For more than three weeks starting late June, they'll careen through ancient villages and big cities and surge past farms and up narrow roads over steep mountain passes.



Soon a blur of no-body-fat cyclists will be zooming all through France.

This year’s Tour de France, the Super Bowl of bike races, will take the world’s top competitors on a 2,161-mile journey.

For more than three weeks starting late this month, they’ll careen through ancient villages and big cities and surge past farms and up narrow roads over steep mountain passes. Spectators flock in droves to the route, waiting for hours to see their favorite cyclists flash past and avidly follow the annual race on TV.

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The route varies each year, often passing iconic French sights; in 2011 the pack raced past Mont Saint-Michel (above), the rocky tidal islet crowned by a medieval monastery. But each year the race ends among cheering crowds in the heart of Paris, where the proud winner is honored with the traditional yellow jersey of the leader.

At the first Tour de France in 1903, only 21 pioneering cyclists finished the shorter but still grueling route. While suspended during 20th-century wars, the race these days is going stronger than ever, drawing around 200 of the world’s best riders on teams from France, the U.S., Belgium, Italy, Russia and beyond.

Vive le Tour de France!

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times’ NWTraveler editor. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.