© Doug Pensinger/Getty Images The world’s most famous bicycle race was started in 1903.
If you happen to be in France one July and wonder what all the two-wheeling is about – it’s the Tour de France. Let us put you in the picturesque picture.
The purpose of the Tour de France was simple: to make supermen. The harder the race and the longer the course, the more public interest that it would generate. The more sensational, the better. That, after all, is what sells newspapers. And that was the intention behind L’Auto newspaper instituting the world’s most famous bicycle race in 1903.
L’Auto editor, Desgrange, burst the boundaries of bicycle racing when he determined the first race’s course, around the perimeter of France, which would endure for five weeks. When only 16 riders entered, he halved the distance and waved a cash-carrot as incentive to attract more entrants – increasing the number of competitors to 60.
These days, there’s close to 200 cyclists, each competing in teams of nine members. All riders in a team record the same time as their leading rider, with the overall winner of the tour determined by an accumulation of per-day times. The rider with the least accumulated hours wins.
The course changes every year but a few things are certain. One: it will traverse flat terrain (graded as easy) through to hors catégorie (beyond classification), such as the gruelling Tourmalet pass – the highest road in the Pyrenees. Two: the entire length of the race won’t exceed 3500km (with limitations also on the number of kilometres covered in each day’s stage) and will include two…