The pulse is bouncing
The heart is raging
The tarmac is demanding
The wheels of steel are ever turning
The first idea for a race through France came up in 1902 during a meeting at newspaper ‘L’Auto’ in Paris when journalist Géo Lefèvre suggested a race right around France, not just for one day but for six, ‘like the six-day races on indoor tracks’. The idea of bringing the excess of the indoor tracks to the outdoor roads was born. And with it came the practices which had seen riders through their suffering.
The first Tour de France was staged in 1903. The plan was a six-stage race during the month of June, starting in Paris and stopping over in Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes before returning to Paris. The route was a round course through France, in a time when the most roads were potholed dirt-tracks and bicycles had wooden wheels with metal tyres. Stages would go through the night and finish next afternoon, with rest days before riders set off again.
Such were the passions that the first Tour created in spectators and riders, that the organizer Henri Desgrange said the second would be the last. Cheating was rife and riders were beaten up by rival fans as they neared the top of the col de la République, outside St-Étienne.
The first Tours were open to whoever wanted to compete. Most riders were in teams that looked after them. The private entrants were called ‘touriste-routiers’ (tourists of the road) and were allowed to take part provided they make no demands on the organisers. Some of the Tour’s most colourful characters have been ‘touriste-routiers’. One finished each day’s race and then performed acrobatic tricks in the street to raise the price of a hotel.
In the 21st century, the Tour de France is the biggest sporting event where the spectators can get as close to the athletes as in no other event of this magnitude. As much as riders might not have to do acrobatic tricks any more for a place for the night, the pressure on them might be as high as in the early days.
Doping has plagued the Tour since it’s start in 1903. Early Tour riders consumed alcohol and used ether, among other substances, as a means of dulling the pain of competing in endurance cycling. In later years, riders began using substances as a means of increasing performance rather than dulling the senses, and organizing bodies enacted policies to combat the practice.
On of the lowest points was reached when on 13 July 1967, British cyclist Tom Simpson died climbing Mont Ventoux after taking amphetamine.
In the late 20th century, riders began achieving the effects of transfusion more effectively by using Erythropoietin EPO), a drug to increase red-cell production. EPO became widespread, as a flurry of exposures and confessions revealed.
After all the doping scandals which brought professional cycling sport almost on it’s knees, there are hardly any doping cases being detected anymore, despite rigid controls. If a new generation of doping free riders has entered the ring or if the science to dope has entered a new level, is something which time will tell. Till then, the controversy will last.
Despite all controversies, the Tour de France is one of the toughest sporting events for human minds and bodies. 3 weeks of racing, 3 weeks of suffering, 3 weeks of glory. 3 weeks which can show it all.
The 2012 Tour de France was the 99th edition of the Tour de France. It began with a prologue time trial in the city of Liège in Belgium. The trial was won by Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara, while the overall Tour de France 2012 was won by Briton Bradley Wiggins.