How Maurice Garin won the first Tour de France


In the early evening of July 18, 1903, the 21 other riders of the inaugural Tour de France peloton left the Café Babonneau in Nantes.They were on their way to the finish line of the “greatest organized cycling race to date”, which was 462 km away in Ville-d’Avray, a western suburb of Paris.

“It will seem really funny next week not to give more starts to the Tour de France,” said Georges Abran, responsible for sending the riders. “Goodbye the Tour de France,” he concludes. “The final start is given. It is 8 o’clock sharp.

This start time was an hour later than originally planned due to a favorable wind and the organizers wanting to ensure that the riders did not reach Paris too early.

At the start of this sixth and final stage, Frenchman Maurice Garin was comfortably seated at the top of the general classification.

Garin had won the first stage of the race from Paris to Lille, arriving at the finish before L’AutoThe chief journalist got off his train and then won a second stage victory in the race in Nantes.

At the last stage, he was well over two and a half hours ahead of second-placed Lucien Pothier. All he had to do was stay up and out of trouble and the first Tour de France was his own.

In the end, Garin did more than just stay out of trouble because he would enjoy a terrific final. He remained in great shape and dispatches from the scene checkpoints which were printed the next day in L’Auto to have him in the lead or in the lead from start to finish.

In Chartres, 84 km from Paris, he won a bonus of 25 francs set up by the local chamber of commerce to reward the first rider to enter the city.

Then, a little more than three hours after winning this prize, and in front of a large crowd that the officials had difficulty containing, Garin crossed the final finish line of the race alongside the temporarily renamed Restaurant du Père Auto. in the first place.

After watching Garin start his sprint one last time, L’Auto reports having crossed the line at 2:09 pm precisely, ten seconds ahead of Fernand Augereau and Julien “Samson” Lootens.

It was Garin’s third stage victory and confirmed him as the comfortable first Tour champion, his margin of victory just under three hours over Pothier.

“I had some problems on the road,” Garin said afterwards, in case anyone thought it had been easy. “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was sleepy, I suffered. I cried between Lyon and Marseille.

He recalled that the race had looked like “a long, monotonous gray line”. For his efforts, Garin won 6,125 francs from the organizers and a “magnificent art object” offered by the newspaper Life in the great outdoors.

From Italy to France

The photograph shown here on the right was published on the front page of the same newspaper five days after Garin’s victory.

“The Tour de France, the biggest cycling race organized to date, has just ended with the victory of Maurice Garin”, declared the legend who accompanies it.

Our photo was taken when Brillouet, the masseur well known to sportsmen, had just picked up Garin to give him a shower and a well-deserved massage. Next to Garin is his youngest son, future champion of the road!

After crossing the line at Ville d’Avray, Garin and the rest of the finishers were taken to a garden by the offices of L’Auto to cool off and enjoy a glass of champagne before going up to the Parc des Princes for the victory ceremonies.

Thousands of spectators roamed the streets to watch the riders pass. Garin, for his part, was not satisfied with the arrangement, asking instead to take the road trip – a request that was denied.

“The thousands of spectators who crowded around the gates applauded with all their might this undisputed king of the road,” reported Life in the great outdoors.

Garin’s victory was celebrated and recorded as a local success, but Garin was actually born in Arvier, a village in the Aosta Valley in northwestern Italy.

His father was a farm worker, his mother a hotel worker. With nine children it was a large family and when Maurice was 14 they crossed the border into France. It was not until 1901 that Garin adopted French nationality.

How and why the move to France took place is widely debated. Did they make the trip as a family, individually or in a large group? Did they take the Petit-St-Bernard pass, or a lesser-known route higher in the mountains?

Some claim that Maurice was traded for a wheel of cheese by his father, possibly to a French recruiter of chimney sweeps, who then took the youngster to northern France.

Whatever the truth of how he got there, in 1892 Garin was in the French town of Maubeuge, near the Belgian border, where he worked as a chimney sweep.

In 1894, although he had won his first race the previous year, he was refused entry to a race at Avesnes-sur-Helpe due to his non-professional status.

Garin waited for the start, then continued after the race, catching and passing all the professional riders before the finish. When the organizers refused to pay the prize money, the spectators made a round. Garin returned home that evening with 300 francs in his pocket, double the offer from the organizers. He would soon turn professional.

The victories at Paris-Roubaix (1897/1898), Paris-Brest-Paris (1901) and Bordeaux-Paris (1902) followed, meaning that at the time of the first Tour Garin was one of the favorites for the victory.

It turned out that his victory on the Tour of 1903 would be the last recognized success of Garin’s cycling career. In 1904, he was once again hailed in Paris as the winner of the Tour, for being one of the many riders subsequently disqualified for cheating and banned for two years, a verdict which he called a “flagrant injustice”.

Garin will not run any more until 1911, when he ranks 10th at Paris-Brest-Paris. He then opened a garage in Lens.

He also continued to sell bicycles and for some time after WWII professionals such as Wim Van Est rode Garin brand bicycles.

He died in 1957, aged 85.


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