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You Will Never Believe How Tour de France Was Invented

The Tour De France is a very challenging sport that people participate in every year. However, you will be surprised to know that this race, which takes place for 23 days, started to boost newspaper sales.

Just a little bit of history, during the early 20th century, France was newly emerging from the Dreyfus Affair’s effects. The scandal divided the country over the allegations that French Artillery Captain Alfred Dreyfus was selling French military secrets to the Germans. This division as to Dreyfus’s guilt caused journalists and people in business to start their newspaper. They wanted to rival the very popular sports newspaper called Le Vélo during that time.

The newcomer in the newspaper industry got named L’Auto. They started operating in 1899. They hired a former award-winning cyclist and sports journalist named Henri Desgrange. He became the editor of L’Auto. The first-ever issue of this newcomer was on October 16, 1900. However, even after three years in operation, the newspaper L’Auto only had around twenty thousand subscribers. This was far behind Le Vélo as it has over eighty thousand readers.

Desgrange then had a meeting with one of his employees. That employee was Géo Lefèvre. During the meeting, they discussed ways on how they could boost the sales of their newspaper. Lefèvre, who just attended the Marseille–Paris cycling race, pitched in that they should fund a bicycle race around France. Desgrange liked it and proposed the matter to their financial department headed by Victor Goddet. Goddet reportedly did not have any second thoughts and was very supportive of the idea.

On January 19, 1903, Tour de France’s announcement was made through the newspaper L’Auto. The race itself took place on July 1, 1903. The participants had to pay a total of ten francs to compete for the entirety of the race. If they only wanted to join one stage, the fee was five francs. Some of the participants got sponsorships from bicycle manufacturers, so they did not pay anything.

As for the first Tour de France, sixty people participated. Most were professional bicycle riders. Forty-nine were French, four were Swiss, another four were Belgian, two were German, and one was Italian.

Accordingly, the first Tour de France started in the village of Montgeron. There were multiple stops in Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes, and Toulouse. The race ended in Ville d’Avray. There were six stages, and each stage had an average distance of 250 miles. The race was not continuous as the participants had one to three days to rest upon completing a stage. The first Tour de France also allowed racers to compete in another stage even if the previous stage did not get finished.

The first-ever Tour de France was not as challenging as the race now. The first race had only flat terrain and only one mountain that cyclists had to overcome. The winner was a cyclist named Maurice Garin.

Because of the popularity of the first Tour de France, L’Auto’s popularity also rose. Accordingly, by the year 1923, the copies printed by L’Auto daily were 500,000.


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