The roots of the Tour de France trace to the Dreyfus Affair, a cause célèbre that divided France at the end of the 19th century over the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, a soldier convicted—though later exonerated—of selling military secrets to the Germans. Opinions became heated and there were demonstrations by both sides. One was what the historian Eugen Weber called "an absurd political shindig" at the Auteuil horse-race course in Paris in 1899. Among those involved was Comte Jules-Albert de Dion, the owner of the De Dion-Bouton car works, who believed Dreyfus was guilty. De Dion served 15 days in jail and was fined 100 francs for his role at Auteuil, which included striking Émile Loubet, the president of France, on the head with a walking stick.
The incident at Auteuil, said Weber, was "...tailor-made for the sporting press." The first and the largest daily sports newspaper in France was Le Vélo, which sold 80,000 copies a day. Its editor, Pierre Giffard, thought Dreyfus innocent. He reported the arrest in a way that displeased de Dion, who was so angry that he joined other anti-Dreyfusards such as Adolphe Clément and Édouard Michelin and opened a rival daily sports paper, L'Auto.
The new newspaper appointed Henri Desgrange as editor. He was a prominent cyclist and owner with Victor Goddet of the velodrome at the Parc des Princes. De Dion knew him through his cycling reputation, through the books and cycling articles that he had written, and through press articles he had written for the Clément tyre company.
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