|Le Grand Depart, 1903|
|Géo Lefèvre is commonly said to have been the true|
"Father of the Tour," but Desgrange may have been
first to suggest it after all (see text). A bike race was suggested, because - as the original name suggests - the paper put a lot of emphasis on cycling reports and wanted to keep the cycling fans who made up a good part of its 20,000 readership. However, plenty of other papers ran bike races. Desgrange needed something that would stand out, something that would create an association between the new name and cycling forever while at the same time driving sales. As is often the case with corporate top brass, none of the sub-editors nor executive staff could come with anything much either. In desperation, he turned to Géo Lefèvre, a relatively junior cycling and rugby reporter. Lefévre had never expected to be asked and blurted out the first thing that came into his head - a race, like the popular six-day track meets, but on the road and traveling throughout France. Or so legend has it - L'Auto had in fact organised an earlier race, Paris-Brest-Paris (a single-stage 1,200km event) in 1901 and had enjoyed a big upturn in sales as a result. It seems unlikely, therefore, that Lefévre was the only man to have thought of a bike race; it is far more likely that somebody else - possibly Desgrange - had already suggested a long-distance race as one option and the group was trying to think of a way in which their new event could be made different from all those that had come before. It may be the case, therefore, that despite over a century of claims that Lefévre, rather than Desgrange, was the true "Father of the Tour," it may in fact have been first thought up by Desgrange after all.
Organisation began in November 1902 and the paper announced on the 19th of January 1903 that the race would begin on the 31st of May. There were to be six stages, but due to their enormous length a stage might not necessarily be finished within 24 hours; the last was due to take place on the 5th of July to allow for this and the rest days in between. However, by the time late May rolled around only 15 riders had signed up - a common complaint from others who would have liked to have done was that they couldn't afford the costs of the food and lodgings they'd require through such a long period. Desgrange had never been completely convinced that the idea was going to be successful and came very close to abandoning it altogether, but was eventually persuaded to postpone the start date to the 1st of July and try again. It was then shortened to nineteen days and a daily allowance was offered to any cyclist who maintained an average speed of 20kph or more; which both opened up the race to many more riders and ensured they'd make it interesting by riding fast. Finally, the entry fee was cut from 20 to 10 francs while the prize on offer for winning a stage was increased to 3,000f and the overall prize to 12,000f - roughly six times what the average Frenchman could expect to earn in a year. Entries quadrupled; the race was on.
|Emile Georget signs in at a checkpoint, 1903|
Pagie crashed again during Stage 2, which climbed the Col de la République (organisers had not yet decided to classify stages into plain and mountain stages; nor were there any points on offer for being the first to the top - that would come in 1905; for now, this was just a stage that took a route that happened to have mountains on it and for that reason the Ballon d'Alsace is usually listed as the first mountain in the Tour). This time he was injured and had to leave the race, so now that he and Fischer were gone and Aucouturier couldn't win overall Garin had lost his main rivals. Aucouturier, meanwhile, remained very much in contention for stage wins; he won that day. The riders still competing for the General Classification set off an hour before those who were not at the start of Stage 3; a rider named Eugène Brange from Mâcon was first over the finish line, but Aucouturier, who had fallen into the second group of starters after his stomach problems on the first stage, took 33' less to complete the route and thus became stage winner. Meanwhile, Garin retained his overall lead which now stood at 1h58'53" over Émile Georget. The General Classification riders started an hour earlier again on Stage 4, the shortest at a mere 268km, and at the end Aucouturier was far out in front - but was then spotted drafting behind a car and disqualified from the race. The Swiss rider Charles Laeser, also out of overall contention, spent much of the stage trying to catch a six-strong lead group but could not, finishing 50' after them - but since they'd all left an hour before him he became the first foreigner to win a Tour stage.
|Maurice Garin, winner of the first Tour de France|
Tip Ten Final General Classification
1 Maurice Garin (FRA) La Française 94h 33' 14'
2 Lucien Pothier (FRA) La Française +2h 59' 21"
3 Fernand Augereau (FRA) La Française +4h 29' 24″
4 Rodolfo Muller (ITA) La Française +4h 39' 30″
5 Jean Fischer (FRA) La Française +4h 58' 44″
6 Marcel Kerff (BEL) Independent rider +5h 52' 24″
7 Julien Lootens (BEL) Brennabor +8h 31' 08″
8 Georges Pasquier (FRA) La Française +10h 24' 04″
9 François Beaugendre (FRA) Independent rider +10h 52' 14″
10 Aloïs Catteau (BEL) La Française +12h 44' 57″
The Tour also began on this day in 1972, 1983, 1987, 1989, 1995, 2000 and 2006. 1972 consisted of 20 stages, four of them (3, 5, 14, 20) split into parts A and B; Stage 20 was originally intended as a 131km mass-start road race, the decision to run the first 42km as an individual time trial only being made three days before the race started. The total distance was 3,846.6km, there were no major changes to the rules and for the first time since 1947 the race was held entirely within the borders of France.
After the previous year, when Luis Ocaña's attempts to beat Eddy Merckx had ended with a crash on the Col de Menté, 1972 was expected to be an epic battle for supremacy: Ocaña believed that he could have won in 1971 (Merckx wasn't entirely that he couldn't, either), while Merckx was stung by criticisms that he didn't deserve the '71 victory (which were entirely unfair - he had shown nothing but respect following his rival's accident, refusing to wear the maillot jaune the following day and seriously considering abandoning the race until he was talked out of it). Both men had excellent form; so did Bernard Thevenet, Felice Gimondi and Joop Zoetemelk. Raymond Poulidor was 36, but still rode well: having spent so much time in the shadow of first Anquetil and then Merckx, fans knew that he would strive to make the most of any opportunity that might lead to the victory he'd been chasing for a decade. Herman van Springel would almost certainly have been a contender for stage wins and a decent overall result, but four days before start he told his team that he planned to transfer elsewhere at the end of the year and they removed him from the selection.
5b was an individual time trial which Merckx won, chopping 24" out of Guimard's lead at a stroke. That situation remained the same after Stage 6. In Stage 7, when the Tour reached the Pyrenees and climbed Aubisque, Ocaña attacked twice and the second time only Merckx could follow. It looked as though the Spaniard might win, but first he punctured and then crashed, losing 1'49". Guimard and Zoetmelk managed to catch Merckx and crossed the line with him, Guimard thus maintaining his lead; Thevenet, who was in the same crash as Ocaña, lost significant time and finished with a 7'57" overall disadvantage. He was taken to hospital after the stage but found to have escaped serious injury and could start again the next day, but his chances at the General Classification were over. Merckx chased down Lucien van Impe on Stage 8 and won with Ocaña in hot pursuit 8" behind him. Guimard arrived 2'44" later - after so long and such a brave attempt, he slipped into second place with a 2'33" disadvantage overall. That was it for him, and for the rest - Merckx stayed in yellow for the rest of the Tour.
Stages 9 and 10 went to Jos Huysmans and Willy Tierlinck - the Pyrenees had been especially testing for Roger Pingeon who, partway through Stage 9, abandoned both the stage and cycling for good. Now the riders prepared themselves for the Stage 11 summit finish atop the fearsome Mont Ventoux; when they got there Ocaña bided his time, waiting as Molteni drove the average speed on the way to the old volcano so high that almost the entire peloton were dropped. When they got there, he attacked four times but Merckx and Poulidor responded each time. Poulidor also attacked, but got nowhere - and in doing so, all three riders used up more energy than they'd have liked so a chase group was able to catch them. In that group was Thevenet, who both made up time and reached them with fresher legs: when he attacked, he dropped them all and won the stage with 34" on Merckx. Unfortunately, he was still 10'04" behind overall.
Merckx believed that Ocaña was going to launch a strong attack on Stage 12 and marked him all the way, allowing van Impe and Joaquim Agostinho to get away and take first and second place because both of them were more than ten minutes behind overall. Guimard made a brave attempt to win back time by following Merckx as Stage 13 climbed Izoard after catching him on Vars, but Merckx dropped with easily and rode solo to the finish line with a 1'31" lead over second place Felice Gimondi. It was apparent at this point that all was not well with Ocaña - though a better climber than Merckx, he finished in ninth place and 1'41" down. Fans hoped he'd just had one of the off-days that all cyclists get from time to time, but it was noted that it was a stage he should have at least finished in the top three. However, both halves of Stage 14 were a complete and unmitigated disaster for the Spaniard: in 14a he lost two minutes, which allowed Guimard to overtake him on overall time, then in 14b he lost another five. Merckx won 14a, then narrowly lost to Guimard in 14b; though the outcome might have been different had the riders not have forgotten to complete the second of two laps around a 1.8km circuit. Tour rules state that, if this happens, riders must ride the lap again; the judges decided that gathering them all together so that this could be done was impractical and instead awarded each rider the time he'd recorded in the first lap. That evening, Ocaña revealed that his crash in Stage 7 had left him with a lung infection, then abandoned. Merckx's biggest challenger was out of the race, and his advantage was 6'20".
At the start of Stage 18, Merckx had a lead of 7'58"; when it ended he was 10'03" ahead of new second place Poulidor: the battle for the General Classication victory had been over for some time, but now there was little doubt. It hadn't been a comfortable stage for him - he'd been experimenting with a new saddle that had proved so painful he had to ride the last 40km standing up on the pedals. Meanwhile, Gimondi was only 4" behind Poulidor and so the fight for second place was still very much on. Joseph Bruyère won Stage 19, but was far too behind to make any difference, then in the Stage 20a individual time trial Gimondi beat Poulidor by 57" - putting himself into second place while Merckx added another 38" to his advantage. Tierlinck won Stage 20b to finish the race. Merckx's time was 108h17'18" and he'd also won the Points competition (which Guimard had been leading with 228pts until he abandoned); Gimondi was +10'41", Poulidor +11'34".
Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Eddy Merckx (BEL) Molteni 108h 17' 18"
2 Felice Gimondi (ITA) Salvarani +10' 41"
3 Raymond Poulidor (FRA) Gan +11' 34"
4 Lucien Van Impe (BEL) Sonolor +16' 45"
5 Joop Zoetemelk (NED) Beaulieu +19' 09"
6 Mariano Martinez (FRA) Magniflex +21' 31"
7 Yves Hézard (FRA) Sonolor +21' 52"
8 Joaquim Agostinho (POR) Magniflex +34' 16"
9 Bernard Thevenet (FRA) Peugeot +37' 11"
10 Ward Janssens (BEL) Magniflex +42' 33"
|Fignon in pink at the Giro (with World Champion|
Laurent Fignon won the first of his two Tours, becoming the youngest winner since 1933 - he'd already ridden the Vuelta a Espana that year and Cyrille Guimard, now manager of Renault-Elf-Gitane, believed he was too young to cope with the stress of two Grand Tours and had only agreed to let him take part after being persuaded that the rider might have a good chance at placing highly in the debutant's competition. Sean Kelly won the Points competition for a second consecutive year as well as seventh place overall; Lucien van Impe was King of the Mountains. However, many said that Fignon would not have won had Bernard Hinault not have stayed away that year due to knee problems. They may well be right, but the following year he beat the Badger.
Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Laurent Fignon (FRA) Renault-Elf-Gitane 105h 07' 52"
2 Ángel Arroyo (ESP) Reynolds +4' 04"
3 Peter Winnen (NED) TI-Raleigh-Campagnolo +4' 09"
4 Lucien Van Impe (BEL) Metaurobili-Pinarello +4' 16"
5 Robert Alban (FRA) La Redoute +7' 53"
6 Jean-René Bernaudeau (FRA) Wolber +8' 59"
7 Sean Kelly (IRE) SEM-Mavic-Reydel +12' 09"
8 Marc Madiot (FRA) Renault-Elf-Gitane +14' 55"
9 Phil Anderson (AUS) Peugeot-Shell-Michelin +16' 56"
10 Henk Lubberding (NED) TI-Raleigh-Campagnolo +18' 55"
|Stephen Roche, Ireland's Tour winner|
Since 1983, the Youth classification (at the time often known as the Debutant's competition) was open only to riders on their first Tour; from 1987 any rider aged less than 26 years on the first day of the year were eligible; the only other rule change was that team size was reduced from 10 to 9 in order to free up space for more teams. Official photographers went on strike because they were upset at fans getting in their way. Greg Lemond couldn't be there to defend his 1986 General Classification victory following a near-fatal accident in which a shotgun discharged into his back. Lech Piasecki of Poland gained an 18" overall advantage after Stage 1 and became the first Eastern Bloc rider to have ever worn the maillot jaune, as the race progressed it would pass on to seven other riders - the most to have worn it in any one edition of the race. Stephen Roche took the world by surprise when he stayed with Pedro Delgado on La Plagne in Stage 21, becoming the first Irish winner. Later in the year, he also won the World Championships and became the second man in history to win cycling's most prestigious prize - the entirely unofficial Triple Crown, for which there is no trophy nor award (the first to achieve it was Merckx). The split between the top three riders - 2'13" - was the smallest in Tour history until 2007 when there were only 31" between winner Alberto Contador and third place Levi Leipheimer.
Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Stephen Roche (IRE) Carrera 115h 27' 42"
2 Pedro Delgado (ESP) P.D.M +0' 40"
3 Jean-François Bernard (FRA) Toshiba-Look-La Vie Claire +2' 13"
4 Charly Mottet (FRA) Système U +6' 40"
5 Luis Alberto Herrera (COL) Café de Colombia +9' 32"
6 Fabio Enrique Parra (COL) Café de Colombia +16' 53"
7 Laurent Fignon (FRA) Système U +18' 24"
8 Anselmo Fuerte (ESP) BH +18' 33"
9 Raúl Alcalá (MEX) Eleven-Hoonved +21' 49"
10 Marino Lejarreta (ESP) Caja Rural-Orbea +26' 13"
The Youth classification went ahead but without a jersey being awarded to its leader. Greg Lemond, winner in 1986, came back to try for a second victory after recovering from a near-fatal accident (see 1987, above). Pedro Delgado got off to a bad start by forgetting what time he needed to be on the prologue start ramp; the ASO let the clock keep going rather than sending someone else off and letting him start later, so he lost 2'40" before he'd even begun. Acácio da Silva won Stage 1, gaining an early 13" advantage and thus became the first Portuguese rider to wear the maillot jaune. Lemond and Fignon matched one another perfectly throughout the race, the overall gap between them never increased beyond 53"; making this the closest-run Tour ever. Joël Pelier, a 27-year-old domestique with the B.H team, had never competed in front of his parents due to a seriously disabled sibling requiring round-the-clock care: as a result he went all-out to do well in Stage 6 after they'd arranged for a carer to remain with their other child while they came to watch. 95km into the race he escaped the peloton, then rode 164km - for 4.5 hours - to win the stage by 1'34", which at that time was the second longest solo break since the Second World War.
Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Greg LeMond (USA) ADR-Agrigel-Bottechia 87h 38' 35"
2 Laurent Fignon (FRA) Super U +0' 08"
3 Pedro Delgado (ESP) Reynolds-Banesto +3' 34"
4 Gert-Jan Theunisse (NED) PDM +7' 30"
5 Marino Lejarreta (ESP) Paternina-Marco-Equizabal +9' 39"
6 Charly Mottet (FRA) RMO-Mavic-Liberia +10' 06"
7 Steven Rooks (NED) PDM +11' 10"
8 Raúl Alcalá (MEX) PDM +14' 21"
9 Sean Kelly (IRE) PDM +18' 25"
10 Robert Millar (GBR) Z +18' 46"
16.08.1970 - 18.07.1995
A record-equalling fifth triumph for "Big Mig" Miguel Indurain and a text book example of How To Win The Tour de France - and for that reason, not an especially exciting one. Nevertheless, a welcome one among fans because by winning he kept victory out of the reach of the almost universally unpopular Johan Bruyneel. Richard Virenque won the King of the Mountains for a second time, while a promising young Italian climber named Marco Pantani impressed by winning Stage 10 from La Plagne to Alpe d'Huez. Curiously, no fewer than 25% of the top 16 record times to the summit of the Alpe were set that day: Pantani's time of 38'04 remains 5th fastest ever, Indurain's 39'28" is 14th, Alex Zülle was a fraction of a second slower for the 15h fastest time and Bjarne Riis' 39'30" is 16th. Did they all make use of excellent parcours opportunities? Make of it what you will.
The 1995 edition was hit by tragedy during Stage 15 when the highly talented, Olympic gold-winning Italian Fabio Casartelli was in a crash as he descended the Col du Portet d'Aspet, sustaining severe head injuries and dying in the helicopter on the way to hospital. The following stage was neutralised and his Motorola team mates crossed the finish line together, in silence, as the rest of the peloton rode behind them at walking pace. The entire prize fund, doubled by a donation from the ASO, was donated to Casartelli's family and Lance Armstrong dedicated his Stage 18 victory to his lost team mate.
Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Miguel Indurain (ESP) Banesto 92h 44' 59"
2 Alex Zülle (SUI) ONCE +4' 35"
3 Bjarne Riis (DEN) Gewiss +6' 47"
4 Laurent Jalabert (FRA) ONCE +8' 24"
5 Ivan Gotti (ITA) Gewiss +11' 33"
6 Melchor Mauri (ESP) ONCE +15' 20"
7 Fernando Escartin (ESP) Mapei +15' 49"
8 Toni Rominger (SUI) Mapei +16' 46"
9 Richard Virenque (FRA) Festina +17' 31"
10 Hernán Buenahora (COL) Kelme +18' 50"
Stage 1 of the 2000 Tour is sometimes incorrectly said to have been a prologue: it wasn't, because at 16.5km it was more than twice the maximum permitted length of a prologue, 8km. Since 1989, the white jersey had no longer been awarded to the leader of the Youth classification though the competition was still held, this year it made its return. Lance Armstrong, aiming for a second victory, was widespread favourite; Marco Pantani and Jan Ullrich were thought best placed to prevent it. David Millar put everything he'd learned in British time trials (10-mile time trials - the same distance as Stage 1 - are highly popular in Britain) to very good use by winning Stage 1, made all the more remarkable by the fact that this was his first Tour. He kept the maillot jaune until Stage 4 when it went to Laurent Jalabert, also leading the Youth classification for those stages and winning the Points competition for Stage 1 (in 2007, he led the King of the Mountains through Stages 2 and 3 and became the only British rider to have worn all four of the current classification jerseys). There was controversy after Stage 12, which ended with a summit finish on Mont Ventoux: Armstrong was seen to slow, allowing Pantani to win - Pantani felt patronised and was angered, then became furious when Armstrong called him Elefantino (a nickname inspired by his rather prominent ears, which he hated). On Stage 15, which ended on 2,004m Courchevel, Pantani beat Armstrong by 50" and won the stage.
Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service 92h 33' 08"
2 Jan Ullrich (GER) Telekom +6' 02"
3 Joseba Beloki (ESP) Festina +10' 04"
4 Christophe Moreau (FRA) Festina +10' 34"
5 Roberto Heras (ESP) Kelme +11' 50"
6 Richard Virenque (FRA) Polti +13' 26"
7 Santiago Botero (COL) Kelme +14' 18"
8 Fernando Escartín (ESP) Kelme +17' 21"
9 Francisco Mancebo (ESP) Banesto +18' 09"
10 Daniele Nardello (ITA) Mapei +18' 25"
Not so much a Tour de France as a Tour de Europe de l'Ouest - the race visited no fewer than six different nations. After beginning in Strasbourg (which Henri Desgrange would be most pleased to know is still in France), it went to Luxembourg, then the Nethelands, Belgium, Germany and Spain.
When Lance Armstrong won his sixth consecutive Tour, the cycling world worried that the Tour was becoming boring. News that he planned to retire after 2005 come what may was therefore welcome, especially since he won. Who would replace him? Fans tuned in in huger numbers than ever before to find out - and then 2006 was hit by the worst doping scandals since the Festina Affair a decade earlier, doing enormous damage to the sport's reputation. Several riders, including popular favourites Ivan Basso, Alberto Contador and Jan Ullrich, were blocked from riding even before the race began due to connections to the Operacion Puerto doping case (though not all of them would be charged and/or convicted); the situation became even worse when it was announced that overall winner Floyd Landis had failed a control after Stage 17 and was stripped of his title, which then passed to Oscar Pereiro. Many fans and some riders called for this edition to be abandoned and written off.
Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Óscar Pereiro (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne 89h 40' 27"
2 Andreas Klöden (GER) T-Mobile +0' 32"
3 Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC +2' 16"
4 Cadel Evans (AUS) Davitamon-Lotto +4' 11"
5 Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank +6' 09"
6 Cyril Dessel (FRA) Ag2r +7' 44"
7 Christophe Moreau (FRA) Ag2r +8' 40"
8 Haimar Zubeldia (ESP) Euskaltel +11' 08"
9 Michael Rogers (AUS) T-Mobile +14' 10"
10 Fränk Schleck (LUX) Team CSC +16' 49"
|Kisso Kawamura (centre) in 1927. The rider on the left looks|
like Georges Cuvelier, who was 8th overall that year; the
other is harder to identify but resembles Charles Pelissier
He rode in two Tours, the first in 1926 (which, fact fans, was the longest Tour ever at 5,745km) and the second a year later. Born on this day in 1902, in both years he rode as a touriste-routier - the now abandoned class that allowed riders considered capable of riding the Tour (or, in some cases, of paying to get in) but lacking in those special capabilities that make a rider able to place highly. Unfortunately for Kawamuro, he turned out not have the skills a touriste-routier required either and he abandoned the race during Stage 1 both times he rode, then vanished from the pages of history. Nobody seems to know what became of him afterwards.
Cyclists born on this day: Andrew Fenn (Great Britain, 1990); Fernando Cuenca (Peru, 1950); Ma Liyun (China, 1988); Mindaugas Umaras (USSR, 1968); Fredy Schmidtke (West Germany, 1961); Roland Schär (Switzerland, 1950); Bill Hammond (Great Britain, 1886); Eva Lechner (Italy, 1985); Marcin Mientki (Poland, 1976); Malcolm Elliott (Great Britain, 1961); Eugenio Castro (Cuba, 1971); Orhan Suda (Turkey, 1916); Karl Heinz Henrichs (Germany, 1942); Alphonse Nshimiyiama (Rwanda, 1965); Tom Staniford (Cyprus, 1989).