In response to the finish of the 1981 Tour de France, French minister of sports Edwige Avice objected to the amount of advertising in the race, and suggested the Tour to return to the national team format. The Tour organisation needed the money brought in by the sponsors, and no changes were made to the team structure.
The Tour organisation decided to start with 17 teams, each with 10 cyclists, for a total of 170, a new record. Tour director Félix Lévitan suggested to reduce the number of cyclists by starting with teams of 9 cyclists, but this was rejected. Teams could submit a request to join until 15 May 1982. To promote cycling in the United States of America, the American national cycling team would automatically be accepted, but the American team made no request.
The teams entering the race were:
Hinault, who had won the Tour in 1978, 1979 and 1981, and left the 1980 Tour in leading position, was the clear favourite for the victory. In those other years, Hinault had won several races before the Tour, but in 1982 he had only won one major race, the 1982 Giro d'Italia. Hinault tried to be the fourth cyclist, after Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx, to win the Giro-Tour double.
Notable absent was Lucien Van Impe, who was second in the 1981 Tour de France, winning the mountains classification. Since the 1969 Tour de France, Van Impe had started each edition, winning the general classification in the 1976 Tour and the mountains classification five times. Van Impe wanted to join, but his team Metauro was not invited, as the organisation considered it not strong enough to ride both the Giro and the Tour. Van Impe tried to find a team to hire him only for the 1982 Tour, but was not successful.
The 1982 Tour de France started on 2 July, and had two rest days, in Lille and Martigues.
After Bernard Hinault, the winner of the previous Tour and main favourite, won the prologue, seven seconds ahead of Gerrie Knetemann, Belgian Ludo Peeters took the lead in the first stage, by finishing 38 seconds ahead of the peloton. On the second stage however, Phil Anderson took the lead. Anderson had worn the yellow jersey in the previous year also, the first time in history that the yellow jersey was in non-European hands, but this year he would keep it longer. In the fifth stage, a team time trial was scheduled. Employees of the Usinor steel factory in Denain were blocking the road, and the race had to be canceled, while some teams were already racing. The tour organisers quickly decided to replace it by an extra stage, in the morning before stage nine.
In the eighth stage, Régis Clère had escaped, and created a margin of almost thirteen minutes. The stage ended on a circuit of 6 km, where 15 laps were planned. Clère was unable to lap the rest of the field because of a flat tire, and was caught by the rest. Phil Anderson remained the leader until the individual time trial in stage eleven. Then, as expected, Bernard Hinault took the lead, even though Gerrie Knetemann beat him in the time trial.
Then the race got to the Pyrenées. Hinault kept his rivals in sight, and allowed other cyclists to escape. Then, in stage 14, Hinault won the time trial, and had created a margin of more than five minutes. In the alps, Hinault used the same tactics, and lost no time to his rivals. In stage sixteen, protesting farmers delayed the start of the race, but this time the race could continue, after the farmers allowed the riders to start. Then, in the time trial in stage 19, Hinault won again.
Hinault was accused of riding a boring race. He responded by winning the final stage in Paris.
There were several classifications in the 1982 Tour de France, four of them awarding jerseys to their leaders. The most important was the general classification, calculated by adding each cyclist's finishing times on each stage. The cyclist with the least accumulated time was the race leader, identified by the yellow jersey; the winner of this classification is considered the winner of the Tour.
Additionally, there was a points classification, where cyclists got points for finishing among the best in a stage finish, or in intermediate sprints. The cyclist with the most points lead the classification, and was identified with a green jersey.
There was also a mountains classification. The organisation had categorized some climbs as either hors catégorie, first, second, third, or fourth-category; points for this classification were won by the first cyclists that reached the top of these climbs first, with more points available for the higher-categorized climbs. The cyclist with the most points lead the classification, and was identified with a polkadot jersey.
Another classification was the young rider classification. This was decided the same way as the general classification, but only cyclists under 24 were eligible, and the leader wore a white jersey.
The fifth individual classification was the intermediate sprints classification. This classification had similar rules as the points classification, but only points were awarded on intermediate sprints. In 1982, this classification had no associated jersey.
For the team classification, the times of the best three cyclists per team on each stage were added; the leading team was the team with the lowest total time. The riders in the team that lead this classification wore yellow caps.
In the 1981 Tour de France, Urs Freuler, Eddy Planckaert and Walter Planckaert had left the race before the Alps. The Tour organisers did not want this to happen again, so in 1982, cyclists were not allowed to leave the Tour without a good reason. A cyclist that left the Tour unauthorized would lose all the prize money that he won so far, receive a fine, and would not be allowed to join the next year.
Hinault's victory in 1982 is considered as the most effortless Tour victory in his career.
During the 1982 Tour de France, the Tour organisation was impressed by the global audience that the 1982 FIFA World Cup reached, and they made plans to develop the Tour into a World Cup format, run every four years, where teams from all over the earth would compete against each other. The main part of the race would be in France, but more other countries would be visited; it was discussed to start the Tour in New York.
The 1983 Tour de France was still run in the familiar format in France, but it was open to amateur teams, although only one Colombian accepted the invitation.