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TOUR’23: A Bit of La Grande Boucle History

Tour de France History: The 2023 Tour de France starts in Bilbao, Spain on Saturday with a hard day in the Basque Country. But we go back to the very beginning, 1903 for a quick Tour history lesson.

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Maurice Garin – The first Tour winner

Maurice Garin won the very first edition of the Tour de France in 1903. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were two newspapers behind the first edition of the French multi-day cycling race. Le Vélo, the sponsor of the then leading cycling Classic Bordeaux-Paris, was the best-selling newspaper in France at that time. The competing L’Auto, led by editor-in-chief Henri Desgrange, had to make do with a more modest circulation.

Garin was a mythical hero

Desgrange had an idea, a way to bring more attention to his newspaper, to increase sales. Together with his partner and right-hand man Géo Lefèvre, he came up with a plan to run a cycle race round all of France. His proposal was not very warmly received, and a ‘Tour de France’ nearly didn’t happen. The prizes had to be increased, because there was not much enthusiasm to race the suggested distances. After discussions and concessions, sixty riders finally appeared at the start of the inaugural Tour de France on July 1, 1903.

tdf03 start
The start of the first Tour de France

After signing the control sheet at the Au Reveil Matin inn in Montgeronde, a suburb of Paris, these brave participants headed off into the unknown. After a first passage through Paris, the riders went to Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes and then back to Paris in two weeks. There was only six stages and the complete distance was 2,428 kilometres from Paris and back again. Only twenty-one riders managed to finish.

How to sell newspapers

The first edition of the Tour de France was a great success. The newspapers wrote about the heroic performances of the riders in the race and all of France was road-side to see these ‘supermen’ pass by. Maurice Garin, Lucien Pothier, Jean Fischer and Fernand Augereau were the heroes of the day. Garin, as the first winner of the Tour de France achieved almost mythical status. The fact that he was removed from the result a year later, in the Tour of 1904, for foul play, doesn’t change that. Maurice Garin is and remains the very first winner of the Tour de France and that is what counts.

Merckx in 1969

We are now exactly 120 years later and the Tour de France has become one of the greatest sporting events on earth. There have been many memorable stories written over the years. The near-fatal crash of Roger Rivière. Jan Janssen’s winning time trial and the long escape of Tour debutant Eddy Merckx on his way to Mourenx. The eight seconds between Greg Lemond and Laurent Fignon. The fatal crash of Fabio Casartelli…

The Casartelli monument

Whoever wins the Tour will be remembered forever and if you are Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault or Miguel Induraín, you are part of a select club of five-time Tour winners. Anquetil won in 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964. Merckx’s reign started in 1969 and then he followed that with 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974. After Merckx, we didn’t have to wait long for Hinault, his wins were in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1985. Then it was Indurain. He was the only rider to win five consecutive Tours, from 1991 to 1995. Lance Armstrong won the Tour seven times, but those victories don’t now exist .

tour winners
The five-time Tour winners club + Indurain

The 2022 edition
After overall victories in 2020 and 2021, the top favourite for the 2022 Tour had to be Tadej Pogačar. The UAE Team Emirates leader had to be patient in the first week as the attention was mainly on the Belgians in the first Tour stages. Yves Lampaert was the first rider to put on Le Maillot Jaune, after he surprisingly won the opening time trial in Copenhagen, Denmark. The ‘farmers son from Belgium’, as Lampaert described himself in interviews after his winning ride, was able to enjoy the jersey for one day. The first road stage was won in a bunch sprint by Fabio Jakobsen. Wout van Aert finished second and, thanks to bonus seconds, took overall lead. Van Aert held the lead for four days. On the sixth stage, it was all change.

Van Aert held yellow for four days

On the stage to Longwy, Van Aert lost the yellow jersey by going on the offensive. His surprise attack was impressive, but burnt out before the finish. After catching Van Aert, Pogačar felt his time had come to make his first move. The Slovenian rode uphill to stage victory and the overall lead. With Pogačar in the yellow jersey, the Tour changed and it looked like the race was as good as over after only a week of racing. But on stage 11 to the Col du Granon, the Tour was turned upside down by the Jumbo-Visma team. That day, the Dutch team took full advantage of the weakness of the UAE Team Emirates. Pogačar was attacked in the Alps by the men in yellow and black. On the Col du Télégraphe the game was already on and on the Galibier, Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič put in attack after attack, hoping to crack the man in yellow.

The attacks rained down on Pogačar

Roglič had crashed on the cobble earlier in the Tour and he sacrificed himself for his teammate Vingegaard on the Alpine stage 11. Due to the aggressive tactics of Jumbo-Visma, the stage came down to a battle between Vingegaard and Pogačar. The Slovenian was riding well, but on the final climb, the tough Col du Granon, the lights went out. Pogačar couldn’t hold Vingegaard with just six kilometres to go and lost nearly three minutes to the Dane. Vingegaard took over the yellow jersey from a beaten Pogačar, but he didn’t give up. In the final week he did everything he could to drop the Dane, but Vingegaard had an answer for everything. In the last mountain stage to Hautacam, Vingegaard could count on a strong Jumbo-Visma team, especially from Sepp Kuss and Wout van Aert. The Belgian managed to deal the final blow with a last effort. Pogačar had to let go due to the power of Van Aert and the ‘coup de grâs’ came from Vingegaard who soloed to victory on the Hautacam climb. From then on Pogačar tried to take time back on the Dane, but it was too much.

Pogačar didn’t give up

2022 Tour de France Final Overall Result:
1. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) in 79:33:20
2. Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) at 2:43
3. Geraint Thomas (INEOS Grenadiers) at 7:22
4. Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) at 13:39
5. Aleksandr Vlasov (BORA-hansgrohe) at 15:46

Can Vingegaard repeat in 2023?

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