Does anyone know if the TDF has always run on the team system? Was there ever a time when 200 riders just took off and rode like mad as independents. I'm asking because the older pictures of the TDF that I've seen have guys with inner tubes strapped around their shoulders and frequent stops for a nice glass of bordeaux. Plus, The Ford model A (or its Fiat equivalent) probably didn't make too good of a support vehicle.
Yes always team. Cycling is a team sport. No one man can do it alone. However tactics were different in say the 20s than today.
At one point it was not commercial teams but nations. It was pretty this way and word of making this happen again were talked about but sponsors would never allow. Even the Worlds is slowly commercializing with riders wearing their team bibs and slowly team sponsors on jerseys.