Tour de France 2013 - History - Thomson Al Fresco Blog

With the Tour de France due to start in a few days we thought it’d be the perfect time to share with you a series of posts about the Tour. The first will be a  history of the Tour, then we will let you know what you can expect from this years tour and finally for those of you staying, or thinking of staying, at an Al Fresco holiday parc during the Tour we wrap up the series with a post about the Stages you could see.

So without further ado, here is our first post about the 2013 Tour de France!

Early days
The brainchild of journalist Geo Lefevre, who came up with the idea in a bid to boost circulation of his ailing L’Auto magazine, the first Tour (2828km) began on 1st July 1903 from Montgeron and featured just 60 intrepid riders. After 6 monumental stages (including the incredible Nantes-Paris 471km), just 21 ‘routiers’ reached the finishing line, the first to cross being Maurice Garin, aka ‘The Chimney Sweep’, who scooped the 12,000 francs prize money.

There were no rest days and no bike changes – an endurance test indeed of both man and machine. Mountain stages were introduced in 1905 and have played a significant role in the epic event ever since. However, until the much-welcomed advent of gears in 1937, riders would have to dismount and change their (fixed) wheels before tackling any ascent.

The famous yellow jersey (maillot jaune) was launched in 1919 (following a break in proceedings for the First World War) and took after the cover colour of the race sponsor, L’Auto magazine. A simple green armband was awarded to the winner of the first race.

The youngest rider to win was Henri Cornet in 1904, aged 19. The longest Tour was in 1926 – a mammoth 5745km.

Tour-de-France Riders











Of course, the race has always been associated with cheating of one kind or another. Even as early as 1904 riders were up to their tricks, some taking short cuts or hopping on trains (hard to spot with many stages taking place at night), whilst some had their fans assault fellow competitors mid race, or throw nails on the road before them. On mountain stages in particular fiendish methods have been employed, like holding onto cars or getting a helpful push from spectators. Dope testing was introduced in 1967, following the Mont Ventoux mountain stage death of English rider Tom Simpson, whose performance had hitherto been enhanced with brandy and amphetamines.

Last man…lanterne rouge
It’s universally known, of course, that the current leader and eventual winner of the Tour is given the prestigious yellow jersey. But it is perhaps not quite so well known that the poor chap who ‘follows up the rear’ and finishes slowest of all is known as the ‘lanterne rouge’, or red light, as seen on the back of a vehicle at night. In the early days, the rider would even be obliged carry a little red light under his saddle…

The first bicycles
If you thought the sheer distance and gradients of the Tour were tough, consider this: bicycles had one fixed gear and wooden wheel rims (it was thought that metal rims would overheat during downhill braking and cause the tyre glue to melt.) Riders would also have to contend with spare tyres draped around their necks, whilst food and toolkits dangled from their handlebars. In 1930, all the bicycles were painted yellow, without manufacturers’ names on. Later, in the 1960’s with national bicycle sales falling and factories closing, trade names (and team sponsors) were allowed back.

The heroes
Four riders have each won the race five times, including Frenchman Bernard (‘The badger’) Hinault (1979, 1981, 1982, 1985) and formidable Spaniard Miguel Indurain (‘Big Mig’) who remains the only man to have won it five years in succession (1991-5). Eddie Merckx holds the record for most stage wins (36). Richard Virenque has been King of the Mountain (wearer of the red polka dot jersey) no less than seven times (1994-7, 99, 03, 04).

Mark Cavendish (UK) is acknowledged to be the Tour’s finest ever sprinter, having racked up four straight wins (2009-12) on the final dash to the Champs-Elysees tape.


Tour-de-France Map









This year (2013) is a milestone for the Tour – it’s the 100th. The Grand Départ is from Porto Vecchio in Corsica on Saturday 29th June; thereafter, the race is confined entirely to mainland France, snaking across the country taking in Le Grand-Bornand in the east, Marseille in the south, Bagnerres de-Bigorre in the south west, Mont St Michel in the north, Tours and Lyon in the middle and ending back up on the Champs-Elysées Sunday 21st July.

Totalling a mighty 3,360 kilometres, there will be 21 stages in all (7 x flat, 5 x hilly,
6 x mountain, 2 x individual time trial, 1 x team time trial).

A popular sporting spectacle the world over, the race attracts 15 million roadside spectators and each day some 4 million TV viewers. All eyes will doubtless be on
Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team SKY), 2012’s celebrated winner and Olympic champion. He, like his fellow competitors will typically consume 6,000 calories each day (beetroot juice is often on the menu) and his £10k+ bicycle is sure to be a state-of-the-art, ultra-light, made-to-measure masterpiece, with features such as drag-reducing aerofoil tubing, carbon brake levers, carbon tyres, carbon disc wheels and electronic gear-change. Clothes are high-tech too – multi-vent, space-age helmets are worn, together with aerodynamic shirts and feather-light, carbon fibre shoes.

The 2014 Tour will begin in our very own Leeds city centre, then move down to London via the Peak District and Sheffield before crossing back over the Channel to its homeland.

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