The First Tour de France
Sixty Cyclists and Nineteen Days of Daring on the Road to Paris
From its inception, the 1903 Tour de France was a colorful affair. Full of adventure, mishaps and audacious attempts at cheating, it was a race to be remembered.
Cyclists of the time weren't enthusiastic about participating in this "heroic" race on roads more suited to hooves than wheels, with bikes weighing up to thirty-five pounds, on a single fixed gear, for three full weeks. Assembling enough riders for the race meant paying unemployed amateurs from the suburbs of Paris, including a butcher, a chimney sweep and a circus acrobat. From Maurice "The White Bulldog" Garin, an Italian-born Frenchman whose parents were said to have swapped him for a round of cheese in order to smuggle him into France as a fourteen-year-old, to Hippolyte Aucouturier, who looked like a villain from a Buster Keaton movie with his jersey of horizontal stripes and handlebar moustache, the cyclists were a remarkable bunch.
Starting in the Parisian suburb of Montgeron, the route took the intrepid cyclists through Lyon, over the hills to Marseille, then on to Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Nantes, ending with great fanfare at the Parc des Princes in Paris. There was no indication that this ramshackle cycling pack would draw crowds to throng France's rutted roads and cheer the first Tour heroes. But they did; and all thanks to a marketing ruse, cycling would never be the same again.