Sales of L’Auto, his daily newspaper devoted to sports, were slow. He’d started the paper in 1900 to compete with France’s largest sports paper, Le Vélo. But after almost three years, circulation hovered around 25,000, far lowered than desired. Henri wanted to not only compete with his rival, but dominate them. So he called an emergency meeting of the paper’s staff. They needed an idea – something big that would cement their legacy as the country’s premier sports authority.
The answer, suggested by a young writer focused on rugby and cycling, was a race. The paper would sponsor a six day, multi-stage bicycle race around France; creating an event grander than anything seen before. The proposal was quickly adopted. As plans for the race progressed, it grew to 19 days. Six just wasn’t enough to attract the kind of attention L’Auto needed. Unfortunately though, this put the race at out of the reach of many would-be participants. By the time it started on July 1, 1903, there were less than 100 registered racers.
However, while the field of competitors was small, the race attracted hoards of avid cycling fans. L’Auto’s circulation immediately jumped to over 65,000. The race became an annual event and circulation continued to grow. By 1923 over 500,000 copies were being sold each day. As luck would have it, the paper was eventually shut down in 1946, having been associated with Nazi influences during the Second World War.
But the race continued.
Today, the Tour de France consists of 21 day-long segments covering approximately 2,200 miles over 23 days. It is generally considered the most prestigious multi-stage bicycle race despite the grueling schedule (there are only two scheduled rest days). While the route changes each year, participants are guaranteed to encounter steep uphill climbs, unpredictable weather and a variety of road hazards. Every day, veterans and rookies compete to be the first overcome the physical demands of the race and don the yellow jersey (a nod to the yellow paper L’Auto was printed on).
Winning the Tour de France is complicated. It’s more like a game of chess than a race. In addition to physical performance and high tech gear, it involves strategy, teamwork and a great deal of patience. There are times when you give it your all and times when you sit back and let others lead. It involves sacrifice for the sake of the team and a steady stream of communication between teammates and even other riders.
In many ways, winning the Tour de France is like winning in business. There are periods of preparation and planning followed by periods of intense activity. There are times when the best strategy is to lay low and times when those who want to win leave everything they have on the road in pursuit of the goal.
Winning is hard. It isn’t for the weak of mind or spirit. It isn’t for those who take the easy way out. Winning is for those who are willing to sacrifice in order to stand on the podium. That’s why so few ever do.
What does it take to win your particular race?