The Tour de France (French pronunciation: ) is an annual multiple stage bicycle race primarily held in France, while also occasionally making passes through nearby countries. Like the other Grand Tours (the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España), it consists of 21 stages over a little more than 3 weeks.
The race was first organized in 1903 to increase sales for the newspaper L'Auto and is currently run by the Amaury Sport Organisation. The race has been held annually since its first edition in 1903 except when it was stopped for the two World Wars. As the Tour gained prominence and popularity, the race was lengthened and its reach began to extend around the globe. Participation expanded from a primarily French field, as riders from all over the world began to participate in the race each year. The Tour is a UCI World Tour event, which means that the teams that compete in the race are mostly UCI WorldTeams, with the exception of the teams that the organizers invite.
Traditionally, the race is held primarily in the month of July. While the route changes each year, the format of the race stays the same with the appearance of time trials, the passage through the mountain chains of the Pyrenees and the Alps, and the finish on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The modern editions of the Tour de France consist of 21 day-long segments (stages) over a 23-day period and cover around 3,500 kilometres (2,200 mi). The race alternates between clockwise and counterclockwise circuits of France.
There are usually between 20 and 22 teams, with eight riders in each. All of the stages are timed to the finish; the riders' times are compounded with their previous stage times. The rider with the lowest cumulative finishing times is the leader of the race and wears the yellow jersey. While the general classification garners the most attention, there are other contests held within the Tour: the points classification for the sprinters, the mountains classification for the climbers, young rider classification for riders under the age of 26, and the team classification for the fastest teams. Achieving a stage win also provides prestige, often accomplished by a team's cycling sprinter specialist.
The Tour de France was created in 1903. The roots of the Tour de France trace back to the emergence of two rival sports newspapers in the country. On one hand was Le Vélo, the first and the largest daily sports newspaper in France which sold 80,000 copies a day. On the other was L'Auto, which had been set-up by journalists and business-people including Comte Jules-Albert de Dion, Adolphe Clément, and Édouard Michelin in 1899. The rival paper emerged following disagreements over the Dreyfus Affair, a cause célèbre (in which de Dion was implicated) that divided France at the end of the 19th century over the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, a French army officer convicted—though later exonerated—of selling military secrets to the Germans.[n 1] The new newspaper appointed Henri Desgrange as the editor. He was a prominent cyclist and owner with Victor Goddet of the velodrome at the Parc des Princes. De Dion knew him through his cycling reputation, through the books and cycling articles that he had written, and through press articles he had written for the Clément tyre company.
L'Auto was not the success its backers wanted. Stagnating sales lower than the rival it was intended to surpass led to a crisis meeting on 20 November 1902 on the middle floor of L'Auto's office at 10 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, Paris. The last to speak was the most junior there, the chief cycling journalist, a 26-year-old named Géo Lefèvre. Desgrange had poached him from Giffard's paper. Lefèvre suggested a six-day race of the sort popular on the track but all around France. Long-distance cycle races were a popular means to sell more newspapers, but nothing of the length that Lefèvre suggested had been attempted.[n 2] If it succeeded, it would help L'Auto match its rival and perhaps put it out of business. It could, as Desgrange said, "nail Giffard's beak shut." Desgrange and Lefèvre discussed it after lunch. Desgrange was doubtful but the paper's financial director, Victor Goddet, was enthusiastic. He handed Desgrange the keys to the company safe and said: "Take whatever you need." L'Auto announced the race on 19 January 1903.