I’ve used Tableau Software to visualize the historical record of Tour de France winners from the early 1900’s to 2011.
The first page shown on the Tableau Public site is a dashboard that allows you to select a particular winner or all the winners at once. As you pick a new winner, the four data windows get updated with information from that winner. The winners are shown in the box in the upper left-hand corner and are reverse sorted by the number of times that they have won the tour. At the top of the list is, of course, Lance Armstrong who has won the race seven times. The original data can be obtained by clicking this link.
There are two obvious trends over time. First, the distances ridden in the tour de France vary year to year and have generally been declining since the peak of nearly 3,500 miles after World War I (i.e., 1917). The tour now covers about 2,100 – 2,300 miles over the course of three weeks in July. Secondly, the average speed of the winners has generally been rising over the entire history of the race. The use of performance enhancing drugs may have had an impact on this increase over the past couple of decades but it is clear that the trend has been going on for a long time. Improvements in bike technology, training methods, team tactics, team support, nutrition, rest and recovery, athletic dedication, better roads, shorter courses, and many other factors have lead to the continual increase in average speeds achieved during the race. Cyclists have gotten a bad reputation for the usage of performance enhancing drugs, but I contend that there is no more beautiful, treacherous, spectacular, challenging and difficult athletic event in the world than the tour de France. Today’s cyclists are world-class athletes that are highly trained and focused on their sport and I always look forward to July to watch the drama unfold during this race. Long live the tour!