The tour de France is over 100 years old, and believe you me, the great tour has evolved since its beginnings. This is what the first tour looked like.
In January 1903, Henri Desgrange, editor in chief of the newspaper “auto”,a sports newspaper specialized in bike racing, announced the creation of the “greatest cycling event ever organized” that would take place between the 1st of june all the way through to the 5th of july.
Unfortunately, the conditions were far too strenuous and the prizes too meagre and so on the eve of the start only 15 participants were signed up. This beign a little short of the “greatest cycling event ever organized”, Henri Desgrange, decided to postpone the date of the start and to considerably increase the prize money. In the end, 60 cyclists shot off the starting line on july 1st in Montgeron in the southern districts of Paris in front of the now famous “reveil matin”. The start was held in a suburb rather than paris, seeing as the police prefect for the seine, Louis Lepine had forbidden races in the capital city.
While the race is far shorter today and contains no mountain stages, the conditions of the first tour were far more difficult. Participants had to finish a tour of 2 428 km in only 6 stages linking the main cities of france : paris, lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and nantes. The Frenchman Maurice garin covered the distance between paris and lyon , over 467 km, in only 17 hours, 45 minutes and 44 seconds. The stages were so long and so difficult that racers were given a 3-days rest in between stages; Out of the 60 racers that began the race, only 21 of them finished it.
On july 18th Muarice garin, having already won 2 stages, won the 6th and final stage of the race that linked nantes to paris, with a 3 hour lead against the racer in second place. The final sprint took place in Afray, a Parisian suburb and Maurice Garin beat out fernand Augereau and julien “Samson” lootens by a mere second. Maurice Garin finally won the Tour with 2 hours 49 minutes and 21 seconds ahead of the second place, Lucien Pothier. Nowadays, he still holds the record for largest gap between the first and second place; Arsene Millocheau would finish the race nearly 65 hours after the Maurice Garin. At the end of the race, the cyclists would go to the parc de princes for a ceremonial lap and to receive their prize.
While the race was organized by a newspaper, the « auto », the journalist sent in order to cover the event Geo Lefebvre who incidentally was the one who came up with the idea for the race, only briefly covered the start and finish of the race, traveling between the cities where the stages occured. He even missed out on the arrival of Maurice garin, the winner of the first stage, in Lyon; This did not prevent the “auto” from bumping up its prints to over 40 000 copies
The tour de france was actually a great success among the public and it is estimated that roughly 100 000 spectators were present during the arrival of the racers in the country side and around 20 000 spectators in Paris.
Straight off its succes, the tour de France would be held again the following year and the winner would be once again Maurice garin. It wasn’t until the third edition fo the tour that henri desgrange would shorten the stages so that the race would be less difficult.
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