The biggest bicycle race of all time began in 1903 as a publicity stunt for the cycling magazine l'Auto. That first race was 2,500 km long and took place across 19 days, in six stages. Riders--60 of them--were expected to ride day and night. The winner was Maurice Garin.
Every year since, almost one billion people throughout the world follow the Tour de France, with its routes and difficulties changing over the years. Often described as the equivalent of running twenty marathons in twenty days, the race currently runs 3462 kilometers over 3 weeks, with a stage a day.
"The bicycle," said writer William Saroyan, "is the noblest invention of mankind."
With almost 200 riders in the race, all striving to ride ahead in the peloton (main pack) and wear the prized Yellow Jersey, maillot jaune, the sign of who currently overall leads the race.
"That yellow jersey has made me aware of my real abilities," explained race participant Thomas Voeckler.
Other colored jersey includes the green--maillot vert--for sprint points and the polka dot--maillot à pois--or King of the Mountain, the rider first over the top on all mountain and hill climbs. The white jersey is worn by the best young rider (25 years old or younger).
"Everything," said writer Stephen Crane, "is bicycle."
Le Tour's U.S. popularity has exploded in recent years, thanks to the success and charisma of Texan cyclist Lance Armstrong. With torrid days in the Pyrenees and wicked Alpine ascents, cyclists prepare physically and mentally to overcome the race challenges. In this competition, "only the fittest survive."
The race is a testament to resiliency and passion...and as million of manic fans will confess...is a joy to watch. As writer H. G. Wells once observed, "Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia."
More BICYCLE & CYCLING Quotations
"Enjoy watching the greatest race on earth." ~ Bobby Julich