History of competitive cycling

Paris - Roubaix 1901
Following the advent of the high-wheeled “ordinaries”, bicycle racing became a very popular, yet quite hazardous activity.
These cumbersome cycles with hard rubber tires and a brake in name only required considerable courage to ride and gave rise to the term “breakneck speed” since a crash often resulted in the rider getting pitched over the front of the wheel, often with devastating results. The desire for even greater speed resulted in ever larger wheel diameters since the only way to get the cycle to go faster was to increase the size of the driving wheel. With front wheels reaching 60 inches in diameter and beyond, a search for a safer design led to the development of the bicycle known as the “safety” which had both wheels of equal size.
Safety bicycle design, pneumatic tires, and the principle of gearing combined to bring bicycle racing to a new level of competition, and soon these bicycles racing on banked wooden tracks became the sensation of the sporting world!
The first documented cycling race was a 1,200 metre race held on May 31, 1868 at the Parc of Saint-Cloud, Paris. It was won by expatriate Englishman Dr. James Moore who rode a bicycle with solid rubber tires. The first cycle race covering a distance between two cities was Paris-Rouen, also won by James Moore, who rode the 123 kilometres dividing both cities in 10 hours and 40 minutes.
Professional bicycle racing in velodromes was an immensely popular spectator sport in the United States with racers like Arthur Zimmerman (one of the world's greatest cycling sprint riders and winner of the first world championship in 1893) and Marshall “Major” Taylor (Taylor was only the second African-American athlete to achieve the level of world championship in 1899 — after boxer George Dixon) receiving the accolades awarded to superstars, their sport of bicycle racing practically the national sport of the United States.
Taylor racing in Paris - 1908
Board track and road racing bicycles of the prewar era have a more relaxed frame geometry as compared to modern race bikes.This made these bikes less responsive, therefore more challenging to handle in tight quarters, however the long wheelbase made the road racing bicycles more stable on the mostly unpaved roads they raced on. Track racing prospered in Europe as well. In 1881 a new form of track racing originated in England – Six Day Racing – where racers rode ordinaries continuously around a cinder track for six days or until fatigue overtook them. The grueling event was soon abandoned in England but was quickly adopted in America where six-day racing was enthusiastically embraced in venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden. In 1899 the single rider competition was outlawed for humanitarian reasons but continued with two man teams racing around the clock for six days.
In Europe, track racing was popular, but it was road racing that captured the imagination of the people. Long distance races from city to city such as the 355 mile (572 km) race from Bordeaux to Paris, or the punishing 795 mile (1280 km) race from Paris to Brest and back to Paris were contested before the turn of the last century. Other races that begun then, such as Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, are still being held to this day, but it was in 1903 that the “race to end all races” was devised, the epic Tour de France.
The most prestigious road race is France's three-week Tour de France, founded in 1903 by newspaper editor Henri Desgrange. Riders compete in a variety of daily stages at distances up to 260 km (162 miles) around France, over the Alps and Pyrenees, and into portions of five neighboring countries. The winner is generally acknowledged as the world's best cyclist. Road races such as the United States' Tour Du Pont, Italy's Giro d'Italia, and Switzerland's Tour of Switzerland are preparatory races for the Tour de France. Other prestigious events are the classics, one-day marathons of about 255 km (158 miles). The top classic is Paris-Roubaix, held in northern France. Others include Italy's Milan-San Remo and Belgium's Het Volk.