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History of the Tour de France

The Tour de France is one of the most prestigious and iconic events in the world of cycling. It is an annual multi-stage bicycle race that takes place primarily in France. With a history dating back to 1903, the Tour de France has become a symbol of cycling excellence and a key event in the international sporting calendar, drawing millions of spectators and cycling enthusiasts worldwide.

1906 Tour de France race - the Villersexel bend image from the 1906 Tour de France - the Villersexel bend

Since its inception, the Tour de France has taken place every year, interrupted only by the world wars. There were no events from 1915 to 1918 because of World War I and no events held between 1940 to 1946 because of World War II.

The First Event

Henri Desgrange, a French cyclist and journalist, started the Tour de France in 1903. His newspaper, L'Auto (now L'Equipe), sponsored the race for advertising purposes. The paper's competitor, Le Vélo, at that time was the only paper reporting on cycle racing.

The first winner was 32 year old Frenchman Maurice Garin who completed the course at an average speed of 25.7 km per hour (see more about the 1903 event).

The Course

The total distance of the Tour de France has varied over the years. The inaugural race in 1903 covered approximately 2,428 kilometers, but the route length has increased and decreased over time. In recent years, it has typically been around 3,500 to 3,600 kilometers.

The first mountain stage was added in 1910. The inclusion of mountain stages, particularly the challenging climbs in the Pyrenees and Alps, added a new dimension to the race's difficulty and excitement.

Some Champions

In 1919, a yellow jersey, or "maillot jaune," was first introduced to identify the overall leader of the race, a tradition that has continued to this day.

American cyclist Greg LeMond became the first non-European rider to win the Tour de France, marking a shift in the race's international appeal.

Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx, known as "The Cannibal," won the Tour de France five times (1969-1974) and remains one of the sport's greatest legends.

There have been many controversies throughout the history of the Tour de France, but no greater than those concerning Lance Armstrong. Armstrong was the most successful rider ever, finishing first seven times before his wins were removed from the record books after being found guilty of doping by the USADA in 2012.

A Women's Race

A women's equivalent of the Tour de France, the Tour de France Féminin, was held from 1984 to 2003 (no event 1990-91). There was no event in 2004. In 2005 it was resurrected though held over fewer stages and held at a different time. There were no events held from 2010-21. A women's tour race returned in 2022, under the title Tour de France Femmes.

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