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Tour de France: Harder in their day

James Spender
19 Jul 2016

It’s the final rest day for the 2016 Tour. But 113 years ago, the Tour was doing anything but…

Today the Tour de France riders put their 366 collective feet up for a well-earned rest. But rewind 113 years to 1903 and 19th July was an entirely different story.  

Sixty riders had started that maiden Tour, but by the sixth stage accidents, ill-health and disqualification had seen that field whittled down to just 21 - plus, of course, the small matter of having ridden 1,957km already.

Race leader and part-time chimney sweep, Maurice Garin, led the field going into stage five with an overall time of 76hrs 7mins 31secs, nearly three hours ahead of nearest rival and one-time butcher’s boy, Lucien Pothier. Yet, Garin was still far from home and dry. The final stage from Nantes to Paris was to be the longest of all at 471km, and unlike today, where the race leader is carried to the Champs Elysees on a wave of smiles and plastic champagne flutes, Garin would have to duke it out until the finish.

Thus, at just gone 2pm on the 19th July, Garin arrived with seven rivals in the Parisian commune of Ville-d’Avary to contest a sprint finish. He duly won by 10 seconds, and processed victorious into the Parc des Princes velodrome, for two ceremonial laps and the adoration of 20,000 fans. The stage took him 18hrs 9mins.

Today the Grand Boucle is no less of a spectacle, but just how much have the details changed?

The race

Now

  • Distance: 3,519km (2016); 3,360 (2015)
  • Longest stage: 237.5km (2016)
  • Shortest stage: 17km (2016)
  • Winning time: 84hrs 46mins 14secs (2015)
  • Winning margin: 1min 12secs (2015)
  • Average overall speed: 39.6kmh (2015)
  • Average stage length: 168km (2016)
  • Biggest moments of controversy: Flamme Rouge arch collapsing; Froome punching a spectator; Froome running up Ventoux (2016)
  • Prize money for GC winner: €450,000 (approx. £9.60 in today’s money)

Then

  • Distance: 2,428km
  • Longest stage: 471km
  • Shortest stage: 268km
  • Winning time: 94h 33mins 14secs
  • Winning margin: 2hrs 59mins 21secs
  • Average overall speed: 25.7kmh
  • Average stage length: 391km
  • Biggest moments of controversy: Race favourite Hippolyte Aucouturier abandoning stage one due to stomach cramps, then getting disqualified for drafting a car in stage four (you could leave a stage one day but start the next, only you’d be out of GC contention); widespread criticism by France’s middle-upper classes at the riders’ foul language, bad hygiene, dishevelled clothing, violent behaviour, flagrant stealing and public urination as they rode around France. 
  • Prize money for GC winner: €26,250 (approx. 50p in today’s money)

The riders

Now

Chris Froome wears the yellow jersey on Stage 10 of the 2016 Tour de France

Chris Froome, 31. Grew up in Kenya, won his first Tour at 28 and may well have been racing with the parasitic disease, Bilharzia, for most of his adult life. Nickname: Froome-dog, Froomey

  • Team: Team Sky
  • Height: 6’1”
  • Weight: 69.9kg

Then

Maurice Garin, died aged 85. Grew up in Italy, smuggled into France as a boy in exchange for a wheel of cheese, became a chimney sweep and was lucky to avoid Chimney Sweep’s Scrotum, the first reported form of occupational cancer. Won his first Tour aged 32.

  • Nickname: The Little Chimney-Sweep; The White Bulldog (on account of his favourite white riding jacket)
  • Team: La Francaise Diamant
  • Height: 5’4”
  • Weight: 60kg

The bikes and kit

Now

Pinarello Dogma F8 Rhino yellow
  • Frame: Pinarello Dogma F8, carbon fibre, custom rhinoceros graphic on headtube
  • Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
  • Wheels: Shimano Dura-Ace C50 tubular
  • Weight: 6.8kg
  • Biggest gear: 126 gear inches (mostly)
  • Kit: Rapha
  • Helmet: Kask
  • Saddlebags: None

Then

  • Maurice Garin
  • Frame: La Francaise, steel, black with custom French-flag graphic on headtube
  • Groupset: Unknown fixed wheel setup
  • Wheels: Wooden tubular
  • Weight: 18kg (unladen)
  • Biggest gear: Around 73 gear-inches (only one)
  • Kit: Rapha inspiring armband (green, worn by overall GC leader)
  • Helmet: Flat cap, possibly with lettuce underneath to cool the head
  • Saddlebags: Lots

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