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90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003
A Votre Tour
Honouring 100 years of Le Tour
By Gabriella Ekström
To honour all the riders who have been a part of the creation of the world's greatest race, the Centenary Tour de France concluded with a three kilometre parade over the legendary finish along the Champs Elysées. 1250 volunteers participated in the parade that not only represented the "convicts of the tarmac", but also the history of every race since the start of the Tour, with 300 children watching the riders go by, representing the emotions of all the children who stood by the roadside over the last 100 years.
Thanks to private collectors and carmakers, the many vehicles in the parade all marked the year they represent, and clothes and decor have been carefully stylised to agree with the fashions of each period. Carrying banners with names of well-known cities and riders, amateur cyclists and roller-blade skaters rode down the 'Champs' to the soundtracks and voices of radio and TV-journalists who have all made their mark on the Tour de France.
To quote the French author Yvan Audouard, "During the Tour de France, the muscles may tire, but the tongue gains strength. Jacques Goddet and the sports journalists have earned their literature."
Cars with special effects of rain, snow and mist is a reminder of some of the conditions met by the riders over the hundred years of racing. In 1926 for example, riders faced a 326 kilometre stage in the Pyrenées between Bayonne and Luchon, only 20 riders managed to find their way through the freezing rain in the mountains to the finish in Allées d'Etigny, and when dark fell, numerous riders still lost in the high mountains had to searched for by bus.
"When we got down from the bike, we fell out of our socks and shorts, with nothing sticking to our bodies. What we wouldn't do to a donkey, we did to ourselves," was a phrase used by some cyclists of old. It shows the agony and pain that the riders had to fight with on a daily basis in their attempt not only to remain in the race, but also to make the race immortalise them.
Alongside the recreational riders and the one hundred professional actors, an essential part of the parade was made up by the 22 out of 53 Tour de France winners who are still alive, as well as the 147 riders who survived the fastest and one of the most spectacular editions of the Tour ever, the 2003 Tour de France.
One of the attributes most closely connected to the Tour is the leader's yellow jersey, otherwise known as the maillot jaune. Although sporting the same colour as L'Auto magazine, the jersey did not become a part of the Tour until 1919, and at first, was not looked upon with great enthusiasm - at least not by the man who had the honour of becoming the first maillo jaune ever. Frenchman Eugene Christophe thought he was too easily recognised by the other riders in the field while wearing the bright yellow outfit, but the jersey had come to the race to stay.
Another parade was introduced in 1930 to finance the participation of competitors: La Caravane du Tour de France. The publicity caravan has been a part of the Tour ever since, and preceeds the riders on the parcours to the enjoyment of the many million spectators that follow the race from the roadside each July.
After the second World War, the Tour de France company rebuilt the race together with Parisien and l'Equipe, and it is in this era that exists Tour winners that are still alive today. Ferdi Kubler, winner of the Tour in 1950 and 51, and Roger Walkowiak, winner in 1956, were honoured in a 260 metres long scene that also sported the gigantic front pages of the two papers from that time.
In 1957, a 23 year old rider took the final place on the French team after Louison Bobet dropped out. His name was Jacques Anquetil, who would go on to win five Tours de France. He applied a technique similar to that used by modern-day hero Miguel Indurain, where he contained the climbers in the mountains and defeated them in the time trials. Maître Jacques died in 1987, so instead, riders like Charly Gaul and Federico Bahamontes are celebrated on the sunny avenue of the Champs Elysées to the tunes of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire".
To find a place identical to Champs Elyseés for the rehearsal, participants trained for a week at a rented airfield in Melun, just outside of Paris. Fifty event directors worked alongside twenty wardrobe staff and every scene in the final set up was closely supervised by an assistant producer, a director and at least three other assistants.
The second rider to win five Tours was Eddy Merckx, who also holds the record of 96 maillot jaunes, as well as 34 stage victories. The scene of the seventies was marked by peace & love, and also paid homage to Bernard Thevenet, winner in 1975 and 77, and Lucien Van Impe, winner in 1976.
Just like Anquetil and Merckx, Bernard Hinault also made his debut in the tour with a victory. Aside from his five overall victories, his palmares also included two runner-up placings, a feat unmatched to this day. According to his sport directeur, Cyrille Guimard, Hinault was the most gifted of them all, a "Champion of Champions". The 90s also cemented the epic time trial from Versailles to Paris in 1989 in Tour memory. Still the fastest Tour time trial stage of all times, with an average speed of 54.54 kilometres per hour, saw Greg LeMond strip the yellow jersey off Laurent Fignon's shoulders by just eight seconds. It remains the smallest winning margin in the Tour's history.
Miguel Indurain was the only rider to win five consecutive Tours de France before Lance Armstrong equalled this achievement just a few days ago, winning the 2003 edition. The Spanish rider from Pamplona adopted a similar technique to that of Jacques Anquetil, and in the scene of 1990's, Indurain is celebrated alongside Bjarne Riis, Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani.
The last scene of the Tour parade is totally devoted to Lance Armstrong and his five triumphs, and it also represents the end of one decade and the beginning of another. It honours the participation of cyclists from countries outside the old-school cycling Europe. Riders from the United States, Australia, Ireland, Scandinavia, South America and Eastern Europe have now all participated and succeeded at the Tour.
Henri Jeanson, French writer and movie scriptwriter, once wrote about the Tour in this way: "It's wonderful, it's unheard of, it's extraordinary, it's comical, it's extravagant, it's magnificent. And it's very tiring. The Tour de France is the most wonderful and complete of spectacles."