The launch of the Tour de France 2003 was hailed as usual by the
world’s press. As the excitement of the week calms down we look at how the
English speaking press reacted to the centenary event.
Where it all started
For sheer depth of vision and historical perspective the UK Guardian writer
William Fotheringham stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. His
article in the paper on Friday does lack specific route detail or quotes from
the Stars - but it superbly conveys the sense of historical unity that the Tour
organisers were hoping to achieve.
'Sowers' inspire the energy ride
Centenary race follows a route that echoes its glorious past
Friday October 25, 2002
"With the same sweeping, powerful gesture which Zola gave to his farm worker
in La Terre, L'Auto, a newspaper of ideas and action, will launch across France,
from today, those unknowing and forceful sowers of energy, the great
professional road racing cyclists." Those words, from an editorial in L'Auto
under the headline "The sower", launched the first Tour de France on July 1,
1903, and next year much energy will be sown around the country in celebrating
The "sowers of energy" remain as forceful as 100 years ago even if they are
rather more "knowing" than of yore thanks to the assistance of sports doctors
and business managers, and they turned out in force yesterday, led by the
four-times winner and defending champion Lance Armstrong, at the Palais des
Congrès to be shown the 2003 route.
Broadly the 2003 Tour follows a similar course to that devised by L'Auto's
Henri Desgrange, whose pieces set the florid, semi-epic tone which remains the
language of French cycling journalism. His successor Jean-Marie Leblanc has
superimposed a modern-day Tour over the original stage towns: Lyon, Marseille,
Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes.
The 1903 event was a voyage into the unknown for which the participants were
paid 10 francs. They had the right to pull out during any stage and still begin
the following leg. There were between one and three days' rest between each of
the stages. With handlebar moustaches and wearing flat caps, they were allotted
nicknames such as the "the furniture-makers' champion", "the prince of the
miners". The eventual winner, Maurice Garin, was the "white bulldog" or "the
Today the right to ride means economic life or death for a team but in 1903
Desgrange had to scour the ranks of the "energy sowers" of his day to find 60
riders willing to take on his 1,500-mile race. The longest stage, Paris-Lyon,
was 290 miles; next year the longest leg will again be that to the gastronomic
capital but will be half the distance.
Desgrange was driven to launch his event by a circulation war with his
paper's rival, Le Velo, and adopted his assistant Geo Lefevre's suggestion for a
round-France race, like the "six-day races" run on the velodromes, and
outstripping Le Velo's promotions, Bordeaux-Paris and Paris-Brest-Paris. He
marketed his event as "a gigantic concept which will have the whole of France on
its feet, not for a few hours but for 19 days". In the event its impact has
lasted a full century.
Garin led from the off and was triumphantly escorted into the Parc des
Princes by a parade of 2,000 cyclists waving their hats in the air. Sales of
L'Auto went from 30,000 to 65,000 overnight, Le Velo was eventually closed down
and L'Auto's successor, L'Equipe, is still heavily involved with the race.
On the marathon stages, partly run at night, the organisers set up
checkpoints, some unannounced, to prevent the participants taking short cuts,
although several were caught jumping on trains and in cars in the following
year's event. The first checkpoint in the 1903 Tour was in Nevers and the town
on the banks of the Loire will host the finish of stage five.
Numerous other gestures to the past are in the offing. For the first time in
half a century the Tour will start in central Paris, the original ville départ.
The final road race stage will begin in the Paris suburb of Ville d'Avray, where
the 21 finishers in the first Tour ended their voyage into the unknown. The
initials HD, for Henri Desgrange, will reappear on the maillot jaune in a
pointed gesture at the 1980s marketing men who judged them old-fashioned and had
The race will pass memorials to the greats, including Desgrange's atop the
barren scree slopes of the Col du Galibier in the Alps and the plate on a stone
barn in Sainte Marie de Cam pan, where the "Old Gaul" Eugene Christophe spent
several hours repairing his forks in 1913.
Next year's event will also reflect another change: the Tour's gradual
transformation from a voyage into the unknown to an event which appeals to many
fans because they can share the same roads as the greats. As in 2000, there will
be a mass ride around a 30-kilometre circuit in the capital on the final stage's
route, and a similar event is planned around the 1903 course next summer.
But not all attempts to pay tribute to the original Tour have gone smoothly.
Next month actors will recreate the dinner in Taverne Zimmer, the Montmartre
restaurant where the first Tour was refined over a long lunch. But a different
venue has had to be found. The original is now a kebab shop.
The newspaper that inspired the yellow jersey!
Meanwhile in the USA the Washington Post (and many other newspapers) used
the Reuters piece by Gilles Le Roc’h as an introduction to the event. Well why
not. It is a well balanced piece of writing which reflects not only the history
of the Tour but also gives the readers of very good perspective of the 2003
race. It manages to mention not only Lance Armstrong - but also Le Reveil Matin
where the race first started. So it makes the connetion between 2003 and 1903
Tour de France to Travel Down Memory Lane Reuters
Thursday, October 24, 2002; 8:22 AM
By Gilles Le Roc'h
PARIS (Reuters) - Riders in the 2003 Tour de France race will embark on a
three-week trip down memory lane to celebrate its centenary next July.
"The 2003 Tour will be a rare and considerable event," said Tour director
Jean-Marie Leblanc when he unveiled the route for July 5-27 race on Thursday.
"We will revisit the six cities which hosted the 60 riders in the 1903 race,
Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes," he added at the launch
which was witnessed by 21 former Tour winners.
"We will also climb mountain passes like Galibier, Izoard and Tourmalet, in
that order. "We designed a balanced itinerary and hope the race will provide
some great moments."
The route should suit defending champion Lance Armstrong, who will be
favorite to win the centenary race. The American, hoping to win his fifth Tour
in succession, will have to master two individual time trials, over 60 miles in
all, and seven mountain stages.
But there will be fewer altitude finishes in 2003 compared to this year --
three instead of five.
For the first time since 1986, the Tour will start from Paris and the
prologue will begin at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
Symbolically, the first stage will begin from the same place as it did 100
The inaugural Tour de France, won by Maurice Garin, started in front of a
cafe called Le Reveil Matin, and though the cafe has long gone, the spot will
mark the beginning of the first stage on July 6.
"A little ceremony will be held on the spot," said Leblanc.
After three flat stages which should favor sprinters, the 197 riders will
take part in a 42-mile team time trial in St Dizier and then ride to Nevers,
where the first feeding station was installed in 1903.
"For the centenary we could not avoid going to l'Alpe d'Huez, a memorable
finish which crowned Fausto Coppi as its first winner (in 1952)," Leblanc said.
"That day we will go up the Galibier to pay homage to the Henri Desgranges
(the Tour creator) monument.
"The next day, we'll climb the Izoard and stop at the plaques honoring
(former Tour winners) Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet," Leblanc added.
The Tour director said he had decided for the race to spend fewer days in the
Alps to maintain some suspense.
The first individual time trial will be held at the foot of the Pyrenees over
30 miles between the wine city of Gaillac and the Cap Decouverte theme park.
The second will be held between Pornic and Nantes over 30 miles on the day
before the finish on the Champs-Elysees.
The loser of newspaper wars;
does its memory live on in the green jersey ?
Eric Zabel: Old newspapers live in modern
To be continued...
Photos courtesy of cypho, skynet.be, Dave O'Nyons.