A Brief History of Tour de France Grand Departs

If you live in the UK, then recently, you’ll have been bombarded with information about ‘Le Grand Depart’ in Yorkshire. Because we’re British, and as a result are both very bad losers and even worse winners, we, buoyed by telling everyone that the London Olympics were the ‘best ever’, have decided that scenic Leeds and Harrogate are going to provide the ‘best ever’ Grand depart. But still. The ‘Grand Depart’ (literally ‘The Big Start’) is a growing tradition for the Tour. The Tour has oft made foreign excursions – Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, The UK, Luxembourg, Monaco and Spain have all been recipients of the Tour at some point, but only a select few places have been lucky enough to host the Tour’s opening days. Note ‘opening days’ not ‘opening weekend’ – some races started on Thursdays in the past. So here is a brief recollection of all 18 Grand Departs before the 19th in 2014 (and indeed, the 20th in Utrecht in 2015.

Notes – I’ve categorised a ‘Grand Depart’ as being required for the entire race to start in a foreign country (ie not France). I’ve then listed all the stages that it took to return to the homeland. There are thus some emissions of long visits to foreign countries, where there was one day in France followed by a few in say Belgium, which I have not counted.

2012 – Liege
(Tour Winner – Bradley Wiggins [GBR])

Prologue: Liege – Liege (6.4km) – Fabian Cancellara [SUI] (Fabian Cancellara)

Stage 1: Liege – Seraing (198km) – Peter Sagan [SVK] (Fabian Cancellara)

Stage 2: Vise – Tournai (207.5km) – Mark Cavendish [GBR] (Fabian Cancellara)


Liege was effectively a nostalgia trip back to 2004, when the city had also held the Grand Depart. with an identical prologue course. Deja vu was very much in effect – whilst in 2004 a fresh faced Tour debutant won the prologue to defeat Lance Armstrong, this time they were back as a multi-classic, world champion and Olympic winning super star to wrap up the prologue once again. Fabian Cancellara’s time of 7:13 was slightly slower than his 2004 time (6:50) but the course was 300m longer this time. He then showed off the yellow jersey the next day only  to be ambushed by Peter Sagan, before the Tour had a flat stage into Tournai to give Mark Cavendish a win in the World Champions jersey. Cancellara’s time in the yellow jersey confirmed him as the rider to have worn the yellow jersey the most days without after having won it outright, and also confirmed him as ‘Monsieur Prologue’, having won all 5 he had entered.


2010 – Rotterdam
(Tour Winner- Andy Schleck [LUX])
Prologue: Rotterdam – Rotterdam (8.9km) – Fabian Cancellara [SUI] (Fabian Cancellara)

Stage 1: Rotterdam – Brussels (223.5km) – Alessandro Petacchi [ITA] (Fabian Cancellara)

Stage 2: Brussels – Spa (201km) – Sylvain Chavanel [FRA] (Sylvain Chavanel)

Stage 3: Wanze – Arenberg Porte du Hainaut – Thor Hushovd [NOR] (Fabian Cancellara)


Technically this was only Rotterdam’s Grand Depart, but the Tour went for a detour through Belgium and courted controversy as some of the more exciting first few days of the Tours came up. Cancellara won the Time Trial as usual, which was a wet and breezy affair (I should know, I was there and it was miserable) where Team Sky’s Tour debut fell into farce when they decided they could predict the weather and thus that they would send Bradley Wiggins out early, rather than at the end with the favourites, on the basis that they thought it would be more likely to rain as the race went on. Forgetting Britain is notoriously bad at predicting weather,  Wiggins went out, the rain started, and as he finished, it stopped. He ended up 56 seconds down on Cancellara after just 9km. Britain didn’t fare too well the next day into Brussels either, when Mark Cavendish, already under media pressure after an eventful early season, caused a crash and was out of the sprint, which Alessandro Petacchi duly won as the pack managed to crash on a dead straight road a couple more times.

The Tour then moved to Belgium for a taster of the spring classics, with the day to Spa being a mini ‘Liege Bastonge Liege’. The appalling weather and oil on the descents caused various crashes, and so lone breakaway Sylvain Chavanel blasted away to victory and the yellow jersey as the wearer of that esteemed malliot, Fabian Cancellara, called a truce in the pack, mainly to allow his teams leader in Andy Schleck to return.

Crashes would feature the next day in the cobbled classic stage, which didn’t really go over any of the worst rated sectors, but never the less took out Frank Schleck with a broken collarbone, delayed Lance Armstrong and indeed caused Alberto Contador to lose time, although given he had a broken spoke, simply raising his hand for a mechanical in the last kilometre would have reduced his deficit to the upfront Andy Schleck group. Schleck’s group, driven by Fabian Cancellara (who took his yellow jersey back from a puncturing Chavanel), Geraint Thomas, Cadel Evans and a picked up Ryder Hesjedal, all yielded to Thor Hushovd in the sprint, and so after just 4 days the whole race had been both figuratively and literally shaken up.


2009 – Monaco
(Tour Winner – Alberto Contador [SPA])

Stage 1: Monaco – Monaco (15.5km) – Fabian Cancellara [SUI] (Fabian Cancellara)

Stage 2: Monaco – Brignoles (187km) – Mark Cavendish [GBR] (Fabian Cancellara)


A rather grey Monaco day made the opening prologue not quite the glorious summer spectacle everyone had hoped for, which was perhaps the only downer on a somewhat under rated edition of the race. The Monaco grand depart opened with a time trial, rather than the usual prologue, because the opening time trial was nearly twice as long as prologues are usually allowed to be. Cancellara walloped everyone as usual, even catching his minute man Denis Menchov in the finishing straight to give himself the yellow jersey for another year and yet another triumph in the Prologue. Elsewhere, Lance Armstrong was returning to the sport, and managed a respectable 10th place, albeit behind his rival Contador.

The second stage was simply left Monaco, which obviously couldnt hold the race for very long due to its tiny stage. Mark Cavendish took the win in his vintage Tour de France year, besting Tyler Farrar and Thor Hushovd to the line.

2007 – London
(Tour Winner – Alberto Contador [SPA])

Prologue: London – London (7.9km) – Fabian Cancellara [SUI] (Fabian Cancellara)

Stage 1: London – Canterbury (203km) – Robbie McEwen [AUS] (Fabian Cancellara)


The Tour had been to Britain before, but only to Plymouth and Brighton, which wasn’t exactly the best way to show off the country. This time however, the capital was to be the attraction, and a glitzy, professional event emerged from the low expectations of farce that had accompanied the Tour of Britains reinvigoration the previous year, where riders had been riding on roads open to traffic and all sorts of nonsense. It’s scary to think how low on the radar cycling was back then – Bradley Wiggins was being scolded by Cofidis to produce a ride in the Dauphine to warrant a place in the Tour team (he duly won the prologue) and David Millar was back from his doping ban. Mark Cavendish was being ‘blooded’ as the cliche goes, and it would be a year before he would start reeling off the stage wins. Still, the sun shone, and the prologue was won, surprise surprise, by World Champion Fabian Cancellara, who put so  much time into Andreas Kloden and George Hincapie in 2nd and 3rd place that the time bonuses avaliable on thefollowing stages (this was the last year they featured in Tour) were essentially irrelevant.

The next day featured some more London sight seeing before heading off from Tower Bridge to race towards Canterbury. Cavendish was caught in a crash and couldnt contest the sprint, and it looked like the same could be said for Aussie Robbie McEwen, who fell heavily and was last seen a long way off the back nursing a wrist and being gingerly paced by his Predictor-Lotto team. That is, until he suddenly appeared from behind everyone in the last 200m to the surprise and awe of all those watching to zip through and pinch what turned out to be his final Tour stage win of 12.


2004 – Liege
(Tour Winner – Lance Armstrong [USA])

Prologue: Liege-Liege (6.1km) – Fabian Cancellara [SUI] (Fabian Cancellara)

Stage 1: Liege –Charleroi (202.5km) – Jaan Kirsipuu [EST] (Fabian Cancellara)

Stage 2: Charleroi – Namur (197km) – Robbie McEwen [EST] (Thor Hushovd)

Stage 3: Waterloo – Wasquehal (210km) – Jean-Patrick Nazon [FRA] (Robbie McEwen)


2004 was all meant to be all about Lance Armstrong trying to break the Tour record with a sixth victory, but he had his thunder stolen on the first day when young Swiss upstart and Tour debutant Fabian Cancellara crashed the part to beat him by two seconds. Cancellara kept the jersey for a couple of days, with the next three days in Belgium essentially just catering for mass sprints, with AG2R’s Nazon and Kirsipuu stealing the honours either side of Robbie McEwen, who took yellow for a day off Norway’s Thor Hushovd before losing it in the TTT when the race re-entered France.


2002 – Luxembourg
(Tour Winner – Lance Armstrong [USA])

Prologue: Grand-duche de Luxembourg (7km) – Lance Armstrong [USA] (Lance Armstrong)

Stage 1: Luxembourg – Luxembourg (192.5km) – Rubens Bertogliati [SUI] (Rubens Bertogliati)

Stage 2: Luxembourg – Sarrebruck (181km) – Oscar Freire [SPA] (Rubens Bertogliati)




Prologue: Dublin – Dublin (5.6km) – Chris Boardman [GBR] (Chris Boardman)

Stage 1: Dublin – Dublin (180.5km) – Tom Steels [BEL] (Chris Boardman)

Stage 2: Enniscorthy – Cork (205.5km) – Jan Svorada [CZE] (Erik Zabel)




Prologue: ‘s Hertogenbosch – ‘s Hertogenbosch (9.4km) – Alex Zulle [SUI] (Alex Zulle)

Stage 1: ‘s Hertogenbosch – ‘s Hertogenbosch (209km) – Frederic Moncassin [FRA] (Alex Zulle)

Stage 2: ‘s Hertogenbosch – Wasquehal (247.5km) – Mario Cipollini [ITA] (Alex Zulle)




Prologue: San Sebastian – San Sebastian (8km) – Miguel Indurain [SPA] (Miguel Indurain)

Stage 1: San Sebastian – San Sebastian (194.5km) – Dominque Arnould [FRA] (Alex Zulle)

Stage 2: San Sebastian – Pau (255km) – Javier Murguialday [SPA] (Richard Virenque)




Prologue: Luxembourg – Luxembourg (7.8km) – Eric Breuknik [NED] (Eric Breuknik)

Stage 1: Luxembourg – Luxembourg (135.5km) – Acacio da Silva [POR] (Acacio da Silva)

Stage 2: Luxembourg – Luxembourg TTT (46km) – Super U (Acacio da Silva)

Stage 3: Luxembourg – Spa-Francorchamps (241km) – Raul Alcala [MEX] (Acacio da Silva)

Stage 4: Liege – Wasquehal (255km) – Jelle Nijdam [NED] (Acacio da Silva)




Prologue: Berlin – Berlin (6.1km) – Jelle Nijdam [NED] (Jelle Nijdam)

Stage 1: Berlin – Berlin (105.5km) – Nico Verhoeven [NED] (Lech Piasecki)

Stage 2: Berlin – Berlin TTT (40km) – Carrera (Lech Piasecki)

Stage 3: Karlsruhe – Stuttgart (219km) – Acacio da Silva [POR](Erich Maechler)

Stage 4: Stuttgart – Pforzheim (79km) – Herman Frison [BEL] (Erich Maechler)

Stage 5: Pforzheim – Stuttgart (112.5km) – Marc Seargeant [BEL] (Erich Maechler)




Prologue: Basel – Basel (7.4km) – Bernard Hinault [FRA] (Bernard Hinault)

Stage 1: Shupfart-Mohlin – Shupfart-Mohlin (207km) – Ludo Peeters [BEL] (Ludo Peeters)

Stage 2: Basel – Nancy (250km) – Phil Anderson [AUS] (Phil Andreson)




Prologue: Frankfurt – Frankfurt (7.6km) – Bernard Hinault [FRA] (Bernard Hinault)

Stage 1a: Frankfurt –Wiesbaden (133km) – Jan Raas [NED] (Bernard Hinault)

Stage 1b: Wiesbaden – Frankfurt TTT (45.8km) – Ti-Raleigh (Gerrie Knetemann)

Stage 2: Frankfurt – Metz (276km) – Rudy Pevenage [BEL] (Yvon Bertin)




Prologue: Leiden – Leiden (5.2km) – Jan Raas [NED] (Jan Raas)

Stage 1a: Leiden – Sint-Willebrord (135km) – Jan Raas [NED] (Jan Raas)

Stage 1b: Sint-Willebrord (100km) – Walter Planckaert [BEL] (Jan Raas)

Stage 2: Brussels – Saint-Amand-les-Eaux (199km) – Jacques Esclassan [FRA] (Jan Raas)




Prologue: Charleroi – Charleroi (6.3km) – Francesco Moser [ITA] (Francesco Moser)

Stage 1a: Charleroi – Molenbeek (94km) – Cees Priem [NED] (Francesco Moser)

Stage 1b: Molenbeek – Roubaix (108.5km) – Rik Van Linden [BEL] (Francesco Moser)




Prologue: Scheveningen – Scheveningen (7.1km) – Joop Zoetemelk [NED] (Joop Zoetemelk)

Stage 1a: Scheveningen – Rotterdam (84km) – Willy Teirlinck [BEL] (Willy Teirlinck)

Stage 1b: Rotterdam – St Nicholas (137.5km) – Jose Catieau [FRA] (Herman Van Springel)

Stage 2a: St Nicolas – St Nicolas TTT (12.5km) – Watney-Maes (Herman Van Springel)

Stage 2b: St Nicolas – Roubaix (138km) – Eddy Verstraeten [BEL] (Herman Van Springel)




Stage 1a: Cologne – Liege (149km) – Rik Van Looy [BEL] (Rik Van Looy)

Stage 1b: Liege – Liege TTT (22.5km) – Ford-France-Gitane (Rik Van Looy)

Stage 2: Liege – Roubaix (200.5km) – Bernard Van De Kerkhove (Bernard Van de Kerkhove)




Stage 1: Brussels – Gand (184km) – Andre Darrigade [FRA] (Andrre Darrigade)

Stage 2: Gand – Dunkirk (198km)- Gerrir Voorting [NED] (Jos Hoevenaers)


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