Saturday, 9 July 2011

A Beginners Guide to The Tour de France

Someone at work recently asked me to explain how the Tour de France works to them.  They thought it was a big race (true), where every rider sets off and then however goes over the line first wins (not true).  So, this short article is for the pure beginner, with basic information.  So, here is my two minute guide to the Tour de France.  It doesn't cover everything, but will give you the basics.
  1. The race is run over three weeks and has 21 different stages.  Typically, it is around 3200km long (2000M).  2011 is 3,430km.
  2. There are four different colour jerseys in the race awarded each stage to the person who leads the race on a cumulative basis.  Yellow (overall race winner also known as the Maillot Jaune), Green (the person who has picked up the most points at sprint stages during the race also known as the Maillot Vert), Polka Dot (King of the Mountains also known as the Maillot à Pois Rouges) and White (the best young rider or Maillot Blanc).  The Green and Polka Dot jerseys are won by accumulating points, which are awarded in descending value at the nominated stages.  Interestingly, you can be awarded the yellow jersey and not have won any of the stages, it's about being the most consistent cyclist over the 21 days.
  3. Entry is by invitation only.  This year, around 22 teams will participate.  The event is controlled and run by an organisation called the ASO.
  4. Riders of the same team, do not race against each other.  They ride as a team.  Generally speaking, there will be one rider in the team who is the favourite for the yellow jersey and they will all work to ensure he gets it.  Domestiques - as they are called - ride in front of the favoured rider, protecting him from the wind, getting his water bottles, pacing him and donating their own bike - if necessary - following an accident.
  5. Riders within teams do different jobs.  Some are expert climbers, some sprinters, one or two will be expert time triallers, the remainder will be good all rounders, to fulfill the domestique role.  By having a broad range of skills, the team will compete for the different jerseys or use specific riders to deploy tactics.
  6. An award is given to the top team at the end of the Tour.   This is calculated by adding the time of each team's best three riders each day.  Therefore, you can see it is important that the whole team performs as a strong unit.
  7. The overall leader board is called the General Classification or GC.  This is the place you need to be if you want to win the Tour de France.  Riders are shown in order of their total time, with the lowest time at the top.  Normally, there is only a minute or two difference between the top and the bottom of the GC.  Every second counts!
  8. The team manager or Directeur Sportif (DS) drives the team car and dictates the team strategy.   Riders wear earpieces where the DS will dicates team strategy, manage breakaways and communicate upcoming parts of the course.
  9. The large group of riders is referred to as "The Peloton".  This describes the formation of the riders as they whisk along.  By riding as a big group, the riders conserve energy (up to 25% less energy is used when you are riding behind someone else).  Occassionally riders will shoot out of the peloton into a breakaway.  However, the peloton normally catches them.  
  10. The race is hugely tactical.  Just because a rider shoots off from the rest of the group, it doesn't mean he's a threat to the Maillot Jaune.  For some riders, winning one stage of the Tour would be their biggest career achievement, so they'll give everything to win one stage.  Equally, sometimes riders may shoot off to give some TV time to their sponsors in a breakaway, so don't need to be chased down by the main contenders.  The Directeur Sportif is the person in charge of directing how the team rides each stage, it's like a huge game of chess.

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