The Tour de France is regarded as the most prestigious and hardest bicycle race in the world. The first Tour de France took place in 1903, with just 60 individual riders taking on six-stages which covered 2,428 km. It has now evolved into a 20-team race, made up of riders from all over the world, covering over 3,300 km in 21 stages.
Most of the riders in the first race were French, but some Italian, Belgian, Swiss, and German riders also took on the challenge. Their route took them from Paris to Lyon, before reaching Marseille, and heading back to Paris, via Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Nantes. The stages averaged 405 km, meaning they had to race both night and day.
The winner of the first Tour de France was Maurice Garin, who crossed the line in front of 20,000 people. However, the following year’s race nearly became the last, as many riders were caught cheating. The main offenses of the time were sabotaging each other’s bikes and jumping on trains!
Evolution Of The Tour de France
In 1905, the route changed and the Ballon d’Alsace mountain stage was introduced, along with stricter rules to prevent cheating. The route changes continued each year, with stages taking the riders through the Pyrénées in 1910 and the Alps in 1911. These additional stages doubled the total distance of the race but reduced the average daily length. However, average stage length was still an impressive 356 km.
The Tour de France has taken place annually since 1903, with breaks for the Spanish flu pandemic and both World Wars.
Today’s Tour de France riders race on smooth, paved roads. But in the early days, many of the roads were unpaved, and there were no helmets to protect riders during a crash. Also, in the early days of individual racing, riders had no support and were responsible for their own repairs. The punishing roads took their toll on bikes and tires, so riders wrapped themselves in spare tires and tubes to be prepared for their inevitable punctures.
These days Tour de France racers have a strict strategy with regards to pace and how to fuel their bodies, but back in the 1900s, it wasn’t unheard of for riders to take sips of wine to enhance their performance and smoke cigars between stages.
1926 saw the longest Tour de France route, which covered 5,745 km. Races of this distance were phased out in the early 1930s when the tour became sponsored and broadcast live on the radio.
1937 saw the introduction of derailleurs on the Tour bicycles, which was a game-changer for the riders’ ability to climb on the mountain stages.
The Yellow Jersey
After the First World War, the yellow jersey (maillot jaune) was introduced. This color was chosen so spectators could easily spot the race leader as well as being the color of the paper that L’Auto was printed on. L’Auto was the Tour de France’s founding newspaper, which kept the public up to date with the heart-stopping drama, legendary rivalries and bitter tragedies of the race. The first man to wear the maillot jaune was Eugene Christophe on 18 July 1919.
The Modern Tour de France
The Tour de France continues to evolve each year, with alterations to the route. It is a spectacle that attracts attention from all over the world and is closely followed by millions of people. Each stage sees thousands of people brave all kinds of weather to cheer on their favorite riders. Usually, the Tour de France takes place in July, but due to coronavirus, the 2020 edition has been postponed until August. There is still some speculation about whether the race will go ahead, but teams and fans remain hopeful that the greatest cycling race in the world will take place.
Israel Start-Up Nation and the Tour de France
In the spring of 2014, two cyclists met at the summit of Nes Harim, the legendary climb near Jerusalem that draws hundreds of cyclists from the Israeli bicycling community every weekend.
The older of the two, Ron Baron, was an Israeli businessman; The younger, Ran Margaliot, was barely 25 at the time and had just finished his career as a professional cyclist, thus ending his dream of becoming the first Israeli to compete in the greatest race of all – the Tour de France. The two men had a joint vision of starting a cycling revolution in Israel. Their dream was to take what was an underdeveloped sport at the time and provide real opportunities for aspiring young cyclists.
Just six years later, the team was granted a WorldTour license, providing automatic entry in the sport’s biggest races, including the iconic Tour de France. “Our destiny was to become a WorldTour team,” stated Sylvan Adams, the team’s co-owner. “We are now at the pinnacle of the sport and hope to prove that we firmly belong.”
As the team has grown stronger, with significant achievements and podiums in the past year, Israel Start-Up Nation is also gaining respect in the professional cycling world and from the other WorldTour teams.
So, on 29 August 2020, Israel Start-Up Nation will be the first Israeli team to race in the Tour de France, with the first Israeli rider wearing the blue and white in the most prestigious race in the world.