Cycling races

Cycling races

  • Cycling race.

    DUCHESNE George

  • Sports festival.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

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Title: Sports festival.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 38.1 - Width 56

Technique and other indications: Print, colored lithograph

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzisite web

Picture reference: 04-509833 / 992.20.15D

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: July 2011

Historical context

When cycling becomes a sport

The end of the 1860s saw the birth of a series of activities linked to the practice of the velocipede. On May 31, 1868, the famous Parisian Company, which manufactures and distributes Michaux-type velocipeds, organized the first cycling race in France in the Saint-Cloud park.

Often organized by sports newspapers, new prestigious races (such as Bordeaux-Paris in 1891 and of course the Tour de France, created in 1903) are contested, making sports cycling more and more popular. In the first quarter of the XXe century, cycle racing has thus become one of the most popular sports, and “cycling” a practice deeply rooted in customs and representations, as evidenced by Cycling race and Sports festival, both born during this "golden age".

Image Analysis

Runners on the track

Made in 1902 by Georges Duchesne, Cycling race is a fairly typical watercolor without great artistic pretension. If the forest landscapes bear witness to a vague impressionist influence, the naivety of the line (see the man's face on the right) and the use of color are more trivial. By playing with the curve drawn by the road, the artist represents a "racing scene". In the distance, two escaped riders, chased by two others coming out of a small peloton of five cyclists. One of them, victim of a fall or a puncture, sets off again, helped by a man (the road is slightly uphill). Like their armbands, the runners' colorful outfits refer to the different teams.

Later, the print Sports festival places cycling in a sort of condensed form of sporting practices. Indeed, this event also brings together footballers, runners, jumpers, but also boat races, and automobile and air competitions (planes and balloons in the sky in the background). The artist thus symbolically suggests the multiplicity of activities that are on the program for this sport and sports festival, as well as a certain modernity (features and equipment of athletes, presence of airplanes). If it takes place in France (more flags and tricolor cockade on the poles in the foreground), the flags of other countries and the different sports jerseys show that this is an international event.


From leisure to competition

Nothing is known about the sporting importance of the event represented in Cycling race. It can indeed be a prestigious competition as well as a "Sunday race" between amateur clubs. The watercolor above all reveals that the “civilian” practice of cycling as a leisure activity was immediately coupled with “competitive” cycling made up of efforts (see the bodies and attitudes of the runners), of teams, of highlights (the breakaway) and technical incidents. A mythology of the race is then set up.

Intended to present (for announcement or for the record) a multisport meeting, Sports festival does not deal specifically with cycling. However, it reveals that cycling has become a sport in its own right and that it naturally has its place among international competitions. Born simultaneously in Europe and the United States at the end of the XIXe century, sports cycling has always brought together runners of all nationalities.

  • sport
  • bike
  • road


Alain CORBIN (dir.), L'Avénement des loisirs (1850-1960), Paris, Aubier, 1995.Pryor DODGE, La Grande Histoire du Vélo, Paris, Flammarion, 1996. Jean DURRY and Ronald HUBSCHER, L'Histoire en mouvement Sport in French society, 19th-20th century, Paris, Armand Colin, 1992.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Cycling races"

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