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The First Tour de France of 1903 Through Fascinating Historical Photos

First held in 1903, the Tour de France came about as a publicity stunt dreamed up by newspaper journalists. A ragtag bunch of cyclists set off from outside a bar on the outskirts of Paris. The Tour was transformed into a race with iconic leaders’ jerseys and a wanderlust that took it to the farthest corners of France.

The editor of L’Auto (the precursor of today’s l’Equipe) was desperate to find a way to win the circulation war with Le Vélo. The Tour de France was proposed to Desgrange as a sales promotion. The race was to last for five weeks, from 1 June to 5 July. The entry fee was 20 francs. The conditions attracted a minimal number of cyclists: only 15 had registered one week before the race was due to begin. The event was then rescheduled from 1 to 19 July, the prize money increased to 20,000 francs, the entry fee was lowered to 10 francs, and the first 50 cyclists in the classification were guaranteed at least five francs a day. In the end, 79 cyclists registered for the race, 60 of whom actually started it.

The 1903 Tour de France had six stages. A typical stage race distance was over 400 km, which is exceptionally long compared to modern stage races. Between each stage, cyclists had one to three rest days. The route was essentially flat, with one mountainous stage. Cyclists did not race in teams but as individuals. Cycling professionals often hired pacers to lead them during races in 1903. After the fifth stage, Desgrange decided not to allow pacers. It was initially planned to allow pacers in the final, longest stage. Stewards were stationed at various points to ensure that cyclists rode the entire route. There was no yellow jersey for the leader in the general classification, but a green armband identified the leader.

The race featured sixty cyclists, all professionals or semi-professionals, of which 49 were French, 4 Belgian, 4 Swiss, 2 Germans, and one Italian; 21 of them had sponsors, while 39 didn’t have any. Maurice Garin won the first stage and retained the lead throughout. He also won the last two stages and had a three-hour margin over the next cyclist. In addition to champagne, the riders rode to Parc des Princes, where they made several laps of honor in front of an adoring crowd over the sounds of a bugle.

After the race was over, a special edition of 130,000 copies was printed, and the normal circulation increased from 25,000 to 65,000 copies. After the immense success of 1904, the Tour de France was scheduled again for 1905. In addition to winning the next year’s race, Garin would be disqualified along with eight other riders for cheating, including using cars and trains illegally. The cyclists had also become national heroes.

#1 The winning scene at the finish of the first Tour.

The winning scene at the finish of the first Tour.

In the middle on the right: the winner, Maurice Garin, to his left: most likely Leon Georget.

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#2 The riders get ready to start. Note that what constitutes effective cycle clothing hadn’t been settled.

The riders get ready to start. Note that what constitutes effective cycle clothing hadn’t been settled.

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#3 Advertising poster for the event.

Advertising poster for the event.

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#4 The first kilometer in the history of the Tour de France.

The first kilometer in the history of the Tour de France.

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#5

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#6 The ancient bidon and the feeding zone.

The ancient bidon and the feeding zone.

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#7 Marcel Kerff.

Marcel Kerff.

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#8 The first stage finish line in Lyon.

The first stage finish line in Lyon.

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#9 The finish in Bordeaux, which saw the first-ever foreign winner of a stage, the Swiss Charles Laeser.

The finish in Bordeaux, which saw the first-ever foreign winner of a stage, the Swiss Charles Laeser.

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#10 Maurice Garin, in his trademark white coat and flat cap racing in the 1903 Tour.

Maurice Garin, in his trademark white coat and flat cap racing in the 1903 Tour.

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#11 Maurice Garin is greeted by enthusiastic fans.

Maurice Garin is greeted by enthusiastic fans.

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#12 Leon Georget signs in under the watchful eye of an official.

Leon Georget signs in under the watchful eye of an official.

To minimize cheating riders signed in a stops along each stage.

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#13 Willie Hume.

Willie Hume.

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#14 The winner Maurice Garin.

The winner Maurice Garin.

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#15 Lucien Pothier.

Lucien Pothier.

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#16 The 1903 Tour de France winner Maurice Garin.

The 1903 Tour de France winner Maurice Garin.

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#17 Maurice Garin pictured after his victory in the first stage.

Maurice Garin pictured after his victory in the first stage.

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#18 Maurice Garin.

Maurice Garin.

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#19 The Tour De France became a tradition. Pictured here are the cyclists in 1906.

The Tour De France became a tradition. Pictured here are the cyclists in 1906.

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Written by Alicia Linn

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet....... I’ve never been able to figure out what would i write about myself.

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