Behind the scenes: Geology of the Tour de France

Endless Tour de France stages in which cyclists struggle to climb a mountain ridge suddenly become a fascinating geology excursion in Geology of the Tour de France. For example, did you know that those weird cones dotting the landscape – many of which are topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary like the one in Le-Puy-en-Velay – are called volcanic necks? Time to chat with geoscientist Douwe van Hinsbergen about his initiative. 

Douwe van Hinsbergen tijdens de Tour de France kijkend naar de wielrenners
Photo: Maaike van den Broek

So how did you come up with the idea for Geology of the Tour de France? 

"I'm a big cycling fan myself, and I love watching a screen for four hours while nothing much is actually happening. They fill that time by having commentators discuss all kinds of topics. Apart from the riders, they discuss things like cities, architecture, history or gastronomy. It occurred to me that subjects like the beautiful landscapes, the geological history, the subsoil and the impact of our land use are at least as interesting. And that I can offer that knowledge." 

It proved to be a huge success. How did it all start? 

"I started writing short blogs about each stage of the Tour. I sent them to an NOS reporter, and that got the ball rolling. They used my essays in the live coverage, I was commissioned to do a column on Radio 2 and the NRC newspaper wrote about it. Once the Tour was over, I started expanding the platform. Geology of the Tour de France now boasts a team of 28 writers from eleven different countries and can offer the content in many different languages. We used financial support from the Public Engagement Seed Fund of the Centre for Science and Culture to create a website ( for the information. We also share the stories in an entertaining format on Twitter. Thanks to funding from the Dutch Research Council's Communication Initiative Award, we can now hire a communication specialist to develop stories in vlog and blog format to reach a really diverse and broad audience." 

I want to share knowledge about the terrestrial system.

Prof. Douwe van Hinsbergen is Professor of Global Tectonics and Paleogeography at the Faculty of Geosciences

Why do you feel it is so important to educate people about geosciences? 

"Many of the big issues our country is currently facing, from climate change to the energy transition and from water management to the nitrogen crisis, all relate to the way we treat the planet. Every political party has at least some points on these issues in its election manifesto. I want to share knowledge about the terrestrial system so that everyone can make informed choices. Apart from that, it's just something I really enjoy doing. Social media can be a pretty negative environment, but the initiative has received nothing but happy and positive responses. That's been the best part for me. It's been a real breath of fresh air. 

Text: Sigrid Dekker


This article also appears in the third edition of the magazine Close-Up, full of inspiring columns, background stories and experiences of researchers and support staff.

Go to Close-up #3