On June 26th 2021, 19 teams of the world’s best road cyclists will compete in the 2021 Tour De France, marking the 108th edition of the famous cycling race and one of three of cycling’s “Grand Tours” (the other two being Giro D’Italia and Veulta D’Espagna).
The inaugural Tour De France was started in 1903 due to, out of all things, a feud between two French newspapers, Le Velo and L’Auto. The conflict started when cycling was gaining much popularity, while political unrest was sweeping across Europe. The rivalry between the two newspapers erupted over the Dreyfus scandal, in which French army officer Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason (a sentence which was later overturned). The rivalrous newspapers adopted polarised stances over the Dreyfus affair and, Le Velo, France’s most widely circulated sports newspaper at the time, won a court ruling against L’Auto, which negatively affected the latter’s sales and national circulation. Motivated to boost their declining popularity among cycling fans, L’Auto came up with the idea of organising a race that would go across all of France and essentially function as an enormous promotional campaign for the paper. The 1903 Tour De France was the brainchild of L’Auto’s chief editor, Henri Desgrange, who was a seasoned cycling event promoter, former racer, and holder of the first World Hour Record. Unexpectedly, the success of the Tour De France led to a massive increase in L’Auto’s sales to the point of driving its rival, Le Velo, into bankruptcy.
Tour de France 1903. The first kilometre in the history of cycle racing Tour de France.
Although the Tour De France today is comprised of 21 grueling stages in mountainous terrain, the first Tour had only six stages and all were fairly flat, if exceptionally long with an average distance of 400km, which is about double the distance of contemporary Tour stages. At the start line were 60 professionals or semi-professional riders. The majority were French with the rest being four Swiss, four Belgians, two Germans, and only one Italian. Only 21 of the 60 competitors finished the first Tour, which ended 19 days after it began. The lone Italian, Maurice Garin, eventually went on to win the event, as well as the following year’s Tour. Garin took the victory by a three-hour margin over second-place finisher, Lucien Pothier. Garin was eventually disqualified, along with several other riders, for using illegal measure to gain an advantage over other riders, including using motorized assistance.