100 Years of Touring France
2003 Boaz Rauchwerger
It is truly one of the classics in the world of sports. It is an epic example of man against his potential, against nature, against time and against competitors. It pushes the winners to the extreme of endurance and perseverance.
The 100th anniversary of the Tour de France bicycle race, in 2003, was a great exhibition of world-class competition, amazing endurance and a wonderful example of true sportsmanship.
What has become the greatest bicycle race in the world began in 1903 as a result of a feud between two competing French sports newspapers. Le Velo was the name of one publication. The other was called L'Auto-velo. The second newspaper was founded by an advertiser in the first publication who didn't like some of its editorials.
It was in January of 1903 that Le Velo won a trademark lawsuit against its competitor and L'Auto-velo had to change its name to L'Auto. L'Auto's editor, in an effort to keep his publication alive, decided to create some publicity and raise circulation by promoting a bicycle race. Rather than holding the event at a track, the publication's sports reporter suggested a race through towns and over country roads throughout France.
A month long event, beginning and ending in Paris, was announced. By paying some daily expenses, and offering a 20,000-franc prize, the newspaper attracted 60 cyclists.
That first race, in 1903, began on July 19th. By the time that winner Maurice Garin rode into Paris, 20,000 enthusiastic, paying spectators welcomed him. As far as the L'Auto newspaper was concerned, the race was a huge success. A special edition sold 130,000 copies, four times its circulation of six months before. L'Auto's editor, Henri Desgrange, was thrilled with the race.
In order to create interest in the race throughout the years, Desgrange decided to vary the course each year. Some years it was routed through the Pyrenees Mountains and other years through the Alps. However, the fundamentals have remained the same – a race through the French countryside, broken into stages. The winner is the cyclist with the fastest cumulative time.
It was in 1919 that Desgrange decided to give the leader in the race a yellow jersey so that spectators along the route could tell who was winning. His newspaper was printed on yellow paper and that seemed a natural selection.
The first race covered a distance of about 1,400 miles throughout France. The distance, in recent years, covers some 2,100 miles in 20 stages throughout the month of July. The stages now cover flat terrains, moderate and high mountain stages, two individual time trials and one team time trial.
Entry is by invitation. About 20 teams, each comprised of nine cyclists, participate and the prize money equals about $2.1 million.
In the 2003 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong took a long and often challenging road to join Spanish cyclist Miguel Indurain as the only riders to win cycling's most brutal and prestigious race five times in a row. He is the first American to do so. Armstrong won the 2003 event with a 61-second lead through a grueling 2,125-mile race covering 23 days.
In years past he had won a personal race with surgery and chemotherapy for testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain. He had been given only a 50 percent chance of beating cancer. In the 2003 event, he overcame crashes, illness, tough competitors and some bad luck. However, he continues to teach us about determination and perseverance.
Armstrong shared the victory podium in Paris with five-time runner-up Jan Ullrich of Germany and third-place finisher Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan.
It was the close duel with Ullrich that drew special attention to the 2003 Tour de France. It attracted millions of fans who lined country roads throughout France and many television viewers throughout the world. Especially noteworthy is an incident that took place on a mist-shrouded 8.3-mile ascent in the Pyrenees to the ski station at Luz-Ardiden.
As Armstrong was slightly ahead of Ullrich, he came around a mountain curve at very close range to the cheering spectators. A bag held by one spectator accidentally caught Armstrong's handlebar and he took a hard fall. As Ullrich rode right past him, Armstrong got back on his bike.
There is an unwritten rule in this race. When the yellow jersey falls or has mechanical problems, those who follow slow down and allow the rider to return to his position. During the next minute or two, Ullrich sportingly slowed down and allowed Armstrong to get back in the race. Considering that Armstrong ultimately beat him by 61 seconds, that act by Ullrich was huge.
Therein lies an important lesson in life. The choice is to take advantage when others fall or to do the right thing. The 2003 Tour de France exemplified the right thing.
A Daily Affirmation of Sportsmanship
I do the right thing, even if it means that I do not win sometimes.
Article reproduced with permission from Boaz Rauchwerger. You may reprint any of these articles in any publication or Web site so long as you credit Boaz Rauchwerger as the author and include this Web site address, www.Boazpower.com.