sometimes you have to stop and smell the chamois butter

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

t.i.c.h. It's a big one!

Remember the times before digital media, when everyone got their news of the day from an actual paper.  No laptop, no ipad or kindle, no booting up and staring at a glowing screen while sipping coffee.  It was just fresh ink on paper with your chosen cup o' the day.  All the news that was fit to print, from local to the other side of the globe.
 Enter a little country called France around the turn of the 20th century.  Interest in cycling was beginning to grow as bikes were becoming more available to the public.  Bicycle races were beginning to pop-up, and newspapers recognized their gaining popularity amongst the populous.  So in order to increase print circulation, the newspapers began to start their own races. 
Le' Velo was a popular French sports paper that was beginning to upset it's advertisers with higher rates.  At the same time there was a division in the country over the "Dreyfus affair".  Le' Velo's editor happened to be on the opposing side of the debate from his publisher, as well as a group of their best advertisers.  Tensions rose from the higher advert prices and the editor, Pierre Giffard, being on the wrong side of the "affair."  Defection from Le Velo was iminent, and finally Compte de Dion, Michelin and Clement pulled out and formed their own paper called L'Auto-Velo. 

As you might guess, this did not sit well with Le' Velo, and they sued the new paper over plagiarism, claiming name infringement.  Le' Velo won the case, forcing the new paper to change the name to L'Auto.  L'Auto, not being the ideal name for a cycling focused paper, put in subheading alerting readers to cycling coverage.  They also decided to print the paper on yellow paper as opposed to Le'Velo's green.
A battle for circulation ensued.   L'Auto was struggling and it's financial backer's were beginning to worry.  L'Auto's editor, Henri Desgrange, with a background in cycle racing and promoting, had hired writer Geo' LeFevre away from Le'Velo to cover cycling.  LeFevre had a grand idea which he pitched to Desgrange.  Why not promote a road race much like the current six-day track races?  Desgrange, after prodding from LeFevre,  gradually embraced the idea and eventually presented it as his own to L'Auto's financial controller, Victor Goddet.  Much to Desgrange's suprise, Goddet approved, recognizing the potential for such great promotional value.
And so, on January 19, 1903, the first running of the Tour de France was announced.  The original schedule called for a five week span, from May31-July 5, to cover the six stages.  The stages would range from 163 to 293 miles, a far cry longer than the current TDF stage.  Unfortunately, with a week to go before the start only 15 riders had signed up.  L'Auto scrambled, shortening and re-scheduling the race to run from July 1-18.  A promise of five francs per day, to the first 50 riders, and a purse of 20,000 francs to the winner was dangled.  Interest grew and a group of 60 riders departed on July 1, 1903 at 3:16 p.m. from the southern outskirts of Paris. 
So today in cycling history, we have a form of media that is quickly dissolving to thank for one of the greatest sporting events to date.

Also of notable mention,  it is my homeboy Ben Hinker's birthday.  He is not rich and famous, but he is known to drag his friends on some epically heinous (yet rewarding) bike rides.  He is as good a friend as anyone could ever hope for and despite his penchant for death-marches, is one of my favorite riding partners!  Viva La Stinky Hinky!  May you have many more my brother.

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