The Tour de France is the BIG one; it’s the World cup and the Olympics all in one. It has it all, the high mountains, the wind swept northern planes and the heat of the south. It also has the world’s media, all the top teams and riders and millions of cycling mad fans watching. The other “Grand Tours” of Italy and Spain are as exciting, sometimes more so, but they don’t have the thing the Tour has, that unique Tour ness, that unique French ness.
How it started.
It all started in 1903, when the French daily paper, L’Auto wanted to sell more than its competitor, Le Vélo, who at that time was the only paper reporting on cycle racing. It was suggested to the papers director, Henri Desgrange that they should organise a road bike race all round France. The first race was 2,428 kilometres split into six stages and was run off at 25.29 kilometres per hour and out of the 60 starters 21 finished and the race was lead from start to finish by Maurice Garin.
Over the years there has been a lot of heroes in the Tour de France, you could say all the riders are heroes, to win the race once is hard, but to win it five times is phenomenal. Only five men have done this, and one of these has won it seven times. French rider Jacques Anquetil was the first to win the race five times, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and then Spaniard Miguel Indurain all equalled him. Then the American, Lance Armstrong started to win in 1999 and didn’t stop until he had won it a record seven times in a row. This is all the more amazing as he is a cancer survivor and was given a 50/50 chance of life; he beat the cancer and went on to beat all comers in the Tour de France.
The race starts in a different town every year and every other year it starts outside France, the choice of stage towns is a combination of money and sporting considerations, the towns will pay for a start or a finish, but they need to be near a mountain or a cobbled road or be near other town who want to host the Tour. The Towns pay to be the centre of interest for a day, the Tour also brings in a lot of money in tourism and the Towns collect much more than they pay and the world will remember the name of the Town, for at least a day.
All the best riders want to win the Tour de France, but they cant, from the 200 or so starters there is a possible five or six riders who can win, the rest are either helping their team leaders or sprint or mountain specialists who want to win stages or points or mountain jerseys, this keeps the race active and interesting from beginning to end.
The BIG Tour.
The Tour is the biggest, but that has its problems, some Towns are not big enough, hotels etc., the television needs more space, the journalists need more phone lines and computers, more and more people are following the race and the riders can be forgotten about in all the razzmatazz, but its still the biggest sporting event in the world, long may in run!
Alastair Hamilton is a successful writer who offers a truly unique depth of experience in competitive cycling, he also contributes adding technical articles on road bikes to some cycling online magazines. Please, visit http://www.bike-cycling-reviews.com to reach further information on bike and cycling news.