Le Tour de France began 115 years ago in 1903. It began originally as a publicity stunt in an attempt to sell newspapers. Since the bike was invented, the delivery of newspaper quickly evolved to accommmodate this new mode of transport. Its use increasd the speed they could deliver papers and the number of papers they could deliver increased.

A race between paper delivererswas encouraged by local newspapers, and it wasn't long before they started sponsoring a race, drumming up publicity for themselves in the process. In 1869, one of the first documented races happened, Le Vélocipède Illustré sponsored a 130km race; with the unpaved roads and very simple bike mechanisms, the winner James more took 10 hours to finish it.

With the increasing popularity and more newspapers organising other similar races, it did not take long before bicycle manufacturers started getting interested, and the races started getting longer, harder, quicker.

In 1903, Le Tour de France was officially crowned. Even a week before Le Tour started, there were still only 15 riders that had signed up for it. After a change in the schedule adding rest days and adding a nice monetary award, the numbers increased to 60.

This first stage event was 6 stages long, and covered a distance of 2428km, over 18 times longer than its beginnings in 1869. The average speed of these cyclists had increased from 13km/h now to 25.6km/h. The winner was a man called Maurice Garin, who cycled the winning time in 94 hours, 33 minutes. he cycled to the finish in Paris in front of 20,000 spectators. The success of the tournament was undeniable.

Le Tour's record of cheating did not take long to take effect, as cyclist Jean Fisher was found cheating on stage 1, pacing homself behind a car. However, this was just the beginning, as 1904's race had cheaters caught sabotaging each other riders' bikes and on occasion, caught boarding a train. It wasn;t until 1905 until more concrete rules were implemented.

By 1910, the distance of the Tour had grown to 15 stages and 4734km in length, with stages now taking place in hillier places like the Pyrénées and the next year had a stage in the Alps.

It was at this point in history when war started to intervene, and the tournament froze. Although riders hit the road in 1914, the bikes the were padlocked until 1919.

The Yellow Jersey Arrives

An icon of the sport, when anyone sports a yellow jersey, riders around the world recognise it. It was in 1919 when it was introduced, with the first man to wear it was Eugene Christophe on 18th July that year. The idea of the yellow was to not only distinguish the race leader easily, but was a tribute to the newspaper L'Auto, which was printed on yellow paper.

Since this moment, the popularity of the race increased, with more stages being added. As during the war between 1914 to 1918, againt the tournament was brought to a halt in the years 1940 to 1946, the next race occurring in 1947.

The Modern Age

One of the biggest controversies of the modern tournament has to be unfortunately covered, as its such a huge part of the competition's history. From 1999 through to 2005, there was only one name in the yellow jersey. Lance Armstrong was an inspiration to cycling, having come back from his long battles with cancer and won 7 years in a row. In October 2012, he was stripped of all his titles due to his use of performance-enhancing drugs. The drugs element has been such a huge part of the sport, with so many racers being disqualified. This is the reason for the very strict checks that cyclists now have to go through. Since Armstrong's controversy, there has been one racer that has stood out from the crows. Britain's Chris Froome has won four titles (2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017). This makes him the fifth best cyclist in the history of the Tour, with only four riders holding five titles.

These winners are:

  • Eddy Merckx of Belgium (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974)
  • Bernard Hinault of France (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985)
  • Jacques Anquetil of France (1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964)
  • Miguel Indurain of Spain (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995)

Sources and Further Reading:

Chairman Bill's History of the Tour de France: Origins and Early Years

Le Tour - History

A Brief History of the Tour de France

Grand Tour (cycling)

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