1. ITV Report

Tour de France 2014: The first Tour

When the first Tour de France set off on July 1, 1903, it was by no means the first grand cycling race France had ever seen.

Before it had come the 130 km Paris-Rouen, which took riders over 10 hours to compete, along with the Bordeaux-Paris and Paris-Brest-Paris races. These were all organised by publications, keen to boost their circulation along the route, as people wanted to find out how the riders were doing. There were even professional riders and bike sponsors.

So just after the turn of the century, when struggling publication, L'Auto had upset its sponsors by increasing their advertising rates, a bicycle race as a publicity stunt was not too out of the ordinary. The magazine was printed on yellow paper, a colour which would become synonymous with the Tour.

Henri Desgrange, founder of the Tour de France Credit: Getty Images

In fact, the magazine's editor, and former professional cyclist, Henri Desgrange, only began to become enamoured with the idea when young journalist, Geo Lefevre, suggested that they could turn the whole of France into a giant velodrome.

Desgrange had already cemented himself into the cycling hall of fame, by setting the first World Hour Record in 1892. His time was swiftly beaten, but he was the first. His caution towards the Tour initially remained throughout his involvement with it, hesitating over introducing high mountain stages in 1910.

The pair developed a 1,500 mile, clockwise loop of the country, running from Paris to Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes before returning to Paris. There were no Alpine climbs and only six stages - although the average distance for each stage was around 250 miles. However, the competitors did have at least one day of rest between each stage.

For the 60 riders setting out on the bicycles in the Parisian suburb of Montegeron, they were in for a wild ride.

They were mostly French, with a few Belgians, Swiss, Germans and Italians. A third of them were professionals with sponsorship from bike manufacturers, but all were motivated by the 20,000 francs being offered up in prize money.

The first stage - Paris to Lyon - was around 300 miles, over unpaved roads, without helmets, with no help from other team members. They all rode as individuals. Cyclists were responsible for making their own running repairs, with spare tyres and tubes wrapped around them in case the terrible roads resulted in a flat.

Due to the incredible length of the stage, riders spent much of their time riding under the light of the moon - although spectators still were out in force. Reports came through of race officials encountering riders "like sleepwalkers". No wonder 23 of them abandoned.

Maurice Garin, the winner of the first Tour de France Credit: Getty Images

One of the favourites, a 32 year-old professional, Maurice Garin, won the stage, crossing the finish line in Lyon 17 hours after leaving Paris, but just one minute ahead of his closest rival.

The former chimney sweep built up his lead as as the race progressed, and by stage five, he had a two hour lead. This was helped no doubt by the fact that his nearest competitor had two flat tyres and fell asleep while taking a rest during the night.

A 20,000 strong crowd gathered in the Parc des Princes, in Paris, to watch the riders come home. Garin won the stage, and took the honour of becoming the first man to win the Tour de France. Next over the line was trainee butcher, Lucien Pothier, nearly three hours later. This is still the biggest winning margin in the history of the Tour.

Garin spent around 95 hours in the saddle, averaging around 15 miles per hour - no mean feat in the rudimental bikes compared to the works of engineering used by today's riders. 21 of the 60 riders finished the race, with the last place rider coming in 64 hours behind Garin.

For the man who had initially been cautious about the Tour, it had been a huge success. Desgrange's struggling magazine had boosted its circulation six-fold and would remain strong until it was forced to shut down post World War II.

However, a theme which would forever dog the Tour was prevalent from this very first outing - cheating. From the first stage, Jean Fischer illegally slip streamed a car, and another rider was subsequently disqualified for the same.

These misdemeanours paled in comparison to the second Tour in 1904. Garin, the hero of the inaugural outing was attacked in St. Etienne, illegally took food during a stage and was eventually disqualified after winning, along with the other top three finishers. The Tour was awarded to 19 year-old, Henri Cornet who remains the youngest ever winner. This was, of course, not the last time a winner and hero of the Tour de France would be stripped of his title...

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