From July 1-19, 1903, 60 bicyclists were willing pawns of one Henri Desgrange, editor of L’Auto sports newspaper, trying to win a circulation war with Le Velo. The Tour de France, suggested as a sales promotion, was such an instant hit that L’Auto ran Le Velo out of business. A race day could take as much as 17 hours to complete, and it is not surprising that only 21 of the 60 finished the entire inaugural bike race. The finishers went about 2500 kilometers (nearly 1600 miles), and the winner was Frenchman Maurice “Chimney Sweep” Garin. Within five years, the race distance would nearly double. Competition was fierce from the beginning, with fans tossing nails in front of the tires of their favorite’s competitors. There were allegations of riders being poisoned.
The heartiness of the racers is what seems most impressive. A column written in memorial to Garin just after his death said of him that “In that era, Garin rode a bike as heavy as lead, which demanded enormous strength, power and will. He rode more on pure strength than suppleness. His almost inexhaustible energy let him win the toughest races” (Woodland, The Unknown Tour de France, Van der Plas Pub., San Francisco, 9). They raced through night, stomach cramps, falls, flat tires, sabotage, cheating competitors, and falling asleep from exhaustion. Racing at the height of the industrial age, they were held in fascination by especially Europeans almost as if they were machines, part of the steel-framed bikes they pedaled.
These athletes had a high price to pay for competing in this now renowned race. The Bible compares the Christian life to a race (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24). It indicates that it is a race requiring endurance (Heb. 12:1), self-control (1 Cor. 9:25), success (Gal. 5:7), and purpose (1 Cor. 9:26; Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16). Many have paid the ultimate price in the process of running (Acts 7:59-60; 12:2; Rev. 6:9) and just standing up for one’s Christianity has proven costly in the past (Heb. 10:34). Jesus affirmed that following Him comes with a price, but look at the price He paid for us (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23).
We are called to complete this race, enduring and overcoming whatever difficult obstacles arise. It takes focus and desire to stick with it! Just remember that prize we receive for winning far exceeds anything we can even imagine now (2 Tim. 4:8). Whatever rises to meet you on this road, keep going until you reach the end of the course!