A hundred summers ago, the Tour de France was born out of political                                               
conflict,  and  from  a  circulation  war  between  competing  sports
journals. Before he and Gustave-Thadée Bouton pioneered a stream of
Dion-Bouton automobiles,  Marquis Albert  de Dion had spent  his life
constructing  sports  machines:  a  quadricycle  in  1883,  followed  by  a
steam tricycle  in 1887  and a  one-cycle  petrol  trike  in 1895.  He  also
financed the daily Vélo that catered to thousands of cycling amateurs,
to  the  rivalries  and  publicity  of  cycle  manufacturers,  and  to  the
crowds attending track meetings or cheering road race riders on.
In 1899, however, at the height of the Dreyfus Affair, Dion and his
anti-Dreyfusard friends  were involved in an absurd political  shindig
at the fashionable Auteuil  horse races,  where a royalist baron’s cane
dented  the  top  hat  of  the  Republic’s  president.  A  government—one
more—fell in the wake of the brawl but, more important to our story,
the Marquis was sentenced to 15 days in jail and a 100-franc fine for his
part  in  it.  Tailor-made  for  the  sporting  press,  the  incident  evoked
critical  comment  from  the  Vélo,  which  had  already  revealed
regrettable  Dreyfusard  sympathies.  Incensed,  Dion  and  other  anti-
Dreyfusard friends like Edouard Michelin set up a rival daily, L’Auto-
Vélo—soon  shortened  to  L’Auto  to  reflect  the  latest  fashion  in  the
world of sports.
L’Auto’ editor, Henri Desgrange, himself an enthusiastic cyclist and
cycle  racer,  needed  a  sensational  publicity  venture  to  attract  new
readers.  Particularly  since  the  introduction  of  stopwatches  in  1870,
indoor  and  outdoor  races  had  provided  spills,  thrills,  exploits,
champions,  prizes  and a paying public  for  sports  promoters  and the
sporting  press.  Intercity  bicycle  races—Paris-Rouen,  Paris-Roubaix,
Bordeaux-Paris—had been popular for decades.  So Desgrange began
his  campaign  by  reviving  the  Paris-Brest  road  race,  which  had  last
been run in 1891.  But although the 1901 winner knocked nearly two
hours off  the previous record and vast  crowds gathered to follow the
progress of  the race on the immense map that hung on the façade of
L’Auto’s  editorial  offices,  a  limited  contest  provoked  only  limited