TV channel hails ratings boost - but world's biggest annual sporting event only just eclipses rugby league...

Getting on for a million people tuned into ITV4 last Sunday to watch Mark Cavendish win the final stage of the Tour de France on the Champs-Elysées for the third year in a row, and with it win the green points jersey that had previously eluded him.

During the three-week long race, won by Cadel Evans, viewer numbers for the hour-long evening highlights package nearly doubled as fans were gripped by what turned out to be one of the most exciting editions of the race in decades, reports the trade website, BikeBiz.

The audience peaked at 878,000 for the live broadcast on Sunday, although to put the figures into some kind of perspective, the world’s biggest annual sporting event on ITV4 only briefly passed the number following the Rugby League Challenge Cup quarter finals on BBC2.

Other cycling fans – including those who prefer the pairing of Harmon and Kelly to Liggett and Sherwen – would, of course, have been watching the Tour de France on Eurosport, so the actual Tour de France total figures will be higher than those provided by ITV4 alone.

The channel’s evening highlights, which had attracted around 500,000 viewes but that nearly doubled to 900,000 by the end of the race, and head of press for ITV broadcasting, James Macleod, said: "Viewing to ITV4's Tour de France highlights was up a huge 33 per cent year-on-year."

BikeBiz reports however that the coverage attracted some controversy due to Chris Boardman’s presence as expert pundit, given that he also provided the voiceovers for Halfords’ sponsor slots showcasing his own Boardman brand of bicycles.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.