The legendary race in France was born in a way that no one would imagine and became, like no one would imagine. Stages lasting over 24 hours, cyclists who started less than half finished. No clear competition, scandals around the winner and not only that. Let’s see how the first race looked like and how changes developed over the years since then.
“Are you proposing a cycling Tour de France? “
“Well, why not?”
The first Tour de France was the result of an idea from Geo Lefevre, an employee of French newspaper. The idea was developed by his boss Henry Desgrange and the race supposed to take five weeks. The start fee was set 20 French francs (around 70 GB today), so not that many cyclists wanted to take part of that kind of expensive and long event. Desgrange decided to change the rules one week before the start as only 15 cyclists accepted his conditions. He shortened the race from 5 weeks to only 19 days – something like today’s race. Moreover, the first prize would be 3 000 French francs. More and more cyclist started seriously thinking about the participation. Another reason was the fact, that organizer appreciated all cyclist efforts and would pay each cyclist who finish in the first 50 – equivalent of daily work pay in the factory.
Eventually 60 cyclists showed up at the start line. Most cyclist were poor, unemployed mainly from France. The first Tour de France had 6 stages, with first held in Paris as a start. Stages would go through the night and finish next afternoon. Nearly 2500 km – 6 stages around 400 km daily. Comparing to today’s race around 150 km daily and we need to remember about the differences! In 1903 cyclist had heavy bikes – not like today’s “pro” machines. And if something happened, cyclist needed to sort problems out himself.
The exertion was incredible so only 21 cyclists accomplished the race. Maurice Garin despite winning overall, won first and 2 last stages. But the true hero of the first Tour de France was George Lefevre. He followed the race riding on bicycle, sometimes taking train to see next check point. He was organizer and biggest spectator.
1903 Maurice Garin – first winner of the race.
The continuing story of the race, well… we see that every year in Alpes, Pyrenees, Paris and not only there. People, scandals from one in 1904 to newest about Festina team or Lance Armstrong. Everything comes to point that Tour the France is the greatest, most seen race and will probably for long time stay the biggest challenge for today’s pro cyclists.