A little history of the Tour du France and some anecdotes

A little history of the Tour du France and some anecdotes


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Thehistory of the Tour de France cycliste is a small part of the History of France in the 20th century. This legendary world-renowned race is more than a hundred years old, the first lap having taken place in 1903. Let us come back to this essential summer event, attracting more and more people along the roads of France, despite the periods interrupted due to war and despite the abuses and doping problems.

From the first bike race to the first Tour de France

The first race on a bicycle took place in May 1868 at the Saint Cloud park in Paris over 1,200 meters; the following year the distance increases to 123 kilometers; at the beginning of the 20th century, the races reached about 400 kms like that of “Bordeaux-Paris” and were organized by two newspapers: l'Auto and le Vélo. To make more prints and gain market share, Géo Lefèvre, journalist at l'Auto, imagines a grand tour in France, a road race by stage, "the greatest cycling event of all time" of 2,400 km then 5,300 kms in 1911 to now return to 3,400 kms.

He proposed his project to its director Henri Desgrange, a regular cyclist, tricycle champion in 1893, founder of the newspaper l'Auto in 1900, organizer of the Paris-Marseille race in 1902 and who was the initiator of the cycle track of 666 m at the Parc des Princes. Desgrange accepts and in November 1902 the Tour de France was born! From July 1 to 19, 1903, 60 runners set off from the outskirts of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges for six stages; the first stops in Lyon (467 kms), then the tour goes through Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes; only 21 runners finish at the Parc des Princes; the winner is French Maurice Garin after 2,428 kms!

It was not until 1905 that the mountain was added to the Tour de France route and the first “mountain stage” was the ascent of the Ballon d'Alsace. In 1910, to give a little more interest, an employee of Henri Desgrange then proposed to go through the Pyrenees and was told by his boss "Cross them!" You are crazy ! Make cyclists pass on goat trails ... Who will be insulted by the runners? It's me ! »At this announcement, some riders set off to reconnoitre, exclaiming“ we will never be able to climb the top ”... Of 150 riders at the start of the 1909 Tour, only 110 showed up in 1910. And the Alps were on the menu in 1911 .

Since then, the Tour de France cyclist still attracts as many people, despite the periods of war, despite the evolution, the public being more and more numerous at the roadside as in 2002 where more than 100,000 people were present throughout. along the ascent of Mont Ventoux "the giant of Provence", despite the 35 °!

Mythical swimsuits

Mark of the winner of the Tour, the yellow jersey was not created until 1919. During this tour, the Pélissier brothers gave up on the fifth stage and Eugène Christophe took the lead, but he was unknown to the public. To be noticed, he was made to wear a jersey of a different color, the organizers choosing yellow in honor of the newspaper l'Auto. It is customary not to wear it for a day, if its previous wearer has abandoned due to an accident. However, during the 1954 round, Louison Bobet, who is first in the standings, does not wear his yellow jersey at the start of the Saint-Brieuc -Brest stage ... he gave it to his sister the day before! The organizers are panicking because it is impossible to let the runners go without “the yellow jersey”. Raymond Le Bert, Bobet's trainer remembers that he has one at his home and runs to get him. Except that by putting it on, Bobet is stuck and cannot breathe: the jersey has shrunk .... Fortunately, the trainer also runs a boxing gym in the city. He quickly summons one of his heavyweights, asking him to "widen" the jersey, it contorts so well that he finally succeeds in putting it on ... the seams are relaxed, the race can start, Louison Bobet is in yellow!

A single distinctive jersey is not enough and on the occasion of the 50 years of the Tour, the “green jersey” was inaugurated in 1953, rewarding the best sprinter. The “white jersey” was created in 1970 awarded to the young rider under 25 who was best placed in the general classification. Finally, it was not until 1975 that the best climber received for the first time a new "jersey with red polka dots on a white background".

Some anecdotes from the Tour de France

The Tour de France becomes the unmissable annual meeting, but it almost did not see the light of day in 1905. Indeed, the 1904 edition remains in our memories because of spectators who attacked certain riders and who threw nails on the road ! Among the big accidents, we think of Eugène Christophe who fell in 1913, breaking his bike. He had to walk more than 15 km to find a blacksmith to do the repair. Note that Henry Anglade had foreseen the serious fall of Roger Rivière in the 1960 Tour rendering him invalid; we cannot forget the sudden death of Tom Simpson in the ascent of Mont Ventoux in July 1967 due to the heat and the taking of amphetamines while an anti-doping law had just been adopted in 1966 nor that of the champion Italian Olympian Casartelli whose head violently struck a parapet in the Portet d'Aspet pass in the Pyrenees in 1995 or the feat of the 1983 yellow jersey Pascal Simon with a fractured scapula but who pedaled for another 5 days to finally give up in tears at the rib of the Chapel; Eddy Merckx who reached the same record as Anquetil with his 5 yellow jerseys will not be able to obtain a 6 th, having received a punch in the liver from a spectator favorable to another competitor in the 1974 round. ..

In the “less catastrophic”, it is said that during the first tours of France, some riders take the train for the long stages; in 1929 the radio emits the first transmission allowing to follow the stages and the newspaper which appears only the following day loses value until the arrival of the televised reports in 1960; it was in 1930 that the 1st caravan of the tour passed on the route before the riders; after 8 years of absence, the tour resumed in 1947 under the direction of Jacques Goddet, head of the newspaper l'Equipe; the same year, it is the duel Anquetil-Poulidor where in Paris, on the podium, the winner confesses to the eternal second “What could you have made me sweat, you, in this Tour!”; Anquetil, winner of the tour for the 5th time in 1964, did not hesitate one day to interfere with an Italian rider named Polidori who reminded him too much of his opponent Poulidor! ...

Finally to end on a happy note, let us mention a gifted but joking rider who made the public and the peloton laugh: Roger Hassenforder, nicknamed "the clown". He started cycling in the 1950s, not hesitating to leave his regiment to participate in a race and often return to the barracks with a cup. Yellow jersey from his first Tour de France, he won a lot of criteriums, pedaling like crazy, often rolling upside down on his bike or stopping at café terraces to drink a beer while waiting for the rest of the peloton! Talkative, he talks as much as he pedals, a talking mill! High roller, quarrelsome sometimes, he was suspended for 6 months in 1957 following an argument with Anquetil! A man that any former runner cannot forget!

For further

- The great history of the Tour de France, by Françoise Laget, Serge Laget. Editions Chronique, October 2012.

- The fabulous history of the Tour de France, of Pierre Chany and Thierry Cazeneuve. La Martinière, 2011.


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