

Which countries have claimed the most Tour de France victories (1903 – 2010)?

Overall, the French have produced a large number of dominant riders at The Tour, celebrating the ride through the Champs-Elysees 37 times.

Belgium has claimed the title 18 times and Spain 13. The USA sneaks in for an individual mention with 10 tour victories, with their tally almost entirely thanks to Lance Armstrong’s record seven straight wins.

But a pie chart doesn’t reveal much. Let’s dig deeper.

Tour de France winning countries over time (1903 – 2010)

With the exception of a few outliers, it appears that countries produce generations of winning riders.

Whist France produced champion riders for a prolonged period of time, its winning ways have evaporated in the last couple of decades. Belgium and Italy both followed suit, experiencing regular triumphs from the early 20th Century until the early 70s, but no ultimate glory of late.

Conversely, despite recent success, Spain was bereft of frontrunners for the first 50 years of the race’s history, with the USA failing to place anyone on the highest step of the podium for 75 years.

Proportion of first, second and third placed riders in the Tour de France by country (1903 – 2010)

So far we’ve focused on the winners. But which countries came close?

Despite their huge success, France could have easily claimed even more yellow jersey’s, with 31 second place finishes, and another 31 saluting the crowd on the lower step.

The Netherlands and Germany have both been, debatably, unlucky. The Netherlands have an unfortunate strike-rate, with two overall wins and ten almost-there’s. Germany has recorded only one tour victory, but secured the runners up position eight times.