Lance Armstrong was a cyclist long before he won his first Tour de France but he never achieved great success until his comeback from testicular cancer. He won a few stages in the early 90s but never anything impressive. It wasn’t until 1999 that he won his first Tour de France, taking four stages in the process and dominating in the mountains with the help of his team.
That victory set off a string of seven straight Tour de France titles for Lance Armstrong, some of them closely fought and some runaway victories of his closest competitors. Throughout his victory streak he was dogged by allegations of cheating but never failed a test, keeping him clean in the public’s eye. He is by far the world’s most famous cyclist and his story has made him exceptionally notable and successful in America where he is a famous endorser and cancer charity supporter.
The Tour de France is the most famous bicycle race in the world and the one with the richest payout and opportunity for future sponsorships. It started in 1903 and has continued annually since then and stands as one of the most impressive tests of endurance athletes the world has ever seen. For roughly 2000 miles the riders put themselves to the test, pushing hard every day over routes designed to drive them to the edge of what’s possible.
The course is changed every year to keep it interesting but they always finish in Paris. It is mostly in France but other countries often see a few stages. There are 21 days of racing and the longest course ever was in 1926 at more than 3,500 miles. The physical toll of the Tour de France has been compared to climbing Mount Everest three times or running several marathons.
Deaths are uncommon at the Tour de France, particularly among the riders. It has happened though, including as recently as 2008 when a spectator was struck and killed by a police motorcycle as she crossed the route and must not have seen the policeman coming. The earliest death was in 1910 when a racer named Adolphe Heliere drowned during an off day.
In 1935 Spanish racer Francisco Cepeda careened off the road and down a ravine, which killed him instantly. In 1967 a racer died of heart failure that was blamed on his taking amphetamines to improve his performance. In 1995 racer Fabio Casartelli died at the Tour de France when he crashed going 55 mph during a descent. With only a helmet to protect him he simply couldn’t survive such a high speed accident. Several fans and others associated with the race have died over the years.
Most stages at the Tour de France have all the riders starting at once. They begin with a ramp up to the actual racing, which is designated by the Tour directory waving a white starter flag. At that point the real racing begins. During these stages the riders are allowed to touch but it is forbidden to push another rider. During the mass stages all riders that finish in a group are awarded the same time, a change made to discourage crazy sprinting that would lead to big crashes around the finish line.
There are individual time trials as well. These are designed to test a rider’s speed and ability to dominate with just him and his bike. There is a team time trial in which the entire team rides and their ability to work together is tested and compared to the other teams.
There are special jerseys worn by the riders of the Tour de France if they meet certain goals and accomplishments. The winner of each stage of the Tour de France is awarded the yellow jersey to be worn during the next stage. It’s a great honor to have won a stage and to get to wear that jersey the next day. After the final stage the overall winner is awarded the yellow jersey to signify his victory. The green jersey is worn by the leader in the points competition. Points are given for each stage and are determined by your place in the stage. A white and red dots jersey is worn by the King of the Mountains, given to the rider with the most points earned during the mountain stages. A white jersey is worn by the best young rider under the age of 26.
Accidents are a part of the Tour de France and have been from the very start. Early on when the tour was small there were less collisions but accidents occurred or were caused by overzealous fans looking to knock competitors out of the race. As it became more popular and the roadways of the tour got more crowded accidents became more common.
If you’re on a bike with hundreds of other men and you’re all in a tight space you can almost guarantee an accident. Everyone is pedaling hard and the bikes are moving face and usually side to side a little bit. Sometimes all it takes is a little tap for a bike to tip over and an accident to happen. Watch the Tour de France and you’re going to see at least a few accidents every year that end in bloodied bodies and sometimes broken bikes and bones.
Cheating has been present at the Tour de France since the first ride. Back then, in 1903, it was simpler cheats like getting in a car or riding the train for a portion of the race or having someone on the course knock a rival rider off his bike and take a few swings at him. Those methods of cheating were largely abolished once the tour got more popular and more people were hired to work it and watch the riders.
The main form of cheating at the Tour de France has always been doping. Early on doping was as simple as using alcohol and ether to numb the extreme pain caused by such hard riding. Over the years different drugs have been used, including growth hormone, amphetamines, and EPO. Blood transfusions have been frequently used as well. Cheating and doping are now down as testing has gotten more sophisticated.
The passionate response to the first Tour de France had the founder thinking that it wouldn’t be a good idea to make it a yearly tradition. You might think that passion is a good thing but in this case it decidedly was not because that passion included violence and cheating.
The violence came largely from the fans as they would beat up rival riders along the route. There weren’t enough officials and security to prevent this sort of thing and it doesn’t take much to knock a rider off his bike and have a few whacks at him if you’re a deranged fan trying to support your favorite rider. Much of the riding took place at night during the first tour so cheating was easy. Many riders would hop in cars or take trains and many were disqualified when their behavior was discovered. All the nefarious behavior made canceling the event seem like the right thing to do but eventually that was scrapped.
The first Tour de France was held from May 31st to July 5th and was originally so expensive that the amateur riders couldn’t afford to take time off from their jobs to enter it. The rules were changed immediately to offer more prize money and a daily fee, which pushed the total entries to 80. The race started in Paris and finished there after a winding trip through France. The tour was an immediate success and its founder was somewhat disturbed by the passion of the fans and the riders. Clearly the money he offered as a prize was a great enticement. Fans immediately backed their favorite riders with great passion, often to the point that they tried to injure other riders along the way. There were only six stages to the first tour but they were all exceptionally long and lasted multiple days so it was roughly the same as it is today.
The Tour de France began in 1903 with a plan for a five stage race from May 31 to July 5. They would have the riders pedal through the night and finish the next afternoon but it wasn’t particularly well planned and was too expensive so only 15 riders entered. The entry rules were changed after the low turnout and they ended up with 80 entrants. That’s still a far cry from the many teams that enter nowadays in this fierce competition.
The Tour de France is where competitive bicycle stage racing began and considering it’s now an international sport (including the Olympics) it’s a rather impressive feat they accomplished by trying to stage a race. Originally private citizens could enter the Tour de France but after some time it simply didn’t work to have amateurs racing with the pros and they were eliminated from the competition. There were national teams as well at one point in the tour’s history but now it’s all sponsored professional teams.