Tour de France: A Long Ride


On this date in 1903, the first Tour de France bicycle race began in Paris.

Here are a few things you may not have known about the Tour de France.

The 1903 race was sponsored by a sports newspaper called L’Auto as a publicity stunt. Its circulation was sagging compared to its main competitor Le Velo. The idea was to attract cycling fans to the newspaper by putting on a 1,500-mile race around France over the better part of a month.

The race was originally to start on June 1, but a lack of interest from the cycling community forced organizers to reduce the entry fee and increase payouts to successful riders. Sixty riders would start the race on July 1. Of the 60 riders, 49 were French, four were Belgian, four were Swiss, two were German and one was Italian.

The race was run over the course of six stages. The riders would have between one and three rest days between each stage. The rider who completed the total distance in the shortest amount of time would win.

The format is similar to what is run today, however the stages are now much shorter. In 1903, the stages averaged about 250 miles, compared to an average of 99 miles per day in the 2015 Tour de France. The stages in 1903 were so long that all but the first stage started before dawn, and the final stage started at 9 p.m. the night before the finish.

The original rules allowed riders to skip stages — they would no longer be eligible to win the general classification, but they could compete to win stages. The winner of the second and third stage, Hippolyte Aucouturier, did so after dropping out of the first stage.

The race was won by Maurice Garin, who was a pre-race favorite along with Aucouturier. He won the first stage, which began at about 3 p.m. and finished around 9 a.m. the following day. Garin would go on to win the fifth and sixth stages to defeat Lucien Pothier by nearly three hours. Garin used his prize money to buy a gas station, where he worked for the rest of his life.

L’Auto’s circulation increased sixfold during the race, and Le Velo had gone out of business by the time the 1904 race came around.

The first non-Frenchman to win the Tour was Francois Faber of Luxembourg, who won the race in 1909. The race was canceled from 1915 to 1918 during World War I, and again from 1940 to 1946 during World War II. Four riders have won the race a record five times: Jacque Anquetil of France, Eddy Merckx of Belgium, Bernard Hinault of France and Miguel Indurain of Spain. American Lance Armstrong had his seven titles stripped after a doping scandal.

This year’s race begins on Saturday in Mont-Saint-Michel and ends at Utah Beach.

Our question: Where does the race end every year?

Today is Canada Day, International Tartan Day, and Children’s Day in Pakistan.

It’s International Chicken Wing Day, U.S. Postage Stamp Day and National Television Heritage Day.

It’s the birthday of actress Olivia de Havilland, who turns 100; actor Dan Aykroyd, who is 64, and athlete Carl Lewis, who turns 55.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 2008, the top song in the U.S. was “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay.

The No. 1 movie was “Wall-E,” while the novel “Sail” by James Patterson and Howard Roughan topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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