The Tour de France is a beloved tradition in France dating back to 1903, when a bicycle race was first organized to increase newspaper sales. It has since become one of the most prestigious and popular sporting events in the world. Usually spanning a period of 3 weeks in July and August, it covers a distance of approximately 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) and is divided into 21 stages. Every year, cyclists from all over the world travel to France to compete, and millions of people line up along the route to watch.
As the race has been held for almost 100 years, many people who grew up in France have fond childhood memories of watching it — and some of those memories were caught on camera. Below, we’re excited to share some beautiful memories from MyHeritage users with stories about Tour de France in decades past.
La Villedieu-Les-Poêles (Manche), 1949
Sara Picazo unearthed a couple of old family photos dating back to 1949. “While searching through my memories, I remembered some old photos I had from my maternal grandfather, Maurice Lottin,” says Sara. “I took them out of an album and saw on the inscriptions on the back that they were taken during the Tour de France in 1949 in La Villedieu-Les-Poêles (Manche). But I wonder how my grandfather could have been there, since he lived in Versailles his whole life. I asked my mother for an explanation and she knew absolutely nothing about it.”
“She was always amazed to see these photos because she didn’t know her father loved cycling so much, though she does recall that as a child, he told her from time to time about some cyclists’ exploits,” says Sara. “Still, we were not fans of cycling in the family. We never watched the Tour de France on television together.”
Sara recognizes her grandfather’s handwriting in the inscriptions on the back, and they indicate that the photos feature two stars of the Tour de France of 1949: Custodio Dos Reis and Jean Robic. “I knew nothing about them, so I looked them up on the internet. In short, they were cycling hotshots,” says Sara. She used MyHeritage In Color and the Photo Enhancer to colorize and enhance the photos.
“Thanks for giving me the opportunity to search for my grandfather’s old photos. I learned even more about him and about the 1949 Tour de France.”
The Pyrenees, c. 1952
Colette Fontanié used to watch the Tour as a child when a stage of the race passed through the Pyrenees. She shared this photo of herself with her family members waiting for the peloton (large group of cyclists riding together) in 1952 or 1953.
“We followed the Tour de France,” recalls Colette. “Our parents regularly took us to a pass in the mountains. Anquetil, Darrigade, and Bahamontes are names that still resonate in my mind.”
Pierre Boillon shared this photo taken by his father, Roger Boillon, when the race passed through their hometown, Bar-sur-Aube, in front of Pierre’s parents’ charcuterie.
“The whole family was at the window. I am the little boy with the cap,” says Pierre.
Pierre explains that he had just been released from the hospital, where he had almost died after a medical error, and spent several weeks on an IV drip. “My favorite was Jean Robic, who unfortunately had to retire after an accident,” Pierre recalls. “Louison Bobet won the Tour that year. An unforgettable memory for me.”
Near Tourbes, 1954
Jean Malafosse shared this beautiful memory from the Tour de France, also taken in 1954:
“The photo was taken by a Tour de France photographer in 1954,” says Jean. “That was the year that Le Guilly and Bobet were both in the Tour. The photo appeared in a cycling magazine in 1979. It was my father who recognized it. The place is located at the junction of the Route Nationale 113, around 1.5 kilometers past the village of Tourbes. That village is near Pézenas, in the Hérault,” Jean explains.
“The smiling grandpa with the hat on the end of the cane would be my grandfather Louis Malafosse,” says Jean. “Under the hat, in front of the guy in front of the tree, is my uncle Louis. The little kid in white sitting between his father’s legs is Michel Arrufat, my cousin. His father, Barthélémy Arrufat, the husband of my aunt Marie Malafosse, Arrufat by marriage. Barthélémy tragically died in a work accident in 1957.”
La Baule-Escoublac, 1965
Jean-Luc Magré shared this memory from the Quimper-La Baule stage in 1965:
“That Sunday, June 27, 1965, part of my family gathered on the road to La Baule-Escoublac airport to watch the passage of the Tour de France,” recalls Jean-Luc. “This bike race was and still is a very popular event.”
Sitting near the airport gave the kids room to run around and relax. “We were 7 or 8 kilometers from the finish line,” says Jean-Luc. “The cyclists pass by very quickly. A Dutch rider, Johan de Roo, broke away to take the lead, which thrilled my uncle Rudolf, my aunt Marie (who took the photo) and my cousin Renee, who were on vacation from Rotterdam in Holland. We all applauded him. He had only a short lead. The peloton passed very quickly and we applauded them too. We left after they passed. We learned later that he was overtaken and the stage was won by a Belgian, Guido Reybrouck.”
“In the previous generation of the Magré family, there was a family member who was a local cycling champion, Edouard Magré de Pontchâteau. The family often spoke about him,” says Jean-Luc. “My father had participated in bicycle races and so had his two older brothers. The Tour de France has always been a passion for the family. Whenever it passed nearby, we would go to see it. Once the tour arrived in our city, Saint-Nazaire. It was an opportunity to see the champions up close and ask for autographs.”
“Watching the Tour de France pass by requires perspective and patience,” explains Jean-Luc. “You have to find a good vantage point. To do so, you need to arrive early and then wait for the cyclists to pass. Sometimes we would use the opportunity to have a picnic. Before the cyclists pass, there is an advertising caravan promoting brands and products, and sometimes they would distribute samples. Then, in a few seconds, the cyclists rode past. We would recognize some of them — the champions first, then sometimes the regional champions.”
Near Limoges, 1967
Hélène Laclie shared this lovely photo from the 1967 Tour de France:
“My mother, Nicole Griffault, is applauding on the right, with me in her lap,” says Hélène. “I was barely one year old at the time.”
The photo was taken by her father, Maurice Cogneau, near Limoges. “My parents are both deceased,” she says. “All I have is the photo — no further explanation.”
Christian Polfliet shared several photos of the leaders during the Forest-Roubaix stage of the 1968 Tour de France, when the Tour passed through the district of La Roue, in the community of Anderlecht.
“That year, the Tour passed through our neighborhood,” recalls Christian. “My father and I went to the course about two hundred yards from the house. We lived in a small house similar to those seen in the photos, with a small garden in the front and another in the back. I lived there with my parents as an only child.”
“I must have been 12 at the time, and watching the Tour pass by was the big event of the beginning of summer vacation,” says Christian. “We were cycling enthusiasts, but we weren’t going to miss this show!”
The street was very straight, so the cyclists passed at high speed. “Luckily, my dad had time to take pictures!”
Christian points out that the church in the background is where he was baptized and made his first communion. “It is also in this church that my parents had their funeral masses, in 1974 and in 2006,” he says. “I stayed in the same city, but in a neighborhood located more in the countryside, where we built a house. My wife and I have lived there for 33 years. Our two children, now aged 40 and 35, left home long ago, but come back regularly to visit with our grandchildren, who are 12 and 8.”
Bruno Tesson immortalized a key moment in the 1978 Tour de France: “After purchasing a motor (3 frames per second) for my camera, I went to Cours Léopold in Nancy to inaugurate it at the Tour de France,” says Bruno. “The day was July 21, 1978, and it was the arrival of the 20th stage: a time trial from Metz to Nancy. It was Bernard Hinault’s first Tour de France and he was the big favorite at this stage of the race. Many people had gathered to see the expected hero, so it was difficult to sneak in and get a good vantage point. The jubilant crowd shouted his name to encourage him.”
He captured two photos of Bernard Hinault’s arrival, escorted by several press motorbikes. Joaquim Agostinho, who Bernard Hinault would overtake in the seconds that followed, appears in the foreground in the first photo:
Hinault went on to finish in the lead in this time trial — and to win the Tour for the first time.
Bruno recalls that he was squatting to get this perfect shot, and a spectator pulled him back by the collar at the last moment so he wasn’t hit by one of the press motorbikes.
“Thank you for allowing me to dive 44 years back in my memories,” says Bruno.
Valérie Sabries-Vives shared with us a beautiful postcard she inherited from her grandfather. The photo was taken in front of an “Au Tour de France” bicycle shop in June 1914 — the last Tour de France before World War I.
“This photo was taken in Aude, a village south of Carcassonne,” says Valérie. “My grandfather participated in amateur bicycle races before the war. He was one of the first to be called up, as he was from the class of 1914, born in 1894.”
Valérie’s grandfather survived the war despite being wounded and gassed during active duty. After he returned, he married Valérie’s grandmother.
“This is the only photo I have of him as an athlete,” says Valérie. “He loved sports, especially cycling and rugby.”
Do you own any family photos that document key moments from history? We’d love to see them! Please share them with us using this form, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Source: My Heritage