Tour De France: 100 Years Of Excellence

4423 words - 18 pages

It was an unforgiving 95 degrees Fahrenheit in eastern France last week. Rain had fallen nearly every day of the week prior to Stage 16, Wednesday, July 21, making for a very steamy road up the face of one of the most unforgiving mountain rides a cyclist can make in the course of his or her riding career. Nearly one million people lined the narrow mountain road leading to the peak of L'Alpe D'Huez to watch a one man, Lance Armstrong, in the time trial of his life. This seemingly immortal man had survived cancer to make this climb his top achievement leading him to victory five times previously. Could Lance pull off an unprecedented sixth win? He rehearsed this scene time after time over the course of the previous year in preparation for such a time as this. That preparation paid off. He climbed this mountain in exactly 61 seconds faster than any of his nearly 200 competitors. One million people in a less than 20 mile stretch of road all to watch a bicycle race. But this was no normal race, this was, after all, The Tour de France. Considered to be the most physically unremitting sporting event known to man, this mere bicycle race has a history richer than many nations in and of themselves. Over a hundred years ago, in a turbulent, at best, France, two men found their way into a personal disagreement. The results of which, over a century later would still draw spectators by the thousands to the hillsides of France for what would become the greatest continuing nationalist and sporting spectacle of that country.

The best place to start a story of such grand a scale is at the very beginning. The year was 1893. France had just imposed a tax on a relatively new transportation device, the bicycle. Millions of citizens were eagerly paying it in order to "own the new freedom machine." (Fife, 15) Suffice it to say, production of bicycles boomed and manufacturers suddenly found themselves in a more modern day marketing frenzy. Who had the best product? How do we get it out to the public? One man had what he thought was the answer. Comte Dion owned one of these bicycle factories. He chose a popular sports magazine, Le Vélo, to do all his advertising. A man by the name of Pierre Giffard owned the magazine. It seemed a good marriage, the sports paper about cycling advertising the locally made bicycles. All of this was to change, however. Giffard disenfranchised himself with his sponsors by charging too much for his ad space. To make matters worse, a court case in France had split the country down the center, and on opposite sides were Dion and Giffard.

A few years earlier a Jewish French soldier, Alfred Dreyfus, had been accused of selling military secrets to the Germans. The trial set France on fire so to speak. Everyone had an opinion of the alleged Jewish spy. The more conservative, starched Catholics pegged Dreyfus guilty as charged before the trial ever began. He did manage to have his fair share of supporters...

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