The history of the Tour de France is long and illustrious. This year the world’s longest cycling race will celebrate its 110 year anniversary awarding over 100 winners the hallowed yellow jersey. In over a century the only barrier that has stopped the race from going ahead was World War. It has faced political and economic troubles, doping scandals, and has adapted to the times crossing the borders to allow other countries to host stages of the race.
Next year will be the second time that England has hosted the start of the race, the first being seven years ago in 2007 when the first stage of the race began in Canterbury and ended in London. This adaptability whilst always staying true to the origins of the sport is the reason why today it remains the biggest cycling event in the world and one of the most eagerly awaited sporting tournaments of the year.
Originating in1903, the genesis of the race was not simply an attempt to raise the level of long distance cycling, but an attempt to sell more copies of a cycling magazine who’s sales were falling. It was not uncommon for magazines of this kind to launch races in an attempt to boost sales, but the race proposed by French magazine L’Auto was by far the longest race ever proposed. Agreed by the editor of the magazine,Henri Desgrange, the first race in 1903 lasted over a month which proved to be too long for the 15 riders. Not only was the race strenuous, but also costly for cyclists who were usually blue collar factory workers. It was then agreed that the cyclists would receive a wage equivalent to their factory wage and a cash prize for the winner of 6,000 francs.
World’s Toughest Race?
The Tour de France has been described as one of the most physically demanding athletic tournaments on the planet. With 21 day-long stages over a 23 day period, cyclists get two rest days over a 2,000 mile course.
Nine riders make up the 20 to 22 teams that compete for the prestigious title each year with the famous yellow jersey being awarded for the first time in 1919.
Beginning as a mainly flat race it wasn’t long until in 1910 the route was extended to the summits of the Pyrennes, and the following year, to the mighty Alps. It wasn’t until over 40 years in 1952 that the first finish at altitude was trialed, returning to finish at Paris the following year.
In 1975 the finish line at the Champs Elysees was born and continues to be where the world’s finest cyclists find their glory. In 2003 to celebrate the century of Le Tour de France the race departed from its original starting point of Montgeron.
Throughout the years the stages of Le Tour have been held in poignant locations. In 1987 the Grand Depart took place from Berlin just two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1992 mark the signing of the Maastricht Treaty the race passed through Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Luxembourg and Italy. Next year will be the second time in a decade that the opening stages of the race will be held in England.
The Great Winners
Despite being marred by the doping controvorsy surrounding Le Tour’s seven time winner Lance Armstrong, Le Tour de France has produced some remarkable winners of its illustrious centenary.
In 1920 German Philippe Thys became the first cyclist to win The Tour title three times. Frenchman Louisan Bobet won three consecutive Tours from 1953 to 1955. This was surpassed in 1964 by another Frenchman Jacques Anquetil winning five Le Tour titles in less than a decade four of which were consecutive. Between 1978 and 1985 another Frenchman Bernard Hinault did the same. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Spaniard Miguel Indurain managed to secure the five consecutive titles. Although technically Indurain was topped by Lance Armstrong winning his seven consecutive titles between 1999 and 2005, the discovery that all seven wins were under the influence of doping means that Spaniard Indurain still retains the title of the greatest Le Tour cyclist in the history of the race.
In 2012 The Tour de France saw its first ever British winner, Bradley Wiggins who then went on to win gold at London 2012 Olympics to be named as one of the great British athletes of a generation.