Tour de France Historical Society – Stage One 1903

Tour de France Historical Society

Welcome to the Tour de France Historical Society. An independent HSP initiative to bring light to historic elements of the Tour de France over the years, in a nice visual way. We will reflect on key stages and today, 2 July 2016, being the first day of the Tour, we will look at Stage One from the inaugural Tour.

1903.4 days after they lost the court case forcing the name change, Henri Desgrange announced his plans for Le Tour de France in L’Auto. The original itinerary was for the race to start on 31st May and finish on 5th July. With an entry fee of 20 francs. One week before the race was due to start, only 15 riders had signed up. Desgrange fearing disaster rescheduled the race to start on 1st July and finish on 19th July, He increased the total prize money to 20,000 francs, reduced the entry fee to 10 francs and guaranteed to pay five francs a day to the first 50 cyclists in the classification. By 1st July 79 riders had entered the race, of whom 60 showed up at the start line.

The race, Stage One, started from Montgeron. This was a small suburb of Paris and would cover 467 km (290 mi) to Lyon along a flat course. The exact start point was from, the now infamous, Cafe au Réveil-Matin at 15:16. 60 riders of which 21 were sponsored, the carnage started, the cyclists initially rode with a speed of 35 km/h. The first cyclists abandoned after around 50 km (31 mi). Montgeron is also famous for Claude Monet’s painting, Corner of the Garden at Montgeron. Which gives a lovely impressionistic view of how the landscape would have looked for the riders as they sped along.


The favourite to win, Maurice Garin, was born in Italy and became a professional bike racer in France, where he became a citizen. His first professional race win was in a 24-hour race in Paris in 1893. It was held on the site of the Eiffel Tower. The riders competed, behind a succession of pacers. The event took place in February and the cold drove out riders one after the other. Garin rode 701 km in 24 hours, beating the only other rider to finish by 49 km. Garin said he had survived on; lots of strong red wine, 19 litres of hot chocolate, seven litres of tea, eight cooked eggs, a mix of coffee and champagne, 45 cutlets, five litres of tapioca, two kilos of rice and oysters!

Garin dominated the first stage and won in Lyon having raced through the evening of 1 July and throughout the night to arrive in Lyon about 09:00 on 2 July. The second rider Paige was one minute behind Garin. Garin was now the first GC leader and was given a green armband to wear. The yellow jersey was not introduced until 1919. During the night, Garin’s main rival, Aucouturier, had stomach cramps which were believed to have been caused by drinking red wine and abandoned the stage.

Garmin won three stages and sealed his overall victory by 2 hours 59 minutes 31 seconds: this remains the greatest margin of victory in the Tour de France. After celebrating with champagne, the riders cycled to Parc des Princes, where they made several laps of honour before an adoring crowd, to the sound of a bugle. All the racers were national heroes restoring pride to France after the bad years of the Dreyfus affair.


Share this post