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I have always struggled to achieve excellence. One thing that cycling has taught me is that if you can achieve something without a struggle it’s not going to be satisfying.

 Greg LEMOND

(3 times Tour de France winner in 1986,1989 and 1990)

1919 – 2019: 100 years of cycling with Yellow on the Tour de France

The history of the yellow jersey is deeply associated with the Tour de France, a major cycling race created in early 20th century in 1903. At that time, sport emerged as a new leisure activity driven by increasing level of education and newly created sport non-profit organizations.  Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s visionary ideas about Olympic Games and sport at the school improve spot media coverage. 1896 Athens Olympic Games followed by Paris’s in 1900 brought unexpected visibility to sport and cycling (a sport as well as a mean of transport). Popular and recent sports such as tennis and cycling combine with ancient disciplines (athletics, wrestling) lay modern Olympic Games basis.

If early 20th, sport is mostly accessible to affluent and educated elite, it will quickly spread throught sport clubs. Indeed, the 1st sport clubs were created at the end of the 19th  and laid new social basis.

A political crisis, a cycling event and 35,000 more readers for L’auto

Tour de France origin are laid by Henri Desgranges, a former cyclist and L’auto director in a France torn apart with Dreyfus affair.  . Deeply anti-dreyffusard, he wanted to increase his daily newspaper sales and to weak his competitor Le vélo led by the Dreyfusard Pierre Giffard. Political controversy and commercial opportunities were the basis of The tour de France, one of the major sport competitions in sport history.

The first tour of France is a true popular success and an amazing victory for l’auto as a newspaper. Its sales increased from 25 000 readers to 65 000 leaving Le vélo (the bike) breathless which ceased publication in 1904, a year after the first Tour .

The 1st edition is titanic with nearly 2500 kilometers to cover in 6 stages connecting major french cities throught night and day :

Stage 1 : Paris – Lyon – 467 km ( about 290 miles)

Stage 2 : Lyon – Marseille – 374 km (about 232 miles)

Stage 3 : Marseille – Toulouse – 423 km (about 262 miles)

Stage 4 : Toulouse – Bordeaux – 268 km (about 166 miles)

Stage 5 : Bordeaux – Nantes – 394 km ( about 244 miles)

Stage 6 : Nantes – Paris – 471 km (about 292 miles)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1903_Tour_de_France

Facing success, Desgrandes decided to organise a second edition with same stages. Gradually le tour de France rose in altitude with Alpine and Pyrenean roads exploration until the 1st World War in 1914 and a sudden stop until 1919

art peinture sport cyclisme tour de france : Echappée du groupe maillot jaune dans les Alpes - Tour de France de cyclismeThe story of the 1st yellow jersey

Wounded by the first world war and horrors on battlefield, France needed to rebuild itself.  and This 13th  of Tour de France is run in a still devasted country. Sport with still hot ashes was a controversial idea. Following his idea, Desgranges organized this new edition with an new idea to easily identify the leader. It’s the iconic yellow jersey birth : L’auto‘s jersey. Why a yellow jersey ? Legend say L’auto was printed on yellow pages, L’auto‘s jersey had to be yellow.

The  6812th edition of L’auto sold on Saturday, July 19th, 1919 explained what is L’auto’s jersey as the yellow jersey basis. Grenoble hosted the 11th stage of the 1919 tour, Eugene Christophe, current leader, received a yellow jersey, he will remain the first cyclist to wear this distinctive and now iconic jersey. 100 years later, thousands of cyclists competed, suffered to wear it until Paris and the Champs Elysées. Despite the Tour doping affairs, it still is an extremely popular event in France and in the world.

In early 20th, the tour de France was much longer and harder than other cycling competitions.

Eugène Christophe, the 1st  yellow jersey bearer – Newspaper L’auto  – July, the 19th, 1919 (Source: Gallica)

art peinture sport cyclisme tour de france : Victoire d'étape pour le maillot jaune

Tour de France records

The longuest stage : 483 km ( about 306 miles) from Bayonne to Les sables d’Olonne (de 1919 à 1924)

The longuest Tour in history : 5745 km ( 3570 miles) in 1926

The smallest margin : 8 secondes between Greg Lemond and Laurent fignon (1989)

The most Tours completed : 16 Tours – Joop Zoetemelk and Sylvain Chavanel

The most Tours de France won : 5 (Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain)

The most podiums on Tour : Raymond Poulidor – 8

The most stages won : Eddy Merckx – 34 stages

The most stages in yellow : Eddy Merckx – 111 stages

Sport cyclisme Tour de France : peinture sur toile du maillot jaune et de son équipe à l'avant du pelotonThe LCL, historic yellow jersey partner


LCL and I ran an exhibition at the LCL to celebrate the yellow jersey centenary.

Around this 100th edition, I exhibited my paintings in yellow in different LCL agencies on the Tour de France road.

Yellow jersey historic partner since 1987, LCL embodies and shares values of excellence, perseverance and closeness with those wearing yellow jersey. Like the Roland Garros tournament, the Tour de France is deeply rooted in french society. Covered by television since 1948 (less than 1% of households was then equipped), this event has become legendary by mixing culture, beautiful landscapes and sport. Some rivalries and battles on the asphalt are forever etched in sport and cycling history.

Interview with Joop ZOETEMELK, 1980 Tour de France winner

Art peinture du sport - Cyclisme - Tour de France - L'arrivée du maillot jaune sur les Champs-Elysées– What does the Tour de France mean to you?

The Tour de France is the biggest cycling race. Its history, its difficulty and its media coverage make it unique and a goal for greatest cyclists over decades.

– Why is The Tour so important for you to the point of taking 16 Tours starts?

Obviously, the first reason was to win the biggest cycling race in my sport history and to compete with the greatest like Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault. Also from a practical point of view, running and being noticed on the Tour de France allowed you to participate to criteriums and other important cycling races.

– What value does the yellow jersey have for you?

It is a performance symbol and a pride. It rewards years of effort, pain and perseverance required for high-level sport. The yellow jersey brings popularity even if wearing it does not necessarily mean winning the tour.

– What is the best memory of your career on the Tour de France?

The finish on the Champs-Élysées in 1980 with the yellow jersey on my shoulders and this final win after 22 stages, 10 participations in the Tour de France and 5 second places. Many Dutch fans had made the trip to Paris and cheered me as I crossed the finish line celebrating this victory with me. In these unique moments, we truly measure the difference between the winner and the second.

– Do you have a story to tell that you would like to share?

I would choose the breakaway and final sprint on the Champs-Elysées with Bernard Hinault, current leader and me, 2nd  on 1979 Tour de France. We relegated the peloton far behind to more than 2 minutes. None of us wanted to give up and let the other win.

Review the sprint between these two champions on www.ina.fr

Credit Image and painting: Lucie LLONG

Written by Sébastien DELOULE

A huge thank you to the Kennedy Pharmacy in Mulhouse (68), a 2019 Tour de France stage to have displayey one of my paintings. Photos to discover below.

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