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A Page In History
On July 1, 1903, 60 men mounted their bicycles outside the Café au Reveil Matin in the Parisian suburb of Montgeron. The five-dozen riders were mostly French, with just a sprinkle of Belgians, Swiss, Germans and Italians. A third were professionals sponsored by bicycle manufacturers, the others simply devotees of the sport. All 60 wheelmen, however, were united by the challenge of embarking on an unprecedented test of endurance—not to mention the 20,000 francs in prize money—in the inaugural Tour de France.
At 3:16 p.m., the cyclists turned the pedals of their bicycles and raced into the unknown.
Nothing like the Tour de France had ever been attempted before. Journalist Geo Lefevre had dreamt up the fanciful race as a stunt to boost the circulation of his struggling daily sports newspaper, L’Auto. Henri Desgrange, the director-editor of L’Auto and a former champion cyclist himself, loved the idea of turning France into one giant velodrome. They developed a 1,500-mile clockwise loop of the country running from Paris to Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes before returning to the French capital. There were no Alpine climbs and only six stages—as opposed to the 21 stages in the 2013 Tour— but the distances covered in each of them were monstrous, an average of 250 miles. (No single stage in the 2013 Tour tops 150 miles.) Between one and three rest days were scheduled between stages for recovery.