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Re: Le Tour 2017 Big Preview
« on: June 21, 2017, 10:20 »

Great moments in the history of the Tour
The line between insanity and genius is said to be a fine one, and in early 20thcentury France, anyone envisaging a near-2,500-km-long cycle race across the country would have been widely viewed as unhinged. But that didn’t stop Géo Lefèvre, a journalist with L’Auto magazine at the time, from proceeding with his inspired plan. His editor, Henri Desgrange, was bold enough to believe in the idea and to throw his backing behind the Tour de France. And so it was that, on 1 July 1903, sixty pioneers set out on their bicycles from Montgeron. After six mammoth stages (Nantes - Paris, 471 km!), only 21 “routiers”, led by Maurice Garin, arrived at the end of this first epic.

Having provoked a mixture of astonishment and admiration, le Tour soon won over the sporting public and the roadside crowds swelled. The French people took to their hearts this unusual event which placed their towns, their countryside and, since 1910, even their mountains, in the spotlight.

Le Tour has always moved with the times. Like France as a whole, it benefited from the introduction of paid holidays from 1936; it has lived through wars, and then savoured the “trente glorieuses” period of economic prosperity while enjoying the heydays of Coppi, Bobet, Anquetil, Poulidor and it has opened itself up to foreign countries with the onset of globalisation.

~pdf Historical guide in French

The 1903 Tour de France
The first stage of the first ever Tour de France was a 467 km effort from Paris to Lyon. Maurice Garin - a former chimney sweeper and winner of Paris-Roubaix and Bordeaux-Paris - won the stage after a gruelling 17 hours, 45 minutes and 13 seconds, followed at just 55 seconds by Emile Pagie. The rest of the peloton was much further behind though: number three Léon Georget was already at 34.59. Only 37 out of the 60 starters finished, with the final rider ending over 20 hours down on the first race leader Maurice Garin. The people who had to abandon were allowed to continue on the other days for stage wins, but would be out for the general classification. Pacers were not allowed, and Jean Fischer was punished for employing one.

In the second stage from Lyon to Marseille, Hippolyte Aucouturier took the stage win in a sprint from Léon Georget. Maurice Garin lost time, but kept the lead with almost 9 minutes on Georget. Aucouturier also won stage 3, the stage in which Garin extended his lead: he now had almost 2 hours on his nearest competitors. Stage 4 saw the first non-French stage winner of the Tour de France: Charles Laeser of Switzerland. Garin confirmed his status as race leader in stage 5, which he won. The sixth and final stage, from Nantes to Paris over 471 km, was also won by Garin: he won the stage and the classification in front of 20.000 supporters in Paris' Parc Des Princes velodrome. He was not given a yellow jersey, but instead a green armbrace to signify his victory. The 21th and final rider finishing all stages ended almost 65 hours down on the race leader, who would go on to buy a gas station with his winnings, 6000 francs.

The 1904 Tour and beyond
The 1903 Tour de France was a huge success for L'Auto. The edition for the final stage sold 130.000 copies, and daily sales rose from 25.000 to 65.000. Le Vélo soon went out of business. More importantly though, the Tour de France was born. A 1904 edition was quickly plannen in which the course and rules were the same as the previous year. However, the Tour was so popular that things started going wrong: the second Tour was filled with controversial incidents of cheating, crashes and even riders being beaten up by fans of rivals. Despite four stage wins by Hippolyte Aucouturier, Maurice Garin managed to win the general classification again. However, months after the race all top four riders were disqualified for incidents during the race. The new winner became 19 year old Henri Cornet, who had initially finished almost 3 hours down on Garin. Garin retired from cycling after this, living out the rest of his days at his gas station until he died in 1957.

Due to all the controversy, Henri Desgranges almost decided the 1904 Tour de France would be the last. However, due to the success of the race and all it had done for the L'Auto newspaper a new edition was planned for 1905 with changed rules. The race now consisted of 11 shorter stages with no nighttime riding, and the overall winner was decided by points rather than by time.
Furthermore, the first significant mountains were placed on the parcours. Louis Trousselier won the Tour, which continued to capture the collective imagination of France.

In the years that followed, the points classification remained in place. The mountain stages were also a success and were further expanded upon in following years: The Massif Central was climbed in 1906, the Pyrenees in 1910 and the Alps in 1911. 1909 saw the first non-French winner: Luxembourg rider Francois Faber. By that time, the number of stages had grown to 15. The general classification was revised to be competed on time rather than on points in 1913. The Tour de France was now a yearly feature in French and international media, already the biggest cycling event of the world. Even though World War I got in the way for some years, when it was resumed in 1919 it was as big as ever.

Rules, teams, and classifications
Desgrange wanted the Tour de France to be the ultimate competition between individuals. Therefore, he forbade riders from pacing each other during stages. In 1925 this was changed: pacing was now allowed as trade teams returned for the first time since WW1. The length of the race was also increased to 18 days. However, most flat stages were now decided by bunch sprints and riders attacked less often as the sport became more professional. In 1927, Desgrange attempted to fix this by making the race into a team competition where 16 out of the 24 stages were essentially team time trials. Nicolas Frantz of the Alcyon–Dunlop team won this competition and the yellow jersey, which by now was also a common feature of the race. The first yellow jerseys were handed out in 1919 and continued in the years afterward. The colour yellow is significant because it is the colour of the L'Auto newspaper.

The 1930 Tour de France was significant for a few reasons. It was the first year national teams instead of trade teams were allowed. The extra costs this brought for the Tour, as food and support were now no longer provided by the bike brands, were compensated by the first publicity caravan of the Tour. Also, riders were now allowed to receive help in case they had a mechanical. The national teams remained a fixture in the Tour until 1962, when trade teams finally returned. 1967 and 1978 were again ran by national teams, but in 1969 the trade teams were back for good. In the meantime, another significant change to the Tour had happened: the green jersey for the points classification had been introduced in the 1953 Tour, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the race. It was won by Fritz Schär in the 1953 edition. In 1975, the best climber classification that had been only semi-official for years was given its distinctive polka-dots jersey. In the 1960's, doping scandals became prominent. This caused cycling authorities to put limits on stage distances, leading to the current form of the Tour with transfers by car or plane in between some stages. By this time, the Tour had taken its current form.

Organisers and politics
Henri Desgranges organised the Tour de France from its inception in 1903 until he was forced to retire in 1936. He later died in 1940 at the age of 75. Jacques Goddet took over, but soon the World War 2 came in the way. During the war, Goddet refused to organise a Tour despite the Germans offering him the option to. When France was liberated though, L'Auto was disbanded for being too close to the Germans. Goddet started a new newspaper: L'Équipe. In 1946, two rival Tours were organised of each five stages. The one by Goddet and L'Équipe proved to be more popular and restarted the Tour de France in its old format in 1947. L'Équipe was soon taken over by Émilion Amaury. Goddet continued to organise the Tour until 1986. After him, a number of others took over: Jean-Pierre Courcol in 1988, Jean-Pierre Carenso in 1989, and Jean-Marie Leblanc from 1990 until Christian Prudhomme replaced him in 2005. Henri Desgranges is still remembered for his role in creating the race though: the yellow jersey often features his initials on the design.

Since the start in the 1903 edition, 113 years and 102 editions have passed. The Tour has known great highs with great riders such as Fausto Coppi, Eddie Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault fighting for the wins. The best sprinters in the world have embraced the green jersey as one of the most prestigious prizes available for them. Climbers and attackers from all countries dream of winning the polka dots. And young talents hope to see their talent confirmed by wearing the white jersey of the young riders' classification. However, the Tour has also known lows, often concerning doping. Perhaps one of the lowest points of the Tour was the recent saga surrounding Lance Armstrong, whose seven consecutive Tour wins were taken away for doping. Now, the Tour is hoping to leave all that behind them and move on towards a new great era of cycling. It is time to decide who will become the next person in that list of great names who have won the Tour de France. Bring on the 104th edition.

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    Larri Nov 12, 2014


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