The first time that the Tour de France rolled through Languedoc was in the inaugural race in 1903, with an epically long stage (Marseilles to Toulouse) of 423 km that traversed the entire region in one day! 1905 saw Languedoc’s first Arriver, in Nîmes (won by Louis Trousselier, pictured below), and since then the region has hosted Le Grand Boucle nearly every year.
Languedoc is a region blessed with a great variety of landscapes and the cycling here is excellent, but the real reason the Tour probably always comes here is less flattering: we just happen to be in between the two great mountain ranges of France (The Alps and The Pyrenees) where, inevitably, much of the action occurs during the Tour. Therefore, for the most part, stages than run through Languedoc are long and fast.
However, Languedoc has seen some drama over the last century. In only the 2nd Tour de France, in 1904, after local boy Ferdinand Payan (from Alès) was disqualified from the race, Nîmes fans barracked roads, threw stones at riders and broke one of the leaders’ bike…and you thought today’s fans got in riders’ faces!
In the 1960 Tour, Roger Rivière, wearing the yellow jersey, followed descending specialist (and eventual winner in Paris) Gastone Nencini down from the col de Perjuret in the Cévennes, only to overreach his abilities and end up flying off the road and break his back, ending his Tour hopes along with his cycling career.
In 2009, the year of Lance Armstrong’s ill-fated 2nd comeback, a small group at the front of the peloton succeeded in creating a gap (in high cross winds) on the Marseille-Montpellier stage that stuck and came within a few seconds of putting Armstrong in the yellow jersey for the first time in four years. This would be the closest he would come though, after his Astana teammate, Alberto Contador, along with Andy Schleck, put down the hammer in the mountains and established once and for all that a new generation had taken control the Tour.
For general tips on following the Tour de France, this article might give you some ideas.
And if you like what you see on the roads of Languedoc in July, you could always take a guided or self-guided ride while you’re here.