Geology that created the arena for most celebrated bicycling race

400 million years of tectonic developments to make 2023 Tour de France thrilling contest

Puy de Dome cycling

Credit: Thomas Kowalski, 2017, Vue du Puy-de-Dôme du bas, depuis la route menant depuis la nationale vers l'entrée du funiculaire ou le Chemin des Muletiers, CC SA 4.0

Some of the world’s best professional cyclists are racing across geological formations in France and the Basque Country in Spain formed over 400 million years ago, and celebrated by the team from Geo Sports.

Geology researchers including Dr Marco Maffione from the University of Birmingham have created blogs and videos to highlight the variety of rock formations, volcanoes and features found across the routes of the men’s and women’s Tours de France.

The site Geo-Sports will describe the natural decor of each stage of the Tour de France: the various landscapes and the treasures that are found below the surface, and during this year's Tour de France Femmes, the team will pay special attention to female pioneers in the development of Earth science.

“Much more than in other sports, a cycling race is an event where you can enjoy the surroundings”, says Geologist Douwe van Hinsbergen, Professor at Utrecht University and die-hard cycling fan. “So I decided to share our knowledge and the underlying geological treasures with the public, in a fun and accessible way, together with my fellow earth scientists from the Netherlands and abroad.”

Swiss cheese rocks

Dr Marco Maffione is Associate Professor of Tectonics at the School of Geography Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, and is part of the scientists. In his blog on Tour de France’s Stage 16 (Passy-Combloux) Marco shows how the Alpine belt grew during the collision between the European and African plates – and was subsequently curved into the present-day horse-shoe structure that forms the western Alpine Arc in northern Italy and southeast France.

This year, the Tour de France will once again race through the varied landscapes of France, and also northern Spain. Among the geological formations, riders will pass the Swiss cheese-style rocks of the Basque Country hills, a volcano that was once Europe’s largest in the Auvergne, rocks folded like a pile of clean laundry in the Alps, and a series of dinosaur tracks in the Jura.

With cycling commentator José Been as Editor-in-Chief, the team behind has now expanded last year’s pilot project with more blogs, more information, and videos with explanations, which are all free to use by the media. The videos will be used by television broadcasters during their live stage reports and at the end of the relevant stage, they will be posted to YouTube and the social media channels.

Notes for editors

  • For media enquiries please contact Tim Mayo, Press Office, University of Birmingham, tel: +44 (0)7920 405040
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.