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Riders Fade,
Brands Ride On

By We Love Cycling

Red, white and blue, to match the colours of the French tricolore and weighing 1½ stones, the bike on which Maurice Garin won the first ever Tour de France was designed by “La Francaise” and made their name in history.

Premier Tour de France
(Maurice Garin won the first France cycling race, here arriving in Paris. July 19, 1903. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

The company was amongst the first to produce bikes with a frame. During the inaugural year of the Tour, the first five riders over the finish line were riding La Francaise bikes. No other bikes could keep up, but by the following year La Francaise was taken over by future legend Peugeot.

Peugeot started off manufacturing water mills in the 18th century. They came up with their first bicycle at the end of the 19th century and by the beginning of the 20th century Peugeot had completely taken over. Riders on Peugeots won the Tour from 1905-1908 and again in 1913 and 1914.

René Pottier, 1905 (Photo: Profimedia.cz)

Peugeot’s dominance gave way after the First World War to the La Sportive teams, Automoto and Alcyon. It was Alcyon, whose riders put together a total of seven Tour victories that nearly killed off the Tour. The patron of the race, Henri Desgrange, was fed up with the tactics of the corporate teams and above all was desperate for a French winner of the Tour.

(Luxembourg’s Nicolas Frantz wearing the yellow jersey as leader of the Tour de France, rides in front of Frenchman Andre Leducq on July 2, 1927 during the 12th stage between Luchon and Perpignan. Frantz went on to win his first Tour de France as Leducq finished 4th overall. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

Although his main aim was to awaken interest in the race and increase readership of his magazine, L’Auto, in 1930 he decided to step in by banning the setting up of corporate teams and decreed that riders would have to ride for their respective countries. Everyone would be given an identical yellow frame, with no advertising and brand names. Oddly, that same year a French team won and for more than thirty years the winning rider would only be referred to by his nationality and not by the make of his bike.

(The US Postal team in Tour de France 1999. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

However, by 1962 cycling was starting to be plagued by a lack of money. Companies started putting pressure on the organisers to restore corporate teams since the survival of the entire industry was at stake. Director of the Tour, Jacques Goddet, gave in to the pressure and brought back corporate teams, which except for a 3-week advertising blackout by the Tour, had rescued the industry and gave way to a constant marketing barrage.

(Sir Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain riding for Team Sky rides with the peloton. Photo: Profimedia.cz)

The Tour and the riders continue to change and develop, but it’s the bike manufacturers who are now an ever-present participant.

Text: Pavel Eichler