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Le Tour de France: the cycling heart of a nation <br><h3>The History of le Tour</h3></br>

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Le Tour de France: the cycling heart of a nation

The History of le Tour

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August 2nd, 2015

The origins of the Tour de France read like the beginnings of a slapstick comedy, with a plot grounded in political intrigue and good old fashioned revenge. The setting is Paris at the turn of the 20th century…

Evocative and beautiful

Public domain // Wikicommons


The first scene takes place at an event described at the time as “an absurd political shindig”. Here one Jules-Albert de Dion, a French Marquis, was arrested (and later briefly incarcerated) for striking the president of France on the head with his walking stick.

Coverage of the arrest in the nation’s largest sports newspaper, Le Vélo, fanned the flames of conflict. Dion took objection to the tone, especially as the newspaper was edited by a man called Pierre Giffard who held an opposing opinion on the cause célèbre of the day: whether or not Alfred Dreyfus, a French army officer convicted – but later exonerated – of selling military secrets to the Germans was innocent or guilty.

Dion did the only logical thing given the situation and teamed up with others sharing his viewpoint to open a rival sports newspaper – L’Auto – and began hatching a plan to drive Giffard’s Vélo out of business.


 The Tour, described on its own website as an
idea “finely treading the line between insanity and genius”


Le Tour was the result of a crisis meeting in November 1902 of L’Auto’s inner circle, wherein Géo Lefevre suggested a six-day cycle race to eclipse similar events being held in France at the time. It failed to drive Giffard out of business, but it did give the nation (and the world) its favourite cycling event – one which forms an impressive chunk of France’s national identity even today.

In 2010, 108 years after the meeting, there were 7.2 million holidays in France involving cycling, 24% of which originated abroad. This generated €5.6 billion for the French economy as well as 16,500 jobs, and counted for 3.5% of total holidays to the country. The Telegraph rightly describes it as “probably the best place in the world for a cycling holiday”.

The sort of views you can expect

Le Tour: an event that “placed their towns, their countryside
and, since 1910, even their mountains, in the spotlight”.


There’s something to appeal to everyone: events like L’Etape du Tour and L’Etape de Légende attract the hard core who want to ride as hard as the pros, while people who want to trundle along the shoreline of the Atlantic and soak up the sun can do so in Littoral-Atlantique and Corsica (the regions which attract 57% of France’s cycle tourists).

Visitors aren’t restricted to cycling on specially planned tours either. The bike rental market in France is hugely popular too – worth over €150 million in 2008 – and the country boasts two of Europe’s ten biggest bike rental schemes (Paris with 19,000 bikes and Lyon with 3,200).

L’Etape du Tour: Lycra, testosterone, prestige


So important is cycling that the role of Monsieur Vélo was created in the French government, whose job is to have “general oversight of all policy issues pertaining to the use of bicycles in urban transport”. “The Messieurs Vélo“, explains Hugh Duancey in his book, “ensure that cycling is considered in any new transport infrastructures” (and yes, the job title does translate to Mr Bike!).

The country’s efforts to improve infrastructure and increase engagement with cycling continue apace, bringing with them more sustainable transport options, environmentally friendly leisure activities, tourism revenues and healthy lifestyles.

And all this on the back of a political tiff among overly monied newspaper editors 112 years ago.


French cycle touring facts and figures taken from The Bicycle Economy in France, by EPOMM.


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