Le Tour de France
The line between insanity and genius is said to be a fine one, and in early 20thcentury France, anyone envisaging a near-2,500-km-long cycle race across the country would have been widely viewed as unhinged. But that didn’t stop Géo Lefèvre, a journalist with L’Auto magazine at the time, from proceeding with his inspired plan. His editor, Henri Desgrange, was bold enough to believe in the idea and to throw his backing behind the Tour de France. And so it was that, on 1 July 1903, sixty pioneers set out on their bicycles from Montgeron. After six mammoth stages (Nantes – Paris, 471 km!), only 21 “routiers”, led by Maurice Garin, arrived at the end of this first epic.
Having provoked a mixture of astonishment and admiration, le Tour soon won over the sporting public and the roadside crowds swelled. The French people took to their hearts this unusual event which placed their towns, their countryside and, since 1910, even their mountains, in the spotlight.
Le Tour has always moved with the times. Like France as a whole, it benefited from the introduction of paid holidays from 1936; it has lived through wars, and then savoured the “trente glorieuses” period of economic prosperity while enjoying the heydays of Coppi, Bobet, Anquetil, Poulidor and it has opened itself up to foreign countries with the onset of globalisation.
The 2016 Tour de France route was officially revealed in Paris in October 2015, with its 21 stages between Mont Saint-Michel and Paris including a stage up the legendary climb of Mont Ventoux, as well as two tough looking individual time trials.
The climbers will be at the sharp end of proceedings as early as stage five, where the first of the mountains appears. For those who prefer the Classics however, the cobbles will not feature in 2016 as they did in the two previous editions.
Despite not having a foreign start as it has done for the past two years with Yorkshire and Utrecht, the race will venture out of France on three separate occasions in 2016.
The Tour de France will visit Andorra for a stage finish on its ninth day, then the rest day and the stage 10 start – passing through Spain on the way. The Grande Boucle will also visit Switzerland on stages 16 and 17, with the second rest day taking place in Bern.
For me, the Tour de France is always a reminder that I haven’t touched my bike since around the same time last year. I usually start planning some ambitious country wide cycle trip that ends up just being a trip down the local promenade, but fun nonetheless.
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