Started as a publicity stunt for a French newspaper in 1903, the race was won that year by a popular rider nicknamed, The Chimney Sweep. Little did Maurice Garin know that he had sparked a one-hundred year legacy that leaves millions tuned in from around the world annually. The Tour de France bicycle race marks its centenary this year. A far cry from the original race that forced riders to go without sleep while riding through the night and left them doding nails thanks to sly spectators, the race is still no cakewalk. It includes 20 stages that take riders through beautiful, flower-lined fields and around narrow streets. And then there are the mountains, described by some as the agony of the Alps. Of course, not everyone has been bothered by them. The cyclist of the century --so far-- has been a cold-blooded Texan by the name of Lance Armstrong. Fueled by a superhuman power to climb hills faster than most people would dare go down them, Armstrong has repeatedly decimated the field while in the Alps. Looking for a record-sharing fourth title, the upcoming mountain stages will be of great interest to those of us in on our couches as well as those riders hoping to stay close to Armstrong's tail. Around the world, cycling has also seen a renaissance, with citizens commuting via bike in lieu of their cars. Whether it is a gas-saving measure, an environment preserver, or a public transit reason, the bike is gaining speed on the car. Any discussion of the world's cycling focal point, Le Tour, must include consideration for those that may not want to ride the Alps and instead want to ride to work.
The first link leads to the official Tour de France Web site and is offered in eight different languages. The site includes live coverage of the race, along with detailed maps, technical descriptions of the stages, information on the centenary, a good searchable archive section, and lots more. The next two sites offer an historical look at Le Tour. The first is a Web site for a history seminar course offered at the University of Toronto and strives to analyze the "history of the world’s toughest endurance race through the twin lenses of French culture and athletic competition." Definitely a unique course offering, and a site with very good resources and links. The next is a very comprehensive and well-organized site by the BBC which offers a great collection of historical essays for several eras of the race, from 1903 to 2000. The fourth link is a site that offers a very good history of the bicycle, from those oddly engineered, and exceptionally uncomfortable, early bikes through the several iterations to today's high tech machines. The next two sites are both focused on citizen cyclists and cycling advocacy. The first is a site by the League of American Bicyclists and not only serves as a good reference for local cycling groups, but also gives very current news on pending federal legislation related to cycling. The next is a site from the National Center for Bicycling and Walking, a program of the Bicycle Federation of America that seeks to provide "information and resources to communities and professionals working to create more activity-friendly communities." The last site takes you back to the leader of the pack, Lance Armstrong's official site. Whether you loathe him, adore him, or are simply amazed by him, Armstrong's official site offers you the chance to take a ride with him -- but probably not on a tandem bike, and hopefully not near any hills.