Like many who have an interest in cycling, this time of year is rather special. July is when the most prestigious of the Grand Tour cycling events takes place and arguably one of the worlds greatest annual sporting events – the Tour de France. Therefore, as a philatelist, the featured stamp has to be one of my favourites too!
The 12f stamp was issued in 1953 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Tour de France and features two cyclists, the one of the left in the typical attire of a 1903 competitor and the one on the right in the more modern attire of 1953. The map of France in the centre is overlaid with the Tour de France routes of 1903 and 1953 respectively, although this can be a little difficult to decipher.
The event was first held in 1903 as a publicity stunt for a newspaper, L’Auto, and has been held annually since then apart from breaks during the two World Wars (between 1915-1918 and 1940-1946). The first event was won by Maurice Garin, with many competitors dropping out after the first few stages arguing that it was far too punishing. It was questionable whether the event would even make it past it’s second anniversary. The 1904 was beset with claims of cheating, sabotage and even evidence that riders were beaten up by rival gangs of fans as they neared the top of the col de la République.
Today, the Tour de France is one of the three Grand Tour events which also includes the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. Each of the Grand Tour events comprise 21 stages. Whilst the format of the Tour de France has changed over time, the most coveted classification is the general classification awarded to the rider with the lowest cumulative time over all stages. The leader in this classification is awarded a yellow jersey – a throw-back to the original sponsor, L’Auto, that was printed on yellow paper.
The featured stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris who created more than 500 vignettes for various postal services, notably France and African colonies. Decaris is noted as one of the best French engravers of the 20th century and his designs are certainly memorable. Bizarrely, Decaris was himself an Olympian – he was the last person to ever win a Gold Medal for ‘Etching and Engraving’ at the 1948 Olympic Games held in London!
In 2003, France issued a colourful set of stamps to commemorate the centenary of the Tour de France. On 11th July this year, France issued a single stamp in honour of the Tourmalet, a pass in the Pyrenees which is one of the most popular climbs to feature in the Tour. Surprisingly, the Tour de France perhaps features more often on the stamps of neighbouring countries, most notably Andorra and Monaco.
To view postal issues of France, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.