Cycling History 101: Marie Marvingt

Marie Marvingt is better than you. She’s better than all of us. Even if your name happens to be Tim Cook and you’re reading this on a private jet being fed grapes by robots, you’ve lost. The wildest part of it all is that Marie is largely unknown here in the US of A. Searching for her biography, I can only find French and German language editions. There are a few other used and out of print books in which she is merely mentioned in passing. In our hero obsessed culture that seems so odd.

Perhaps that’s because Marie Marvingt’s life is too large for words. I must confess that I don’t really know how to even start this article. I'm writing words and erasing them. Starting over and over... I have no reference point. Her life a language I cannot grasp.

Aah! Well, let’s make a mockery of it! Here I go!

I’m going to tell you one story about Marie Marvingt as it pertains to cycling, and that’s all I’ll say. I can’t imagine that I’m qualified to write about anything else.


The 1908 edition of the Tour de France was the sixth running, and featured a brutal 4,488km (2,782mi) race broken up over 14 stages. Unlike modern grand tours, the stages of the race took place every other day. But this was by no means a crutch, more a testament to the length and difficulty of each day’s route. The 415km (257mi) 13th stage from Brest to Caen was a great example. Georges Passerieu’s winning time of the day was a staggering 16 hours and 23 minutes. With most stages consisting of over 10 hours of ride time, it just wasn’t possible to race each and every day.

Marie Marvingt, an exceptional, multi-faceted and already award winning athlete in several other arenas must have thought to herself, “This sounds great! I love bikes! Next item on the bucket list, be the first women to compete in the Tour de France!”

“You’re a woman, so obviously you can’t do this,” the Tour organizer’s responded to her request. “We’re going to go with a hard NO.”

This wasn’t really a surprising answer. The greatest surprise was what Marie did with the information. In a Phil Liggetesque “show of defiance,” Marie decided to ride every stage of the Tour the day after it was officially contested. Her plan was to complete the exact distance and route alone, not only showing that a woman could accomplish the feat, but also challenging herself and her abilities.


I may have forgotten to mention that Marie’s nickname was “La fiancée du danger.”

As far as monikers go, that one's is pretty good.

And as a true trailblazer, Marie accomplished exactly what she said she would. Official or not, she was the first women to complete the Tour de France. Even better, Marie’s times would have bested several of the male competitors in that 1908 edition of the race. In fact, of the 114 male riders who started, only 36 managed to completed the two-week event.

She was 33 at the time.

Marie was also the first female pilot to ever fly a combat mission. She was the first woman to balloon across the English Channel. She was the first woman to climb many of the mountains in the Alps, and at the age of 15 she canoed 248 miles from Nancy, France to Koblenz, Germany. Even more astonishing, at the age of 86 (two years before her death in 1963), Marie cycled the 200 plus miles from Nancy to Paris.

Marie Marvingt, cycling legend.

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