Champions or Cheaters? Social Reactions to the Tour de France

Champions or Cheaters? Social Reactions to the Tour de France

Each year, millions of people from around the world descend upon towns and cities all over France to see the riders of the Tour de France battle to win the honour of wearing the prestigious yellow jersey after 3 weeks of intense, almost superhuman cycle races.

This year’s edition came to an end over the weekend and Tour winner Chris Froome made history as the first Briton to become overall winner twice after his victory in 2013. Having previously used Talkwalker’s social media analytics to analyze buzz around other sporting events like the 2015 Champions League Final, this time we decided to examine the Tour de France. Of course, not all teams and mentions are created equal. So let’s take a look at the social media buzz surrounding the 2015 Tour de France and see what people online had to say about the race.

Mountains Raise the Social Volume

The three-week long race began on the 4th of July in the Netherlands and came to an end with the final stage at the Champs-Élysées in Paris just yesterday. In total, participants covered 21 stages to complete the Tour. And a large volume of social mentions accompanied each of those stages.

total buzz

(Total mentions for the Tour de France over the course of the race)

Mentions for the Tour de France and the related hashtags from the very first to the very last stage totalled 2.9 million. A lot of attention went to the stages that were the most demanding – the first medium-mountain stage on July 6th and the July 14th mountain stage from Tarbes to La Pierre Saint-Martin in particular saw huge spikes in online buzz.

world map

(Breakdown of Tour mentions across race countries)

The 2015 Tour de France’s Grand Départ and first stages took place in the Netherlands, leading from Utrecht as the starting point across the country and through Belgium, until the pack reached France. A breakdown of online mentions for the Tour shows high interest in all countries along the Tour’s route. From little Belgium, host to two stages, came almost 69,000 mentions – not far behind its bigger neighbour Germany, which was not part of this year’s Tour.

Generally speaking it was European men who were most interested in the tour with the top 10 countries discussing the Tour all from Europe, except for the United States. In terms of gender, mentions were heavily skewed towards men:

gender country tdf

(Top 10 countries discussing the Tour de France and a gender breakdown of social mentions)

Global Riders, Global Conversation

There are close to 200 cyclists who participate in the Tour de France but when it comes down to it, only a select few have a genuine chance of winning it all and it is these riders that the world’s eyes focus upon each year. This year the champion was Chris Froome so naturally the yellow jersey winner drew the most social attention:

topr rider worlds wide grap[hic

(Chris Froome generated 6 times as much social discussion as 2nd place Nairo Quintana)

This much was to be expected but excluding Froome from the results, the most discussed riders in each continent were actually quite varied with some regions more focused on former champion Alberto Contador, others more interested in rising star Nairo Quintana and the emergence of Daniel Teklehaimanot driving discussions in Africa:

riders pop by geo ex frrome

(Aside from Froome social discussions varied somewhat by region with Contador, Quintana & Nibali leading the way)

Team Sky the Most Visible on Social but only just

The lead riders are naturally the focal point of the tour, but the teams behind them are key to their success. For sponsors, mentions of the team name can help to substantially increase brand awareness. Of course, success always breeds visibility so it’s little surprise that Team Sky come out on top but other major teams are pretty close behind:

sponsors mentions blog final

Of course online mentions aren’t the only measure of a sponsors’ visibility at major sports events like the Tour de France, but when combined with value of visual impressions on television for example, online mentions can be a useful measure with which to measure sponsorship ROI.

Doping rumours around the Tour champion

Over recent years, the issue of doping or the use of performance enhancing drugs in has been a major talking point as a result of various doping scandals over the last decade. This year’s tour was no different, with eventual champion Chris Froome coming under the most suspicion. Discussions of Froome in relation to doping were limited at the beginning of the tour but once the riders entered the mountains on July 14th, conversations on this topic increased significantly:

froome doping convo final

(Social mentions of Chris Froome in combination with doping over the course of the Tour)

From that point forward rumours about Froome’s use of performance-enhancing substances tainted the Briton’s eventual victory. In total there were around 35k references to Froome and doping over the course of the Tour although this still paled in comparison to total mentions of Froome which clocked over 930,000 on all media channels.

Despite the allegations, Froome’s rivals came out in support of Team Sky’s lead rider, claiming that he was suffering from the fallout of past Tour scandals. And he also enjoys great support online – in terms of adjectives most often associated with Froome, “clean” is on top of the list with more than 18,000 mentions.

emtions Froome

The Return of Lance Armstrong

2015 also sawthe return of disgraced cycling legend Lance Armstrong who controversially chose to ride two stages of the Tour de France for a Cancer charity. However, looking at sentiment towards Armstrong during the tour it’s clear that Tour fans and commentators alike were less than pleased with his return:

lance armstorng ride

(Negativity peaked on July 16th on the first of Lance Armstrong charity ride’s on this year’s tour)

A historic achievement – and ugly reactions

As the first black African to wear a leader’s jersey, Daniel Teklehaimanot from Eritrea wrote cycling history. He was awarded the polka dot jersey of best climber after the sixth stage of the Tour, while his team, the MTN-Qhubeka are the first African team to participate in the Tour de France. But the iconic moment was ruined by racist remarks against Natnael Berhane, allegedly uttered by Branislau Samoilau from Belarus, while the two were racing in the Tour de Austria.

The social discussions taking place about the Tour de France show the international scale of the event, with riders from multiple continents generating interest across the globe. But while the buzz did generally focus on the great achievements of the riders, the spectre of multiple doping scandals and racist remarks were a dark cloud over this year’s event. Nevertheless, the volume and variety of discussions suggest that the public are far from disillusioned with the sport as a whole and, despite it all, the Tour de France remains one of the world’s most internationally discussed sporting events.


Photo credits: Tour de France 2015 © ASO/B.Bade