I’m not a biker, I’m into triathlon, in fact I only started riding a bike here in UAE 5 years ago. That being said it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a growing interest in the Tour de France, with a new found appreciation of the riders extreme fitness and unreal bike handling skills and hype around the sport, inparticular since the Armstrong ‘revelations’ and more importantly since the excitement and gamesmanship surrounding Le Tour de Toot. Anyway, I decided to provide the answers to the questions I always wanted to ask the bikers of the team about Le Tour… without fear of being chastised for my ignorance – its a bit like asking about the off side rule in football. So today’s lesson on Le Tour is a bit of history…
The French love bike racing always have from what I can gather. Basically, the race was a result of a battle of the French cycling magazines – it’s a long story, so I shall summarise. France’s leading cycling magazine L’Velo, came a cropper when the magazine owner Gifford was involved in a bit of treachery (cycling, treachery, really?). Another chap, Count de Dion who had a vested interest in the mag, took it over and called it L’Auto-Velo, then an ex-racer Desgrange with a big following came in on the scene, got L’Auto-Velo to drop the ‘Velo’ for some reason? and ended up with the magazine called L’Auto, there was some rivalry between L’Velo and L’Auto, and Desgrange needed a big idea to raise the profile of what was essentially a magazine called ‘The Car’ trying to pull readers in the cycling scene, so a chap called Geo Lefevre, who was really into cycling, knew the pro’s and their fans and was an amateur cyclist himself, knew the only way to increase the readership of the magazine L’Auto was to promote the longest cycling race in the world.
So they came up with the whacky race – Le Tour de France. The first TDF started on 1st July 1903. 78 men signed up, 60 started (there was a drop out rate even then) and 21 finished. The first tour was 2,428km, split into 6 stages, the shortest being 268km and the longest 471km. There were 2-4 days rest between each stage. They rode heavy bikes, weighing 15 kilograms or more, made of steel with wooden wheel rims and big balloon tyres, the roads were rough and muddy when it rained. Just think about that for a moment…!
Maurice Garin won the first Tour and his prize 6,000 gold francs – the equivalent of 9 years wages for a manual worker in the town where he came from! He was rich, and lets face it, he earned every franc in what was a totally gruelling race! Magazine sales went up massively, and the passion for the race was ignited and as they say… the rest is history.
To the French the Tour de France heralds the coming of summer, the holidays and happy memories… and summer is here again, this year, the 101st Tour de France starts on Saturday 5th July in the very French town – Leeds (?) and finishes in Paris on 27th July 2014.