The Tour De France is the crown jewel of cycling for a reason. The race not only tests riders’ skills and endurance, but it also tests their mettle. Racing at speeds in excess of 50 miles an hour down a rain-slicked road on the edge of a mountain is beyond dangerous. Sadly, those conditions have resulted in fatal accidents in years past, not only for the riders, but spectators as well. How many people have died in the Tour De France?
The history of the Tour De France
The Tour De France started in 1903 in an effort for a local newspaper to increase sales. Since that original race, the Tour has morphed over time to its current form. The current race includes 21 stages that are run over 23 days.
The race, which is generally contested in July, includes up to 22 teams with eight riders on each team. The format is consistent each year and includes time trials, passage through the mountain chains of the Pyrenees and the Alps, and a finish on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
There are inherent dangers with cycling by itself, but those risks increase dramatically on the Tour De France. And it’s not just one thing, it’s a combination of challenging factors, including dozens of riders jockeying for position, and doing so on streets that can sometimes be dirt roads, cobblestone, oil-stained, and often very slick due to rainy conditions. Add in the fact that spectators are lining the streets and each team’s chase vehicles are cruising on the route, and it can be a recipe for disaster. Sometimes, that disaster can be fatal.
How many riders have died at the Tour De France?
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The first death during the actual race occurred in 1935 when Spanish racer Francisco Cepeda plunged down a ravine on the Col du Galibiera, a mountain pass in the southern region of the French Alps that is the highest point of the Tour de France. Cepeda suffered serious injuries and died while being transported to the hospital.
The next death during the Tour happened more than thirty years later in 1967. During Stage 13, Tom Simpson, who was considered to be one of Britain’s most successful professional cyclists, died of heart failure during the ascent of Mont Ventoux. Amphetamines and alcohol were later discovered in Simpson’s blood, and this cocktail ultimately resulted in his death.
The most recent Tour De France rider to die occurred in 1995. On Stage 15 as the Tour descended through the Col de Portet d’Aspet, a mountain pass in the central Pyrenees, Fabio Casartelli and several other riders were traveling at 55 miles per hour when they were involved in a serious crash. Casartelli, who was an Olympic gold medalist and 24 years old at the time, sustained heavy facial and head injuries. He lost consciousness. While being transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital, he stopped breathing, and after numerous resuscitation attempts, the Italian was declared dead.
Additional people who have died at the Tour De France
The Tour De France, unfortunately, isn’t only perilous for riders. Seven other fatal accidents have occurred in the race’s history involving others outside of the racers. The most deadly happened in 1964 when nine people died after a supply van hit a bridge.
Since 2000, there have been three deaths during the 23-day long race. In each case, it’s been a spectator hit by a vehicle. In 2000, 12-year-old boy was struck by a car in the Tour de France publicity caravan. In 2002, a seven-year-old boy, also died after being hit by the caravan. The most recent death occurred in 2009 when a woman in her 60s was killed after a police motorcycle struck her.
While the Tour De France is known as the most prestigious cycling race in the world, it’s also the most dangerous.