I have summarised an interesting article by David Walker, Professor at the University of Sheffield, He goes back to the origin of the Tour de France and highlights its social and political role in French history.
The Tour de France was born with the beginning of the 3rd French Republic and was used as a propaganda machine to unify France and build a modern France with strong symbols. It was also around that time that many modern symbols such as the national day and the national song, the Marseillaise were adopted. Founders of the Tour made it their mission to bind the country. According to David Walker, the Tour de France was intended to be a way of announcing both the unification and the significance of France.
The Tour de France was not really complete as it didn't go around the whole country. This is because the region Alsace Lorraine was lost after its defeat in the Franco-Prussian war and was therefore simply avoided. In 1906, the organisers managed to cross the border and the cyclists would sing the national song Marseillaise to encourage French nationalism in a region that was once under German occupation.
It is clear that the Tour de France aimed to unite France, both Southern and Northern France, showing the country in terms of his geographical and climatological diversity.
In addition, the alternate between long flat stages and challenging climbs up into the Alps and the Pyrenees put the cyclists to the test pushing the human body to its limits. This is part of the heroic symbolism and mythology that underpins the Tour de France every year. The race is still a challenge in the 21st Century and in the early days, the race was described as the Tour of suffering. The conditions were extreme. Riders would stay on the saddle for 18 hours and often needed to start the race in the middle of the night. The intention of the organisers was to ensure that not everyone finished the race.
A Journalist at the time describe the Tour de France as the Tour de souffrance- tour of suffering and riders being the forcats de la route, the convicts of the road.
Despite the conditions being less harsh today, that mythology surrounding the race has remained in France and the Tour continues to push the endurance of all participants.