First Tour De France
The first Tour de France was staged in 1903. The plan was a five-stage race from 31 May to 5 July, starting in Paris and stopping in Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and Nantes before returning to Paris. Toulouse was added later to break the long haul across southern France from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Stages would go through the night and finish next afternoon, with rest days before riders set off again. But this proved too daunting and the costs too great for most and only 15 entered. Desgrange had never been wholly convinced and he came close to dropping the idea. Instead, he cut the length to 19 days, changed the dates to 1 to 19 July, and offered a daily allowance to those who averaged at least 20 km/h on all the stages. That was what a rider would have expected to earn each day had he worked in a factory. He also cut the entry fee from 20 to 10 francs and set the first prize at 12,000 francs and the prize for each day's winner at 3,000 francs. The winner would thereby win six times what most workers earned in a year. That attracted between 60 and 80 entrants – the higher number may have included serious inquiries and some who dropped out – among them not just professionals but amateurs, some unemployed, some simply adventurous.
Desgrange seems not to have forgotten the Dreyfus Affair that launched his race and raised the passions of his backers. He announced his new race on 1 July 1903 by citing the writer Émile Zola, whose open letter in which every paragraph started" J'accuse ..." led to Dreyfus's acquittal, establishing the florid style he used henceforth, Desgrange wrote:With the wide and powerful gesture that Zola lends to his ploughman in La Terre, L'Auto, a journal of ideas and action, is about to send out over France those tough and uncomplicated sowers of strength, the great professional roadsters. —
He continued:From Paris to the blue waves of the Mediterranean, from Marseille to Bordeaux, passing along the roseate and dreaming roads sleeping under the sun, across the calm of the fields of the Vendée, following the Loire, which flows on still and silent, our men are going to race madly, unflaggingly. —
The first Tour de France started almost outside the Café Reveil-Matin at the junction of the Melun and Corbeil roads in the village of Montgeron. It was waved away by the starter, Georges Abran, at 3:16 p.m. on 1 July 1903. L'Auto—which hadn't featured the race on its front page that morning—reported:The men waved their hats, the ladies their umbrellas. One felt they would have liked to touch the steel muscles of the most courageous champions since antiquity. Who will carry off the first prize, entering the pantheon where only supermen may go? —
Among the competitors were the eventual winner, Maurice Garin, his well-built rival Hippolyte Aucouturier, the German favourite Josef Fischer, and a collection of adventurers including one competing as "Samson".
The race finished on the edge of Paris at Ville d'Avray, outside the Restaurant du Père Auto, before a ceremonial ride into Paris and several laps of the Parc des Princes. Garin dominated the race, winning the first and last two stages, at 25.68 km/h. The last rider, Millocheau, finished 64h 47m 22s behind him.
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