77 x 60 x 7 cm
Carved wooden frame, acrylic and pen on board, cigar bands, collage, resin, bicycle chain. 
VOILA - no.172. 4 Juillet 1934


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The Tour de France - borne out of a circulation-boosting publicity stunt for an ailing newspaper.
At the end of the 19th century, Frenchman Henri Desgrange abandons his job as a solicitor’s clerk for the lure of competitive cycling. On 11 May 1893 he sets the first recognised hour record, travelling 35.325 km at the Buffalo velodrome in Paris. The following year he publishes La Tête et les Jambes, an existentialist tomb on the sport of cycling. In 1897, he becomes the program director for the Vélodrome Parc des Princes, later the director for Vélodrome d’Hiver.

The story of the Tour begins in 1900, with Desgrange appointed director and editor-in-chief of a new sports newspaper - L’Auto-Vélo. In November of 1902, desperate to gain ground on rival publication Le Vélo, an idea is proposed by Auto-Vélo’s cycling editor Géo Lefèvre. Desgrange concludes a crisis meeting at Zimmer Brasserie, Paris, by asking Lefèvre “If I understand you, petit Géo, you’re proposing a ‘Tour de France?’”. Two months later, on January 19th, 1903, following a lawsuit issued by Le Velo, the newly-renamed L’Auto announces “the greatest cycling trial in the entire world. A race more than a month long: Paris to Lyon to Marseille to Toulouse to Bordeaux to Nantes to Paris.” The Tour de France was born.
At 3 pm, on July 1st 1903, around sixty cyclists form the first Grand Départ, outside the Café au Reveil Matin, Montgeron, chasing a 3,000 Franc first prize. ‘LE TOUR DE FRANCE - LE DEPART’ proclaimed L’Auto’s front page. Entrepreneur and self-publicist, Henri Desgrange would stay out of the limelight until the race concluded. Later, with circulation increasing dramatically, and L’Auto positioned as France’s dominant sports newspaper, he became Le père du Tour de France.

Henri Desgrange died on August 16th, 1940. A monument in his honour lies on the Col du Galibier; the Prix Henri-Desgrange awarded each year to the first rider over the top.
L’Auto ceased publication on 17th August 1944. A week later Paris is liberated by allied forces. In 1946, L’Auto’s spiritual successor is launched - L’Équipe.

A variety of citations suggest the Tour leader’s yellow jersey (maillot jaune; introduced in 1919), references the distinctive yellow newsprint on which L’Auto was published; Eugène Christophe being the first to wear it.
[VOILA includes the names of every Tour de France winner, since its start in 1903]

All artwork, text and images © James Straffon 2024.