The Tour de France: A cultural and commercial history

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Michael B. Miller


Tour de France, Bicycle race, Culture, Commerce, France

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | European History | History


This dissertation on the Tour de France bicycle race analyzes how commercial interests influenced the development of popular culture in France in the twentieth century and explores the changing, complex relationship between Paris and the provinces through the prism of business and sport. The Tour was the embodiment of France's love affair with the bicycle. It was also a commercial, for-profit event. This study argues that the interests of the Tour's primary stakeholders--Parisian race organizers, corporate sponsors, media, provincial host towns, and the race's professional stars--shaped the race as an entertainment spectacle from its inception in 1903. The stakeholders' practical business decisions had important cultural ramifications. Historians of France have touched on the commercialization of mass culture early in the twentieth century. This study offers fresh perspectives on this process by exploring more fully the business medium behind mass culture. This study also analyzes this process over the entire course of the last century in order to illustrate that the manner in which business interests interacted with popular culture--and the cultural consequences of their manipulations--evolved significantly over time.

This dissertation also considers the history of the Tour in three of its host-towns--Pau, Strasbourg, and Brest--in order to evaluate the integrative, nation-building function of the annual sporting event. The Tour provides an opportunity to reexamine long-standing characterizations of center-periphery relations and national cultural "assimilation" in modern France. The host-towns' stories demonstrate how changing local commercial and economic imperatives reshaped provincial attitudes toward the nation. This study argues that the creation and adoption of national rituals and traditions was a fluid, uneven, and continual process in which provincial communities often played an active, crucial role.


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