The Tour de France is one of the most popular sporting events in the entire world, but it has humble beginnings as a marketing stunt for a failing sports newspaper.
L’Auto was established in 1900 as a rival to France’s most popular sports paper at the time, Le Velo. L’Auto was struggling to make up ground on its rival and the editors came up with an idea for a six day stage race across France, the scale of which had never been seen before.
The first Tour de France was in 1903 and included the cities of Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and Nantes before finally returning to Paris. The stages were extremely long, beginning in the afternoon and racing through the night to the stage finish, wherein the riders would have one rest day afterwards to recover.
This was before the days of professional cycling and carbon road bikes, and entrants including amateurs, club cyclists and even curious riders as the entry fee was only small and the prizes big. The first winner was chimney sweep Maurice Garin, who also won the second edition but was later disqualified for cheating.
For the first 19 years the winner of the Tour de France was awarded a yellow armband to signify their victory, this was because L’Auto was printed on yellow paper and it was their race after all. In 1919 the yellow armband was replaced with a yellow jersey which was presented after every stage and has since become synonymous with the Tour de France and General Classification success.
The General Classification is the most prestigious of all Tour de France competitions and is the aggregate lowest time a rider rides the entire Tour in, with the margin often coming down to seconds between positions.
The Mountains classification is the second oldest competition within the Tour and is awarded on a points based system to the rider who accumulates the most mountain points. Every categorized climb in the Tour has points awarded for positions on the line, with first over the summit being the highest number of points. These are then collated over the entire Tour with the leader getting to wear the polka dot jersey for each stage they are leading the competition.
No jersey was awarded to the leader of this competition until 1975 when the idea for a polka dot jersey was put forward, which has been worn since. This is a specialist competition and riders often come with super light carbon road bike frames to save weight on the climbs.
The Points classification was added to the race in 1953 in a bid to entice sprinters to come to the Tour. Previously sprinters had stayed on the track or on the classics races where the prizes were better, not being able to compete adequately in the Mountains competition or the General Classification.
Every stage has a number of points awarded for finishing positions on the line, along with intermediate sprints on the flat parts of each stage also having points attached to them. The leader of the Points classification wears a green jersey, as a nod to the first sponsor who were a lawnmower manufacturer.