1903 Pierre Giffard v Jules-Albert de Dion
Although these two Frenchmen were not actual competitors in le Tour, their rivalry is (kind of) the very reason the event exists, so to not include them would be a little churlish.
At the end of the 19th century, a French solider was convicted – and later cleared – of selling military secrets to the Germans. Opinions were divided in France about the solider, so much so that large protests were held across the country.
At one such event, Jules-Albert de Dion – kind of the Henry Ford on France – was arrested for protesting the soldier’s guilt (although apparently hitting the then French president on the head with a stick can’t have helped).
“le Tour has given us many fierce battles over the years”
The story was reported by Pierre Giffard, the editor of Le Velo, the leading sports paper in France at the time. Furious with the story, de Dion opened a rival sports paper, L’Auto.
Initially, L’Auto wasn’t a great success, and a meeting was called where the staff at the paper put forward ideas to help boost sales.
Eventually, a young journalist called Geo Lefevre suggested that a bike race around France would not only provide good publicity, but also mean that the papers could be delivered to a greater number of readers, thus ensuring market dominance over rival publication Le Velo.
After some deliberation – a race of that length had never been held before – the papers directors decided that the race should go ahead. On 19th January, L’Auto announced the very first Tour de France.
With a history like this, it’s no surprise that le Tour has given us so many fierce, personal battles to enjoy over the years. Rivalry is in the Tour de France’s blood.