It's no surprise that France and other European nations dominate the Tour de France. What is surprising is that the number of riders from outside of Europe has declined in recent years.
The Tour de France is a French race through France. Of course, there have long been starts or stages abroad, but most of the route takes riders through the Grande Nation.
Not much has changed over the years, apart from the makeup of the field of riders. A glance at the race's history shows that 80 riders took part in the first race in 1903, including six Swiss, five Belgians, two Germans, and one Italian. All the rest were French in what was a purely European affair.
That's different today. Cycling is an international sport with riders and teams from all over the world. The UCI World Tour, the elite tour in professional cycling, stages events in 15 countries on four continents.
With new sponsors and new markets opening up for the cycling industry, new nationalities have also made it to the elite level of the sport in recent years. So, as cycling's most prestigious event, is the Tour de France also becoming more and more international?
A declining number of nations
Surprisingly, this is not the case. The number of nations represented has dropped in recent years.
In 2016, there were 35 nations represented at the Tour de France. That number fell to 32 in 2017 and 30 in 2018 — the same number nations represented in this year's tour.
One reason for this decline could be a rule change that was implemented last year, which allows each team to take just eight riders (instead of the previous nine) to the "Grand Tours” (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana). That, in turn, has reduced the total number of starters for the Tour from 198 to 176.
The idea behind the rule change was meant to increase slightly the effort required by each rider, making it more difficult for one team to dominate a stage race. However, this has also impacted the starting positions for riders who do not come from traditional cycling nations.
While the number of starters from strongholds such as France (35), Belgium (21) or Italy (15) have remained more or less constant, smaller cycling nations have lost ground. The Asia-Pacific region, for example, had 18 starters each in the previous two years, but this year there are only 13.
Eritrea's Natnael Berhane has bemoaned the fact that there is less room for African athletes at the Tour de France. The 2015 edition of the race boasted six riders from Africa, but there are only three in this year's tour. The number of riders from North and South America has remained stable at 12. Europeans, who have always formed the core group in professional cycling remain the overwhelming majority with 148 riders.