In road bicycle racing, a Grand Tour refers to one of the three major European professional cycling stage races: Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España. Collectively they are termed the Grand Tours, and all three races are similar in format being multi-week races with daily stages. They have a special status in the UCI regulations: more points for the UCI World Tour are distributed in Grand Tours than in other races, and they are the only stage races allowed to last longer than 14 days.
The Tour de France is the oldest and most prestigious of all three, and also the world's most famous cycling race. The Giro d'Italia is the second most important and has occasionally been as popular as the Tour (late '40s, '50s, and early '70s). While the Tour de France has long been a household sporting name around the globe, known even to those not interested in cycling, the other two European Grand Tours are relatively unknown outside the continent, where they are familiar only to cycling enthusiasts.
In their current form, the Grand Tours are held over three consecutive weeks and typically include two "rest" days near the end of the first and second week. The stages are a mix of long massed start races (sometimes including mountain and hill climbs and descents; others are flat stages favoring those with a sprint finish), as well as individual and team time trials and non-competitive exhibition and rest days. Unlike most one-day races, stages in the Grand Tours are generally under 200 kilometers in length.
Controversy often surrounds which teams are invited to the event. Typically, the Union Cycliste Internationale (International Cycling Union) prefers top-rated professional teams to enter, while operators of the Grand Tours often want teams based in their country or those unlikely to cause controversy. From 2005 to 2007, organisers had to accept all ProTour teams, leaving only two wildcard teams per Tour. However, the Unibet team, a ProTour team normally guaranteed entry, was banned from the three Grand Tours due to gambling advertising laws. In 2008, following numerous doping scandals, some teams were refused entry to the Grand Tours: Astana did not compete at the 2008 Tour de France and Team Columbia did not compete at the 2008 Vuelta a España. Since 2011, under the UCI World Tour rules, all ProTour teams are guaranteed a place in all three events, and obliged to participate.
It is rare for cyclists to ride all grand tours in the same year; in 2004, 474 cyclists started in at least one of the grand tours, 68 of them rode two Grand Tours and only two cyclists started in all three grand tours. It is not unusual for sprinters and their leadout men, who do not expect to complete each race, to start each of the Grand Tours and aim for stage wins before the most difficult stages occur. Alessandro Petacchi and Mark Cavendish started all three Grand Tours in 2010 and 2011, respectively, as did some of their preferred support riders. For both riders in both years, only the Tour de France was ridden to its conclusion.
For the UCI World Tour, more points are given in grand tours than in other races; the winner of the Tour de France receives 200 points, and the winners of the Giro and Vuelta receive 170 points, while other races give 100 points at most. The grand tours have a special status for the length: they are allowed to last between 15 and 23 days.
Of the above nine, Pantani, Roche and Battaglin's doubles were their only Grand Tour victories in their careers. Only two cyclists have placed in the top ten at all three Grand Tours in the same year: Geminiani in 1955 and Nencini in 1957.
^Lance Armstrong was originally credited as winner of the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005, but his results were disqualified after an investigation into doping in 2012, and the races were left without an alternative winner being declared.