On July 1, 1903, the Tour de France started as a publicity stunt to promote newspaper sales, an idea that started with Géo Lefèvre. Obviously, it has morphed into a lot more since then, and it’s now one of the biggest annual sporting events on the globe. Since its inception, it has been held every year besides during the first and second World Wars.
While the tradition of the Tour de France has clearly passed the test of time, the rules and regulations have changed considerably since 1903.
Early history of the Tour de France
The inaugural race consisted of 60 men, mostly Frenchmen with a few Italian, German, Swiss, and Belgian competitors. Their racetrack was 1,500 miles of France’s countryside broken down into six stages. Unlike today’s contestants, riders in the first Tour de France weren’t given much help, despite the fact the race tested human endurance in a way it hadn’t been tested before.
There were no helmets, no support cars, and no technicians around to help with bike repairs. Cyclists were responsible for all their gear, meaning it was their responsibility to ensure they had enough fluids and spare parts.
The inaugural Tour de France was an historic event that many weren’t able to finish, but a little over 95 hours into the race, a 32-year-old Maurice Garin crossed the finish line, earning a place in the Tour’s history books and 6,000 francs (about $40,000 today). Garin was so dominant during the race; he finished three hours ahead of the man right behind him, Lucien Pothier.
Infamous 1904 race
The first Tour de France was considered a success by its organizers who decided to hold another race the following year. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a disaster as spectators cornered and attacked Garin — the defending champion — and a fellow cyclist. The assault didn’t end until race officials fired guns into the air to break up the mob.
That wasn’t the only black-eye at the second Tour de France. The event was also filled with allegations of cheating, leading to the disqualification of the top three finalists.
Thankfully, that wasn’t enough to deter the race’s organizers, and the rest is now history.
Nowadays, the odds of a shooting or mob attack at the Tour de France are slim to none, as effective rules, regulations and security procedures are now in place. Riders can now work as a team, there are support cars to assist, and anyone on the globe can watch the entire race from start to finish.