History of Le Tour

Every year around this time, cycling fans and fans of the Tour de France are salivating in anticipation of the feast of cycling that is about to come our way.

The teams have been announced, the route has been studied and debated and now there is little else to do, but create your fantasy team and plan three weeks of disrupted sleep patterns.

The Tour de France is easily the most well known of the three Grand Tours and whilst we may debate the Giro is a better race, there is no doubt that it is the Tour that sells cycling like no other event.

Of course such a famous race would not be without a rich and chequered history and as we celebrate the 100th Edition of the Tour de France, it may be worthwhile reflecting on the history of this iconic sporting event.

The first Tour de France was held in 1903 but due to interruptions otherwise known as the First and Second World Wars, it has taken 110 years to get the 100th staging of the race.

Like the Giro in Italy, which was begun by La Gazzetta dello Sport, the Tour was begun by the newspaper, L’Auto in an attempt to increase readership. In fact it was the yellow pages of this publication that gave us the famed Yellow Jersey, that the GC contenders will be riding three weeks and around 3000km to claim as their own. For those of you curious to know why the Giro has a Pink Jersey, the La Gazzetta dello Sport was printed on pink paper.

The Tour de France has undergone many transformations in its 100 year history. The romance and passion this three week journey around France invokes in sport lovers is really quite staggering.

Few other single sporting events can engage with such a large audience in the same way the tour does.

Yes, the Football World Cup can bring many a non-football fan before their television sets but if it was an annual event, would it hold the same attraction? I suspect not.

The romance and majesty of watching elite athletes torture themselves in a world of pain for three weeks is thrilling to watch.

Over the years, the Tour has been raced by commercial teams, national teams and once was even a giant team trial around France.

In the early days, anyone could compete. Riders may have been factory workers, the unemployed or private entrants called touriste-routiers or tourists of the road.

The conditions were also quite different to those experienced by today’s pampered pooch’s, I mean professional cyclists.

Could you imagine Mark Cavendish having to mend his own, no-name bicycle? There was definitely no sprint train in action either and an inability to climb would have spelt certain disaster, as pacing teammates was outlawed.

There may have been some elements of Tours past that have the potential to appeal to today’s teams, though.

In the 1920s a team could replace lost riders half way through the race and with most stages contested at night in the early, early days of the Tour, it was possible to swap riders and no-one would be the wiser.

Today’s race is a hugely commercial exercise. All of the teams are UCI Pro-Teams and there are three ‘wildcard’ teams from the Pro-Continental ranks competing.

The enormous advertising caravan has been a fixture of the event since the 1930s, sometimes coming under criticism from those who felt such attractions cheapened the race. These advertising caravans still form an integral part of the race, keeping crowds entertained as they wait patiently for their heroes to race past in a whirl of turning cogs and the flashing colours of their kits.

It’s only a few short hours until the 100th Edition begins in Corsica. Who will wear yellow on the Champs Elysees in three weeks time? Well, I think it will Alberto Contador but we will have to wait and see.

 

 

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