The Shmooze

Six Degrees of Tour de France

By Raphael Mostel

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images

It turns out that the world’s most famous bicycle race, the Tour de France, has an unlikely origin: It was a direct result of the notorious Dreyfus Affair.

The slightly condensed, rather confusing story goes something like this: When pro-Dreyfus Émile Loubet became president of the French Republic in 1899, he was attacked (and beaten on the head with a walking stick) by the passionately anti-Dreyfus Count de Dion, one of France’s major bicycle and auto manufacturers. De Dion was jailed for the attack, and the resulting scandal was featured prominently in the then-major daily sports paper Le Vélo (The Bike), whose editor, Pierre Giffard, was just as passionately pro-Dreyfus.

De Dion, who happened to be the biggest advertiser in Le Vélo, was so infuriated, he pulled his ads and persuaded fellow advertisers Adolphe Clément and Edouard Michelin to found a rival sports paper, L’Auto-Vélo. After Giffard sued, the name became simply L’Auto. L’Auto was failing, and so, in desperation, a meeting was held regarding what could be done to save it. The solution, creating the biggest, longest bicycle race, ironically was the suggestion of a reporter poached from Le Vélo. The race’s antisemitic purpose was explicit in the announcement that sending “strong, uncomplicated men” all over France would be done with the same force with which Émile Zola defended “the plowman” (a derisive reference to Zola’s brave, historic defense of Dreyfus, “J’accuse…!”). Outside of that reference, L’Auto made a policy of no politics in its pages. The 1903 Tour de France was such a sensation that it put Le Vélo out of business and L’Auto became France’s major sports daily.

Ironically, after the liberation in 1944, L’Auto itself was charged with treasonous collusion with the enemy. The government seized the rights to both the paper and the Tour de France. The editor, however, was permitted to publish a new paper, L’Équipe (The Team). Charles de Gaulle allowed L’Équipe to regain the rights to the Tour de France, reportedly because the only alternatives had communist ties, and because right-winger Philippe Amaury, a member of the Résistance, defended the editor against charges of Nazi collaboration. His reward? L’Équipe — still France’s major sports paper — became part of his media empire, Éditions Philippe Amaury, and EPA’s subsidiary Amaury Sport Organization currently runs the Tour de France, as well as other sports events.

If there was any doubt of the continuing divisiveness over L’Affaire Dreyfus” when Socialist French President François Mitterrand commissioned a statue of Alfred Dreyfus in 1985, the minister of defense refused to install it in the intended location, the École Militaire.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tour De France, Pierre Giffard, Le Velo, L'Auto, French Republic, Emile Loubet, Dreyfus Affair, Count De Dion, Bike, Auto

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.