Which cyclist won the inaugural Tour de France?

Nowadays the pre-eminent bicycle race in the world, the Tour de France was established in 1903 by French journalist Henri Desgrange, by way of boosting circulation of his sports newspaper, ‘L’Auto’, which sponsored the Tour. The inugural Tour de France consisted of significantly fewer, but corresponsingly stages longer, stages than the modern equivalent. In fact, the Paris-Lyon-Marseille-Toulouse-Bordeaux-Nantes-Paris route covered 2,428 kilometres, or 1,509 miles, and required competitors to cycle through the night and into the following afternoon.

In any event, the race was dominated by Italian-born professional cyclist Maurice-Fran├žois Garin, nicknamed ‘Le Petit Ramoneur’ or, in English, ‘The Little Chimney Sweep’. Garin won the first stage, between Paris and Lyon, albeit by just one minute after 17 hours on the road, and the fifth stage, between Bordeaux and Nantes, such that, at the start of the sixth and final stage, he was over two-and-a-half hours ahead of his nearest rival, Lucien Pothier.

Barring accidents, Garin would win the Tour de France in any case but, remarkably, he was at, or close to, the head of affairs for the whole of the 471-kilometre, or 293-mile, route back to Paris and recorded his third stage win. His eventual winning margin, of 2 hours, 59 minutes and 31 seconds, remains the widest in the history of the Tour.

In a subsequent interview with Desgrange, Garin produced a note, which opened, ‘The 2,500 kilometres that I’ve just ridden seem a long line, grey and monotonous, where nothing stood out from anything else. But I suffered on the road; I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was sleepy, I suffered, I cried between Lyon and Marseille…’ He did, however, receive a total of 6,125 francs, including the overall first prize of 3,000 francs, for his trouble.

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