The Tour de France has grown from a 2,500 kilometer bike (as in the peddle kind, not the motor kind) around the perimeter of France to a 3,200 kilometer race across various European countries, but mostly France. Because I’m sure you remember every bit of geography from high school, you will recall that there are beaucoup mountains in that region of the world and the Tour planners seem determined to scale each and every one of them.
The longest Tour de France was a ridiculous 5,745 kilometers in 1926.
The roots of the Tour de France trace to the Dreyfus Affair, a cause célèbre that divided France at the end of the 19th century over the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, a soldier convicted—though later exonerated—of selling military secrets to the Germans. Stick with me here. Newspapers fought, new ones were formed, some failed, and Géo Lefèvre had the bright idea of a race around France because that was a great way in those days to promote newspaper sales. And newspapers were a great way to promote a big bike race—a grand old win for everyone. Especially the drug and doping trades which had been busy looking for sports that require more brawn than – OK, I’m not saying that bikers are less than brilliant, but seriously, to ride that far and that hard over so many mountains? Even Hannibal had elephants. According to the newspaper dude that originally sponsored the race, the Tour was supposed to be so hard that only one rider would make it to Paris.
Just so we’re clear. Doping is stupid. I’m just pointing out that there are some pretty obvious flaws in the whole structure.
The history of cheating has been around since the start of the Tour. In the first race, much of the riding was done at night when the riders took advantage of the darkness and the lack of night vision goggles for judges.
Fashion is also an important part of the Tour, as riders are given jerseys for being speedy in a variety of different categories. It is obvious that no one consulted with a fashionista when designing the shirts. Yellow is not a great color for most of the riders, and the polka-dot shirt (for mountain climbing) which should be the coolest of all the shirts just looks like a case of the measles. Socks are not given out, but I’m pretty sure things would be better if they were.
Enjoy the ride!