The First Tour De What?

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How does someone write a book about a sporting event that finished one hundred and fourteen years ago, and make it exciting? Peter Cossins has done just that. His book, The First Tour De France is a history, and chronicle of the very first Tour held in 1903. He made the bike riders come alive for me. Although I hate to read any book with too many strange-sounding names in it. I managed to finish and still like it. There were far too many hard to pronounce, therefore hard to read, French names, but what does one expect in a story that takes place in France about a French bicycle race, French men, French towns, French everything except the language in which the work is written.

Being that I am a retired long distance bicycle rider I thoroughly enjoyed this history. The Tour was the idea of a French (of course) publisher trying to increase his circulation. He did indeed. How many inventions such as the Tour De France have stirred men into action as much as this one? How many bike riders have been born into the sport? I could go one endlessly praising the merits of this idea. One more that I will mention is that the Tour became a wonderful travelogue for France. Watching the race on TV gives one a birds-eye view of a country with some very pretty countryside.

From the bike rider’s viewpoint this history makes each of my own travel by bike experiences seem petty. I would never had mounted a bike with a single gear without a freewheel on any of my trips. Yet, these brave men rode very heavy steel frame bikes with a single gear, many without brakes. Without brakes, can you imagine that? Also, it is hard for me to imagine riding a single speed two-wheeler up a mountain. The absolute strength and stamina of these riders was phenomenal.

The entire tour was composed of six stages of approximately two hundred and sixty miles long.  Among the strangest of bike riding facts revealed was riding in the night. Most stages started in the evening around 5 or 6 p.m. giving it maximum crowd exposure, and scheduled to end in a big town at an hour when more people would be able to witness the finish. The roads were paved only in big towns, most miles were on rutted dirt lanes. The leading riders averaged sixteen miles per hour. At my best riding a lightweight bicycle with twenty-eight gears including a granny I was able to average eleven mph, and only for 75 to 100 miles per day on well paved roads during daylight with plenty of water and food. Of course I was not racing, I was touring.

I recommend this book to all of my cycling and non-cycling friends.

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