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Tour de France (Cycling)

Last modified: 2013-12-28 by ivan sache
Keywords: tour de france | cycling | red pennant | flamme rouge | start flag | danger flag | number: 7 (black) |
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[Flag of the Tour de France]

Official flag of the Tour de France - Image by Ivan Sache, 20 September 2012

See also:

Presentation of the Tour de France

The Tour de France (official website), often nicknamed Le Tour or La Grande Boucle (The Great Loop), is a bicycle stage race ran every year in July.
The "biggest cyclist race ever organized" was staged for the first time in 1903 by Henri Desgranges (1865-1940), the director of the sports newspaper L'Auto. Desgranges, engaged in a commercial war against the other French sports newspaper, Le Vélo, was prompted by the journalist Géo Lefèvre (1877-1961) to organize a new event; this was mostly successful since Le Vélo" was stopped the next year.
The yellow jersey worn by the race's leader was invented by Desgranges, yellow being the color of the paper on which L'Auto was printed (image); the yellow jersey was worn for the first time by Eugène Christophe on 19 July 1919.

The record of final wins in the Tour de France (7) is held by Lance Armstrong (1999 to 2005, pending to cancellation), followed (5) by Jacques Anquetil (1957, 1961 to 1964), Eddy Merckx (1969 to 1972, 1974), Bernard Hinault ( 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985) and Miguel Indurain (1991 to 1995). The record of won stages is held by Eddy Merckx (34), who also wore the yellow jersey for the biggest number of days (111).

Over the decades, the Tour de France has became one of the leading sports event worldwide, while its popularity never decreased in France. The race is a recurrent summer epos, with its legendary competitors attached colourful nicknames, to name a few , "The Old Gaul" (Eugène Christophe), "Biquet" (Jean Robic), "The Eagle of Toledo" (Federico Bahamontes), "Top Gun" (Raphaël Géminiani), "The Cannibal" (Eddy Merckx), "The Badger" (Bernard Hinault), "The Flea of St. Gall" (Beat Breu), and "Spartacus" (Fabio Cancellara). Some remote places where heroic events of the epos took place became Meccas of the Tour de France, such as the forge of the village of Sainte- Marie-de-Campan (Pyrénées), where Eugène Christophe repaired his bicycle broken by a car during the 1913 race; the Bonsecours Hill, where Jean Robic attacked during the last stage of the 1947 race and "stole" the yellow jersey from Pierre Brambilla; the Mont Ventoux, where Tom Simpson died on 13 July 1967; and the Menté Pass, where Luis Ocaña, wearing the yellow jersey, fell down in a precipice during a huge thunderstorm on 12 July 1971. Several other events (achievements, feelings of weakness, plots, tricks and betrayals) are still remembered decades later and thoroughly transmitted from generation to generation.
In spite of its globalization and incorporation into the UCI World Tour, the Tour de France has kept some of its emblematic characteristics. The successors of Henri Desgranges have been able to shape the image of the race, creating or popularizing strong symbols such as the advertising caravan, the polka dot jersey, the Lanterne Rouge, the red pennant, etc.

The pre-1950s, "archaic" period of the Tour de France lacks a comprehensive visual documentation. However, a vivid rendition of the competition was made by the famous reporter Albert Londres (1884-1932), hired in 1924 by the daily Le Petit Parisien and the archetype of the "followers" of the Tour de France, who form a community specific to that kind of race. Londres' chronicles were subsequently compiled in a booklet called Tour de France, tour de souffrance. Some modern features of the race already existed at the time, such as the popularity of the race ("Ten million French people are crazy and 16 to 19 million microbes dance in each cubic meter of air around the racers" - the Italian Bottechia did not wore the yellow jersey in the stage that reached the Italian border to avoid the frenzy of his fans), the conflicts between the director of the race and the competitors, the use of illicit products ("cocaine for the eyes, chloroform for the gums"). Albert Londres coined some famous expressions such as les géants de la route (the road giants).
Other features reported by Londres seem to date from the oldest times, such as the long stages (for instance, Les Sables-d'Olonne-Bayonne, 482 km, won after 20 h 30' by Omer Huysse), which started during the night ("Some 60 'red lanterns' lost their way around France. Nobody knows what happened to these men. They broke a wheel, preferably during the night.") watched by spectators crowded around braseros ("they looked like tribes having just learned the presence of a tiger in the neighborhood"), the low numbers of "crusaders" or "pilgrims" who completed the Tour ("More than 150 went on, only 60 came back"), the total lack of safety measures ("They rode on roads that were not theirs [...] Cows, geese, dogs and men jumped in their legs.") and the odd diet of the competitors ("Vertemati eats every day no less than three chickens, twelve eggs and two legs of lamb. Vertemati is not fat").

The cantor of the modern period of Tour de France was the talented novelist Antoine Blondin (1922-1991), who wrote from 1954 to 1982 (except 1958) a daily chronicle in the sports newspaper L'Équipe - the chronicles were compiled in 2001 under the title of Tours de France : chroniques intégrales de L'Équipe, 1954-1982; in the early years of Blondin's chronicles, TV images were still sparse and accessible to only a few. With time, Blondin's inimitable thrilling, witty and humanist style definitively forged the epos of the Tour de France. Blondin described in 1967 the Mont Ventoux "with its old rocks white-heated like the calculi of a cyclops", writing the next day in Tom Simpson's funerary elegy "We enjoyed thinking that he had tied Eton's tie around the handlebars of a machine that most see only as the postman's bread and butter".

Ivan Sache, 20 September 2012

Official flag of the Tour de France

The official flag of Tour de France (photo) is in size 100 cm x 140 cm, yellow with the logo of the race, made of the stylized name of the race ("Le Tour de France") in black letters an a white disk (yellow on the self-standing logo). A careful examination of the logo reveals that the "O" (with a dot inside), the "U" and the "R" (with a dot on the right) of "TOUR", form, together with the white disk, the silhouette of a cyclist.

The logo, designed by the Saguez & Partners agency, was adopted in 2003 for the Tour of the Centenary. The writing is "a symbol of power and technicity". The disk also represents the July sun. Jean-Marie Leblanc, then Director of the Tour de France, said that the new logo "opens on modernity, future and youth, as we hope the values of the Tour will perpetuate for long".
In 2013, to celebrate the 100th Tour de France, the "e" of France will be coloured in gray and a gray "100" will be added below the writing, the gray letters reading "100e" (100th) (L'Ardoisier blog).

Ivan Sache, 20 September 2012

Pennants in the Tour de France in the 1950s

In the 1950s, the official cars and the vehicles of the advertising caravan flew a triangular pennant, horizontally divided red-white-blue (photo). The red stripe was charged with "L'ÉQUIPE" in white letters of the font still used today by the newspapers. The white stripe was charged with the Tour's vintage in black letters (for instance, "TOUR DE FRANCE 55" in 1955). The blue stripe was charged with "Le Parisien libéré", in white letters (today, "Le Parisien", in a modernized font, still on a blue background).

In the same period, several triangular pennants were designed by sponsors of the race, for instance the famous Champigneulles brewery (photo).
The Champigneulles brewery, founded in 1897 in the village of the same name, located in Lorraine, sponsored the Tour de France with the motto La reine des bières parraine la Petite Reine (The Queen of the Beers sponsors the Little Queen - "Little Queen" being the nickname of the bicycle). The nickname "The Queen of the Beers", as well as the crown emblem of the brewery, are said to have been designed by Antoine Trampitsch, the Slovene-born founder of the brewery.

Ivan Sache, 20 September 2012

Pennants in the Tour de France in the archaic period

In the archaic period, a yellow pennant charged with "L'Auto" in black Gothic letters (photo) was used.
A similar pennant, seemingly charged with the writing "TOUR DE FRANCE DE l'Auto", was used by the official car of the Tour de France 1913, photographed in Dunkirk (photo).

Ivan Sache, 20 September 2012

Red pennant (flamme rouge)

[Red pennant]

The flamme rouge - Image by Ivan Sache, 28 July 2002

The flamme rouge is the red pennant hanging from an archway at the start of the final kilometer of a stage in bicycle races. According to Pierre Chany & Thierry Cazeneuve (La fabuleuse histoire du Tour de France), the flamme rouge was used for the first time during the Tour de France 1906, prescribed as follows:

The competitors are kindly requested to note that, at the arrival of each stage:
(1) A red flag shall be placed exactly 1 km before the finish line;
(2) A white banderole, with Abran carrying a yellow flag, shall mark the finish post.

The detailed design of the flamme rouge has changed with time - therefore the red pennant shown above is mostly an archetypal representation of the flag.
Most recently, the "flamme rouge" is charged with the official logo of the Tour de France at the top and the white writing "1 / km" (photo).

The flamme rouge is also used in other sports. As an example, a plain red flag was used to mark the last kilometer of the Auray-Vannes pedestrian semi-marathon (photo).

Ivan Sache, 21 September 2012

Start flag

For each stage, the current starting procedure involves a "fictitious start", given downtown; the competitors form the "parade" - usually led by those wearing distinctive jerseys. A few km farther, the "real start" is given by the director of the race from the command car, lowering a flag inscribed "DÉPART". (Start). The start of the very first stage, that is, of the Tour de France, is called "Grand Start".

In the archaic period, the start of each stage was given by the official starters,the first of them being the once famous and feared Abran.
Georges Abran (Georges Abraham, 1846-1918), the Secretary general of L'Auto, was the official starter of the Tour de France. On 1 July 1903, he launched the first stage of the first Tour de France in front of the caf&ecute; Le Réveil-Matin ("The Alarm Clock") in Montgeron, south of Paris (photo, L'Auto). The first stage of the Tour of the Centenary was launched from the very same place on 6 July 2003.
Jacques Augendre (Abécédaire insolite du Tour) presents Abran as Henri Desgranges' odd job man. Abran, an epicurean dandy famous on the Paris scene, took his duty very seriously; his quarrels with Desgranges, whom he called "Gustave", probably as a provocatio,n and whom he did not hesitate to insult, are part of the early Tour de France epos. Abran died on 27 December 1918, after having enjoyed two last pleasures, the celebration of the 1918 Armistice and a wonderful Christmas' supper.
Christian Laborde (Dictionnaire amoureux du Tour de France) relates that Abran used on 1 July 1906 (and, probably, later on) "a yellow pennant embroidered with the logo of L'Auto. This description makes the pennant very similar to the aforementioned one. Abran wore a big moustache, therefore he might be one of the officials photographed in Dunkirk in 1913 - but all of them, following the trend of the time, do wear a big moustache!

Ivan Sache, 21 September 2012

Danger flag

[Danger flag]

Danger flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 July 2003

The flag seen most often in the Tour the France is the yellow pennant used to indicate danger, either a dangerous curve or an obstacle.

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 16 July 2000

Unidentified supporter's flag (2003)

[Unidentified flag]

Unidentified flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 July 2003

A light blue flag with an emblem looking like the Argentinian sun and three blue-white-blue stripes in the bottom of the flag was waved by a supporter very close to the finish line in Luz-Ardiden, on 21 July 2003.
This design looks rather Uruguayan / Argentinian but I am not aware of any connection with the Tour de France, except that Juan "the Arrow" Flecha, winner in Toulouse, was born in Argentina.

Ivan Sache, 22 July 2003

The "Seven" flag (2005)

[Seven flag]

"Seven" flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 24 July 2005

Lance Armstrong won in 2005 his 7th Tour de France. During the last stage, traditionally a pleasant rally through the countryside of Île-de-France ending with a circuit on the Champs-Elysées and a final sprint, several flags were decorated with number seven. The most striking of these flags was a home-made flag waived by a supportress somewhere near Saint-Rémy-les-Chevreuse, a local hotspot of cycling, where the late Jacques Anquetil won nine times the defunct Grand Prix des Nations; the flag was white with a black "7" inscribed in a black ring.

Ivan Sache, 24 July 2005