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Selling the Yellow Jersey: The Tour de France in the Global Era

Selling the Yellow Jersey: The Tour de France in the Global Era

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Selling the Yellow Jersey: The Tour de France in the Global Era

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Jan 7, 2015


Yellow Livestrong wristbands were taken off across America in early 2013 when Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he had doped during the seven Tour de France races he won.  But the foreign cycling world, which always viewed Armstrong with suspicion, had already moved on. The bellwether events of the year were Chris Froome’s victory in the Tour and the ousting of Pat McQuaid as director of the Union Cycliste Internationale. Even without Armstrong, the Tour will roll on— its gigantic entourage includes more than 200 racers, 450 journalists, 260 cameramen, 2,400 support vehicles carrying 4,500 people, and a seven-mile-long publicity caravan. It remains one of the most-watched annual sporting events on television and a global commercial juggernaut.

In Selling the Yellow Jersey, Eric Reed examines the Tour’s development in France as well as the event’s global athletic, cultural, and commercial influences. The race is the crown jewel of French cycling, and at first the newspapers that owned the Tour were loath to open up their monopoly on coverage to state-owned television. However, the opportunity for huge payoffs prevailed, and France tapped into global networks of spectatorship, media, business, athletes, and exchanges of expertise and personnel. In the process, the Tour helped endow world cycling with a particularly French character, culture, and structure, while providing proof that globalization was not merely a form of Americanization, imposed on a victimized world. Selling the Yellow Jersey explores the behind-the-scenes growth of the Tour, while simultaneously chronicling France’s role as a dynamic force in the global arena.
Jan 7, 2015

Über den Autor

Eric Reed is a pseudonym for Mary Reed & Eric Mayer. They are the coauthors of eleven books in the John, the Lord Chamberlain series, set in 6th century Byzantium.

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Selling the Yellow Jersey - Eric Reed

Selling the Yellow Jersey

Selling the Yellow Jersey

The Tour de France in the Global Era


The University of Chicago Press

Chicago and London

Eric Reed is associate professor of history at Western Kentucky University.

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637

The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London

© 2015 by The University of Chicago

All rights reserved. Published 2015.

Printed in the United States of America

24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 1 2 3 4 5

ISBN-13: 978-0-226-20653-0 (cloth)

ISBN-13: 978-0-226-20667-7 (e-book)

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226206677.001.0001

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Reed, Eric (Professor of history), author.

Selling the yellow jersey : the Tour de France in the global era / Eric Reed.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-226-20653-0 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-226-20667-7 (e-book) 1. Tour de France (Bicycle race)—History. 2. Bicycle racing—France—History. I. Title.

GV1049.2.T68R44 2015



♾ This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48–1992 (Permanence of Paper).





1 Sport, Bicycling, and Globalization in the Print Era: Convergences and Divergences

2 The Tour, Greatest of the Turn-of-the-Century Bicycle Races

3 The Tour and Television: A Love-Hate Story

4 The French School of Cycling

5 The Tour in the Provinces: Sport and Small Cities in the Global Age

6 The Tour’s Globalizing Agenda in the Television Age

7 The Global Tour and Its Stars

Afterword: Doping and the Tour on the World Stage






I could not have finished this project without time and money. I would like to thank Syracuse University and the Embassy of France to the United States for funding my initial research with fellowships and grants. Western Kentucky University and WKU’s History Department funded my follow-up research and gave me a sabbatical leave that I used to write the first draft of the manuscript.

French archivists and scholars welcomed me warmly. The staffs of the municipal archives in Caen, Brest, Strasbourg, and Pau were particularly helpful. Archivists Christine Juliat (Pau Municipal Archives) and Roger Nougaret (Crédit Lyonnais/Crédit Agricole/BNP Paribas Archives) helped me track down key primary sources. I am grateful to Patrick Fridenson of the École des hautes études en sciences sociales and Jacques Augendre of L’Équipe for the invaluable advice they provided when I first began my research.

I have been fortunate to have talented, thoughtful mentors and colleagues. Michael Miller and Chris Thompson have encouraged and inspired my research from the start. Tony Harkins, Glenn Lafantasie, and Andrew McMichael offered me excellent advice about the publication process. Robert Dietle, Phil Dehne, Arwen Bate, and anonymous reviewers read an early draft of the manuscript and responded with insightful, brutal, useful comments that improved the book. I would like to thank Doug Mitchell, Tim McGovern, Susan Karani, Levi Stahl, and Margaret Hagan at the University of Chicago Press for shepherding the manuscript from proposal to book. I am grateful to Rich Weigel, Jeanie Adams-Smith, and Sarah Jameson for their help editing late versions of the manuscript. Beth Plummer and Patti Minter were kind enough to listen to me complain.

My family has been patient and generous. My dad has shown unflagging, sometimes obsessive enthusiasm for my project and asked me hard questions about the Tour and France that made this a better book. My mom has inspired me to be a better teacher, which has improved my writing. Kathy Ames’s and Kenly Ames’s careful editing fixed many of the book’s weaknesses and errors. The remaining errors are mine.

I cannot repay my many debts to Kenly Ames. Kenly has supported me without question since we met. I am lucky that she accepted my marriage proposal. I hope that our two beautiful boys will be proud of my book one day. I dedicate this book to Kenly and our sons.

FIGURE 1. Map of France with selected locations. Map by CJ Johanson, map data courtesy of Esri/AND Data Solutions, B. V. / European Environmental Agency.


I saw the Tour de France for the first time on America’s Independence Day, July 4, 1992. I was traveling with my former college roommate, Craig, when we came upon the Tour by chance as we passed through San Sebastián, Spain. We were avid readers of Ernest Hemingway and had embarked on a literary pilgrimage to Pamplona to participate in the annual San Fermín Festival and the Running of the Bulls, which were made famous in the Anglophone world by the novel The Sun Also Rises. The festivities that brightened San Sebastián that day to celebrate the prologue, or ceremonial kickoff, of the 1992 Tour convinced us to stay and take in the first professional bike race either of us had ever seen.

I grew up a Philadelphia sports fan, cut my teeth on professional hockey’s infamous Broad Street Bullies, and blossomed into a full-blown adolescent sports junkie during the heyday of basketball legend Julius Erving and baseball hall-of-famer Mike Schmidt. As a kid playing under my driveway basketball hoop, I attempted to mimic Dr. J’s amazing finger roll layups. I also enjoyed watching professional wrestling on television in the days when teenage boys still hotly debated its legitimacy as veritable athletic competition. I was fortunate to witness some classic Philadelphia sports moments at the Spectrum and Veterans Stadium, including a game of the Phillies’ 1980 World Series championship run. But the closest personal encounter I ever had with any of my athletic idols came during a connection stopover in the Pittsburgh airport in 1985 when I noticed rising World Wrestling Federation star Brutus Beefcake sitting across the concourse from me eating yogurt.

The Tour’s intimacy was alien to my experience and impressed me. Before the prologue began, spectators gathered quietly behind the starting gate near the competitors, who were easily spotted by their loud, colorful racing uniforms. Since I read widely about many sports, including professional cycling, I recognized the faces and jerseys of some of cycling’s famous champions as they warmed up in San Sebastián’s streets. French Tour hero Laurent Fignon, wearing his trademark blond ponytail and round, metal-framed glasses, rolled past me an arm’s length away as he warmed up. American Greg LeMond, the first non-European to win the Tour, pedaled by lazily with teammates and was so close I could hear his banter and laughter.

Unusual events delayed the start of the prologue. Basque separatists used the Tour’s visit as an occasion to trumpet their political agenda to the world. They blew up a car near the race route to ensure that evening newscasts would note their activism. Unfazed, Craig and I retreated to a tapas bar in San Sebastián’s cramped old quarter near the port while we waited for the race to begin. Only in retrospect, as I racked my brain for a research project to which I could devote the first years of my career as a historian, did I realize that the Tour was living history worthy of serious academic inquiry. More than just an unusually intimate, spectator-friendly sporting event, the Tour carried immense cultural, political, and social meaning for those who experienced it, whether they were American hitchhikers, European cycling fans, or angry Basque separatists.

What Is the Tour?

In order to understand the Tour’s historical significance, it is important to grasp how the race works as an athletic competition and entertainment spectacle. The event’s distinctive traits shape its itinerary; determine which towns host the race, which businesses sponsor it, and which racers win and become heroes; and account for the Tour’s enduring popular appeal in France and elsewhere. Although the Tour has evolved greatly since Parisian journalists created it in 1903, many of the Tour’s basic characteristics remain constant.

The Tour is a three-week, approximately 4,000-kilometer (2,500-mile) bicycle race staged on the roads of France and Western Europe in June and July. The Tour was the first road race of its kind and remains the most prestigious cycling event in the world. Its popularity and profitability spawned other national cycling tours. The race is also a major media and commercial event: By the 1980s, organizers claimed that the Tour was the third-largest televised spectacle in the world, behind only soccer’s World Cup and the Olympic Games.

Since the Tour’s creation, sports journalists have organized the race. The journalist organizers choose the race participants and sponsors, create the itinerary and rules of the competition, and provide the infrastructure of cars, trucks, and communication equipment necessary to stage the event. By the 1990s, the Tour’s caravan and entourage included approximately 1,000 vehicles and nearly 4,000 cyclists, team sponsors, publicity agents, coaches and managers, police officers, race officials and organizers, international judges, technicians, road crews, physical therapists, and journalists. Until 1987, the organizers wore two hats—they wrote for daily newspapers and planned the race. Prior to 1939, Henri Desgrange, founder of the sports daily L’Auto, controlled the Tour’s organization. After the Second World War, Desgrange’s associate Jacques Goddet, editor of L’Auto’s postwar successor, L’Équipe, directed the Tour along with Félix Lévitan, editor of Le Parisien libéré ’s sports section. After 1987, the jobs of staging and reporting on the Tour were nominally separated, although the Tour organization continues to draw journalists into its fold.

The central principle of the Tour is simple: the rider who completes the entire course in the shortest time wins. Racers compete for the symbol of the Tour’s overall individual championship, the yellow jersey (maillot jaune), the most coveted and lucrative prize in cycling. Individuals also compete for other important prizes, such as the polka-dot jersey (maillot à pois), awarded to the strongest mountain climber; the green jersey (maillot vert), won by the fastest sprinter; and scores of other cash or symbolic prizes such as most competitive rider and even nicest rider. Cyclists can win glory and fortune on the Tour even without winning the yellow jersey. Riders’ Tour successes lead to fame, endorsement deals, and racing contracts.

Prior to 1930, organizers sometimes invited individuals and sometimes entire teams to participate in the race. Since the late 1930s, however, organizers have always selected cycling teams, not individual riders, to compete in the Tour. Only members of these teams may race. Since the late 1930s, all participants have been professional cyclists selected by the Tour organizers. Prior to the 1960s, the Tour alternated between national team and corporate team formats. In the national team format, organizers invited most of the major cycling nations—France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and Luxembourg—to send a team to compete under national flags. In these years, organizers complemented the national teams with several regional teams from France. Since 1969, the Tour has been organized in the corporate team format. Businesses or other entities sponsor groups of professional riders who participate in races throughout Europe during the cycling season (early spring through early fall), and elsewhere around the world throughout the year. Corporate team riders publicize their patrons by wearing the sponsor’s brand marks and colors in competition. The Tour selects approximately twenty professional teams according to the rankings determined by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport’s governing body. Nine riders compete on each team. The Tour’s team prizes promote intense competition among the cycling groups, and sponsors use their teams’ successes as important advertising tools. Thus, although the organizing principle of the Tour is simple—the fastest man wins—the reality of the race is far more complicated. Racers compete not only to win the individual title, but also to help the rest of their team to win and to publicize their sponsors.

Individuals have no chance of winning the Tour without the help of their teams because the itinerary of the race poses arduous physical challenges to the riders. The event is broken up into approximately twenty sections, called stages, each of which is ridden on a different day. Every year, Tour organizers choose different communities to host each stage of the Tour. Potential host towns compete fiercely with one another for the favor of the Tour’s leadership before the organizers announce the itinerary in autumn. Each Tour consists of a combination of three types of stages—flatland races, mountain climbs, and time trials. The flatland stages are the longest of the Tour, up to 359 kilometers (223 miles) in the post–Second World War era. During the flatland stages, generally held in the West and North of France, riders battle against stiff winds and stifling summer heat. The mountain stages are shorter, averaging approximately 200 kilometers (124 miles), and are even more exhausting. Riders ascend out of green valleys on steep, winding roads while the hot summer sun burns their necks. Barren, windblasted rock replaces the lush vegetation at higher altitudes. Freezing temperatures, sleet, and snow-blocked passes sometimes await them as they approach Alpine and Pyrenean summits, and dark storms boil out of the high mountain valleys with little warning. In the time trials, which are short stages of about fifty to seventy kilometers (thirty to forty-five miles) during which individual riders leave the starting gate alone and try to complete a course in the fastest time possible, each man battles wind, hills, and the clock without the help of his teammates. Because of the harsh natural conditions faced by the riders and the extreme efforts required of cyclists to overcome them, the attrition rate is very high. In some past Tours, up to half of the contestants dropped out of the race.

The physical difficulties facing the riders, as well as the complexities of the Tour as a sporting competition, shape the racing strategies employed by individual competitors and their teams. The most basic strategic consideration is that an individual cyclist cannot ride as fast as a group of racers, no matter how strong he is. Whenever possible, cyclists race in groups, which reduces wind resistance and, thus, the amount of work done by each rider. Most contestants spend almost the entire Tour riding in the peloton, or main body of riders, in order to conserve enough energy to finish the Tour (see fig. 2 for an example of drafting). Because of the aerodynamic and manpower advantage gained by racing in a large group, the peloton can sustain very high speeds for long periods of time on flat roads, if many riders work together and share time pedaling at the head of the peloton. For perspective, Czech rider Ondrˇej Sosenka set a UCI individual one-hour world speed record in 2005 when he raced 49.7 kilometers in an hour on a Moscow track. The same year, the Tour peloton’s speed averaged between 45.1 and 48.6 kilometers per hour in the eight fastest mass-start stages. Thus, for eight full days of racing that year, the entire peloton of more than 150 riders traveled at average speeds very close to the individual world record for a single hour of racing.

FIGURE 2. The Belgian national team leads the peloton near La Roche-sur-Yon, close to the central French coast. Riders pedal in an echelon formation to draft off one another to protect themselves from the strong wind, July 9, 1938. Courtesy of National Archives.

In order to win the Tour, a rider must find a way to separate himself from the peloton and his rivals during one or several stages of the race in order to win a time advantage over the field. He must then conserve the advantage until he reaches the finish line in Paris. Herein lies the main strategic goal of the Tour de France. Usually a team designates one rider as its sole contender for the yellow jersey and devotes all the efforts of the nine-man group to helping him win the Tour. The other riders pledge to act as the team leader’s domestiques, or servant riders: they pedal in front of the captain and allow him to conserve energy in their slipstreams; if the lead rider’s tire punctures, the nearest domestique exchanges his fresh tire for the flat one; if the leader becomes hungry or thirsty, a domestique offers the star rider his food and drink.¹ Since even a team of nine racers has only limited physical endurance, it must expend maximum effort only at key moments of the race. Competing teams often cooperate in order to conserve their energy or to demoralize or sap the energy of other teams. Since a team’s goal is to conserve its captain’s overall time advantage over his immediate rivals, often a team has to help its leader win only one or two stages of the Tour. It is possible to capture the Tour’s title without winning any stages, as American Greg LeMond did in 1990. The teams with captains who are in contention for the yellow jersey allow cyclists who are far behind in the overall standings to escape from the peloton and vie for stage victories, as long as they do not threaten the time advantage of the team leader.

A team captain with strong domestiques to aid him, riding in front of a disorganized peloton that is unwilling to cooperate and expend the energy to pursue him, can build a lead in the flatland stages. The varied stage organization and terrain of the Tour’s itinerary complicates this basic strategy. Each yellow jersey contender competes in the time trials alone against his rivals, without the aid of his teammates to magnify his strengths or nullify his weaknesses. During the mountain stages, the aerodynamic advantages of team riding diminish since climbing speeds are much slower than flatland speeds and since cyclists must spread themselves out in order to avoid crashing during the winding descents. Leaders may have domestiques to pace them during the climbs, but they must nevertheless perform all the work of traversing the Alps and Pyrenees themselves. Mountains forge or destroy possible Tour champions. When a race leader cracks, or exhausts himself and becomes unable to climb quickly, his rivals can attack him and transform the race leader’s time advantage of several seconds gained during the flatland stages into a deficit of minutes or even hours.

A Tour victor usually possesses several crucial qualities. He must be talented in the Tour’s three disciplines—flatland racing, climbing, and time trialing—and he must know how to lead the team. Only an extraordinary strength in one of the disciplines can overcome a glaring weakness in another. In addition, he must know through racing experience how and when to expend his teammates’ limited physical resources. He must know how to strike and when to break alliances with other teams in order to protect himself or hurt his rivals. The Tour de France is an individual competition that a racer cannot win alone.


Around the turn of the twentieth century, the French embraced the bicycle as a mode of transportation and leisure and as a potent symbol of modernity and progress. The Tour was the greatest and most enduring of the turn-of-the-century bicycle racing spectacles and embodied France’s love affair with the bicycle. A quintessentially French creation, the race very quickly transformed itself into a tradition [and] rooted itself in the national rituals after its first installment in 1903.¹ French riders dominated the Tour for much of the twentieth century. France’s star racers often became national heroes and their exploits exemplified French prowess, panache, and perseverance. The Tour was a celebration of—and central fixture in—French provincial life. The competition traveled through almost every region of France and became an occasion for the French to revisit, through sport, an idealized and stylized version of their nation’s geography and history. Each year, up to thirty million fans from around the world crowded France’s country roads and mountain passes to see the riders pedal by. The holiday atmosphere surrounding the annual, three-week race became part of the fabric of French popular culture.

France’s national bicycle race has been a global spectacle since its creation.² In the competition’s early years, fans around the world followed the race in the pages of their local newspapers. By the new millennium, millions of spectators followed the race on television and the Internet. The race quickly emerged as the world’s most prestigious cycling competition. The planet’s best cyclists and their sponsors made an annual pilgrimage to Paris to race for glory, wealth, and fame. Some competitors returned to their homelands as heroes. The Tour’s compelling format, star culture, and commercial success spurred imitators throughout Europe and elsewhere as professional road racing became a global sport. Some Tour-inspired races like the Tour of Italy (Giro d’Italia, created in 1909) and the Tour of Spain (Vuelta a España, created in 1935) became enduring classics in their own right. Others such as the short-lived Tour de Trump, founded in the late 1980s by American real estate tycoon Donald Trump, perished soon after their creation. Nevertheless, thanks to the enormous prestige, influence, and media footprint of the Tour, its stars, and French cycling around the world since 1903, competitive cycling adopted French traditions, athletic and commercial forms, and even language. The Tour’s history offers a fascinating case study in how the French interacted with the broader world in the global era. To explore these interactions, I trace three interrelated stories.

1. The Tour, France, and Globalization

One way of looking at France and globalization characterizes the global age as one that began in the 1950s and was spurred by the rise of telecommunications, airline travel, television broadcasting, postwar international consumption regimes, and multinational conglomerates. Such an approach also stresses the dramatic rupture with the past caused by the emergence of digital media since the 1980s. It highlights the homogenizing tendencies of postwar globalization by exploring the ways that the process has seemed to erode cultural distinctiveness, increase consumer homogeneity, and undermine traditional frameworks of identity such as the nation.³ Undoubtedly, the rapid, often tumultuous cultural shifts of the postwar era represented a significant break from the past. In the popular imagination, such trends were epitomized by Hollywood’s hegemony, Coca-Cola’s world empire, the ubiquitous Golden Arches, and the frivolous, universalized, Americanized consumer culture they appeared to represent.⁴

I approach globalization as a longer-term, ongoing process that planted its roots in the mid-nineteenth century. Since then, globalization has continued to reduce or eliminate barriers of time and space and increase interconnectedness. Important trends that facilitated the process include the expansion and contraction of empires; increasingly rapid exchanges of goods, services, and people; and the rise of mass communication and mass consumerism since the Industrial Revolution. The proliferation of new networks of social and cultural interaction, loci of identity, and patterns of consumerism that transcended national and even continental frameworks also characterize the globalization trend. In other words, contemporary globalization can be understood as an integral element of the dramatic transformations of the long twentieth century. Although most commonly applied to the rise of capitalism and its associated substructures, the viewpoint can also be applied to the cultural and social sea changes associated with the rise of modern mass society since the mid-nineteenth century.

The Tour’s evolution over time illustrates the unique ways that the French participated in and instigated cultural globalization. This process was not a recent phenomenon external to the French experience. Rather, the Tour’s story reveals that cultural and commercial globalization had powerful, indigenous, and particularly French roots that reach deep into the past, and that uniquely French circumstances drove the process forward in France and gave it meaning.⁶ The Tour’s century-long history as a global spectacle that was influenced and transformed by diverse actors and stakeholders in and outside France provides an ideal laboratory for investigating the globalizing process.

Scholars have paid increasing attention to the Tour recently.⁷ The commercial history of the event, especially after the Second World War, has received relatively little treatment. The race was born from the cycling milieu, where spectacle, sport, and commerce mingled. It was a manifestation of the new relationship between business and culture that arose in France and throughout the modernizing world beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. Parisian journalists created the contest in 1903 as a promotional vehicle to sell newspapers and bicycles in France. The contest emerged as the crown jewel of French professional cycling. Yet the appearance of modern commercialism in sport and in other areas of entertainment and leisure around the turn of the twentieth century was not the end of the story of how business interests shaped popular culture.

The Tour’s history illustrates the ways that mass media and business facilitated new kinds of interconnectedness since the nineteenth century. Globalization scholars are particularly interested in the phenomenon of deterritorialization, a process in which social and cultural space was no longer mapped solely according to territorial place and in which location, distance, and physical borders played a diminishing role in many social and cultural relationships and experiences.⁸ The rise of mass media, a process initiated in local and regional settings, spurred this transformation. Local, national, and global communities of Tour fan spectators blossomed after 1903. The race became an event that French people experienced in an increasingly simultaneous time frame as more and more of them followed it in local newspapers and, later, on national broadcasting systems. Many tens of millions more around the world read about it in their newspapers, as well, and followed the race in its entirety and in real time on international radio, television, and the Internet.

Uniquely French circumstances drove the Tour’s global story forward over time, often with unintended consequences. Although the Tour was born as an unabashedly for-profit media event, its organizers struggled to limit and control the race’s media exposure and commercialization. In the television age, for example, the Tour resisted corporate sponsors’ demands for more publicity and fought a losing battle to limit television coverage of the race. During this time, the Tour was a touchstone for the broader French ambivalence toward the commercialization of the public sphere as the postwar consumer economy blossomed.⁹ Paradoxically, the Tour helped to instigate the commercialization of France’s state-controlled, not-for-profit radio and television networks because it was a wildly popular, publicity-soaked spectacle broadcast openly on France’s commercial-free airwaves. The event’s singular qualities and struggles in the French context determined how its organizers exploited the race for profit and developed the format, rules, traditions, and business models that the rest of the cycling world emulated.

The Tour imbued global cycling with a particularly French flavor. The story of the event’s growing influence spanned the twentieth century. Very rapidly after 1903, the Tour emerged as the most famous cycling race on the planet and the fulcrum of road cycling’s globalization. The race’s preeminence afforded its organizers formal and informal power to shape the global sport. Since the early 1900s, French men, many of whom were Tour officials, dominated cycling’s international governing bodies and exerted vast influence on the rules, competitive schedules, ethics, and commercialization of European professional cycling. By the 1970s, the Tour’s parent corporation, the Amaury Group, owned and organized many of the most important and best-financed cycling races in the world, including the Paris–Roubaix, Paris–Nice, and Dauphiné Libéré classics. By the 1980s, the Tour’s leadership embraced an overtly globalizing agenda. The Tour’s influence penetrated into areas outside road cycling’s traditional core in Western Europe. The race’s athletes and leadership helped to build the foundations of viable professional road racing organizations in virgin territories like the United States. All the while, the Tour remained the brightest star around which world cycling’s evolving constellation of competitions orbited. The end result of these trends was that the Tour and its organizers succeeded in linking France and cycling in the popular imagination, much as French chefs and culinary schools had created such an association between France and cuisine in the nineteenth century and the French film industry established a particularly French cinematic brand and international cosmopolitan film culture in the twentieth century.¹⁰ The pitfalls of its prominence afflicted the Tour ever more deeply after the 1960s, as the event’s humiliating doping scandals came to epitomize the long-running crisis of the entire sport.

2. Small Communities in a Global Society

The stories of Brest and Pau, small French communities that were significant Tour host towns, will unveil the many meaningful ways that small communities interacted with and reacted to globalization. Their stories demonstrate that globalization did not occur as a dialectical process in which new, global identities, cultures, and networks of exchange inevitably and inexorably displaced entrenched local ones. Rather, globalization is best understood as a deeply historical, uneven, localizing process in which local cultures and identities were continually reinforced and enriched, even in the contemporary period.¹¹ In fact, the tension between globalization’s homogenizing tendencies and local cultures’ resistance to and selective appropriation of new cultural forms and practices helped to ensure and even promote heterogeneity, even in imperial settings.¹²

The Tour established an important place in annual summer leisure culture in France’s provincial communities. Nearly the entire race takes place on remote, picturesque byways deep in the French countryside and in the town squares of small cities. The cases of Pau, a regional hub and winter resort for wealthy Anglophones in the Pyrenean foothills, and Brest, a port town located at the tip of the Brittany peninsula, demonstrate how small communities, through sport, engaged the broader, interconnected world in novel ways and reveal the continuing role of small towns in actuating and facilitating the globalization process. Brest and Pau viewed the Tour through the lens of their unique, evolving identities and exploited it for their own ends. Beginning in the 1930s, as their needs and outlooks changed, these race host towns used the Tour, with its massive media coverage, to capture larger shares of the expanding mass tourism market and to promote their integration into the national and international economies. Although their efforts did not always achieve their desired goals, Pau and Brest recognized the ever-changing opportunities and dangers presented by the globalizing world. They tried to forge unique places for themselves in it. Their stories demonstrate that the construction of the Tour’s commercial and cultural traditions was a continuous but rather uneven process that was strongly influenced by the changing interests, economies, and identities of small communities during the twentieth century.

3. Celebrity Athletes and Frenchness in a Global Age

Finally, the Tour’s history offers an opportunity to explore the powers of celebrity in the global age. The race’s stars were instrumental in globalizing road cycling in the twentieth century and helped endow the sport with a particularly French character. This process began early in the twentieth century. The Tour stood at the pinnacle of a French School of cycling clubs, competitions, and business interests that identified, cultivated, and graduated into stardom many of world cycling’s greatest heroes. Because of the French School’s preeminence on the world stage, the French cycling establishment furnished much of the language, competitive and commercial framework, and celebrity heroes that became common cultural points of reference for cycling’s emerging global networks of competitors, fans, and consumers.

In France, the star power of the race’s heroes helped to maintain the event’s enduring popular and commercial appeal. French cycling stars also served as cultural and social sounding boards as the French struggled to contextualize rapid change in turbulent times.¹³ Great riders appeared to embody certain universal, enduring ideals of sporting Frenchness¹⁴—especially the ability to perform superhuman athletic feats with panache and endure unimaginable suffering and competitive martyrdom heroically. Yet as the times changed, such heroic meanings were constantly contested, sometimes appeared anachronistic or irrelevant, and often conflicted with harsh, unsavory realities like cycling’s cult of celebrity, hyper-commercialism, and pervasive doping. As the Tour globalized, so, too, did the contested meanings and legacies of its heroes.

Tour heroes became global stars and shaped international cycling culture. For example, as Anglophone audiences read about the Tour triumphs and controversies surrounding French star Jacques Anquetil, the world’s dominant rider in the 1950s and 1960s, they learned much about the nature of French athletic heroism and its tenets. Many of these readers joined the sport’s burgeoning global fan base. Even as the demographic cross section of professional cycling globalized beginning in the 1970s, and even as French riders won fewer and fewer races against international competitors, France remained the epicenter of professional development of cyclists and the preeminent proving ground for future champions. Tour winners Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong, who captured a combined ten Tour titles after 1986, were not merely exported American athletes who dominated a French competition. Rather, they were cyclists trained in France, forged into champions on French country roads, and returned as heroes to the United States, where their victories helped to popularize the race. All the while, Tour organizers sold television coverage of their

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