1902/1903 French Racer, Tour de France style



The 2013 Tour de France marks the 100th of the event’s history, which began in 1903 (the competition was put on hold during the two world wars). Strangely, this inaugural event of 1903 had it’s origins in one of France’s greatest political scandals – the Dreyfuss Affair. In 1894 a young French artillery officer of Jewish descent, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of high treason but then, years later, was proven to be innocent in the light of new evidence, evidence which the military attempted to suppress. The ensuing debate over Dreyfuss’ innocence, and the wider issues of anti-semitism in which it was embedded, divided the nation. One such division occurred within France’s most popular cycling magazine Le Velo, causing it to split into two when an anti-Dreyfuss contingent broke away to form L’Auto-Velo. Le Velo‘s owner won a court case forcing L’Auto-Velo to change their name, which they did, to L’Auto, a move which saw their sales subsequently plummet. In an effort to boost their waning popularity, and win back their cycling fans, L’Auto set up the Tour de France in 1903. It was a hugely successful campaign which caused their sales to increase 6-fold during and after the race and, eventually, pushed Le Velo into bankruptcy. 

The 1903 competition was run only in six fairly flat stages, unlike the mountainous 21 stage event it would grow to become, however, each of these 1903 stages were extraordinarily long, with an average distance of over 400 km (250 mi), more than double the distance of today’s. 60 cyclists, all professionals or semi-professionals, started the race, of whom 49 were French, 4 Belgian, 4 Swiss, 2 German, and one was Italian, Maurice Garin, the pre-race favourite who eventually went on to win the event. Garin would go onto also win the next year’s race only to then be disqualified along with eight other riders for cheating including the illegal use of cars and trains. 

The Tour de France was created in 1903 as an indirect result of one of France’s most notorious political scandals, the Dreyfuss Affair, which divided the entire nation.

The newspaper with the largest circulation in France was Le Velo, selling 80,000 copies a day. However, some of Le Vélo‘s advertisers disagreed with the paper’s support for Alfred Dreyfuss, a Jewish soldier scandalously found guilty of selling secrets to the Germans, but eventually acquitted after being sent to Devil’s Island.

The Tour de France was started in order to promote a new daily sports newspaper, L’Auto, established by the anti-Jewish lobby in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair. The editor, Henri Desrange, planned a five-week race from 31 May to 5 July. This proved too daunting and only 15 entered, so Desgrange cut the length to 19 days and offered a daily allowance.

The race began at the Au Reveil Matin café at a crossroads in Montgeron, south of Paris, and ended in Ville-d’Avray, another suburb, having circuited France in six days of racing over 2,428 km. One stage, between Nantes and Paris, was 471 km. Sixty riders started, at an entry fee of 10 francs, and 21 finished.

Maurice Garin, riding a La Francaise Diamant machine, won 3,000 francs for finishing first in 94h 33m 14s  (making a total of 6,125 francs with his other prizes). Lucien Pothier was second and Fernand Augereau third.

1903 tour de france



1902/1903 French Racer, Tour de France style

22″ Frame

28″ Wheels

(Now sold)

This is a French fittings machine, built from parts available to the French cycle trade from the turn of the century. At this time, only the large French cycle makers made their open components, and the rest of the cycle builders purchased components supplied by the British and American cycle industry.

It’s a light weight machine that was either built for racing, or built for resale in the same style as the machines that were used in the first Tour de France races, and the many other road races that had started over the previous few years.