Beginnings and Early Days
This long distance cycling race we know as the Tour De France was dreamt up, incredibly, by a cycling journalist at the L'Auto sports newspaper in an attempt to challenge the dominant Le Velo sports newspaper, L'Auto's bitter rival. The first Tour de France in 1903 only attracted fifteen riders due to the high cost to riders and the requirement for overnight riding. This assisted those involved in the widespread cheating which occurred in the first race, including some that allegedly caught lifts with cars and trains. With subsequent tours occurring within the daytime, the race caught on with the general public. L'Auto's circulation increased several fold in a short time.
Unusual Tour Events
Prior to 1930, any individual could enter the tour., giving the tour a character quite different from the organised professionalism and sponsored teams competing nowadays. Cyclists were required to compete as part of national teams from 1930 to 1961. This was an attempt by the organiser to eliminate what he saw as the underhanded tactics of some sponsoring bicycle manufacturers who he felt were manipulating the event. Sponsored teams returned after this time.
There is no debating the fact that Lance Armstrong is a household name. He has not only won the tour an incredible seven times, but done this over consecutive years, dominating the event from 1999 to 2005. Even more incredible is the fact that this huge feat was achieved after recovering from serious cancer issues his doctor had stated he only had a 40 percent chance of doing.
A great rivalry developed between former Tour de France champion Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong, over most of this period. Armstrong proved to have Ullrich's measure. Ullrich's sporting gesture of 2003 must be noted though, when he allowed Armstrong to catch up on the final ascent of stage 15, where Armstrong fell off his bike after a spectator's bag clipped his right handlebar. Armstrong went on to win the stage, and the tour, with his narrowest victory over second placed Ullrich. After weeks of Tour de France racing, a mere one minute and one second separated them.
Other Multiple Winners
Several other Tour de France winners are worthy of Hall of Fame notoriety. Four riders have won five times, being Jacques Anquetil (1957,1961,1962,1963 and 1964), Eddy Merckx (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974), Bernard Hinault (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, and 1985) and Miguel Indurain (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995). Indurain was the first rider to win in five consecutive years.
Interesting Tour Statistics
The narrowest winning margin ever was in 1989, when Greg LeMond beat Laurent Fignon by a mere 8 seconds. Belgian Eddy Merckx has won the most stages (34). Lance Armstrong is equal 4th with 22 stage wins. The tour is a huge attraction to all the towns it passes through each year. Adding a little colour, Didi Senft, dressed in a red devil costume has been the tour's devil since 1993.
You won't see any Tour de France competitors on bmx bikes. Talented bmx riders can be found participating in many extreme sport events.