Updated for the 2015 edition
2015 marks the 102nd edition of the Tour de France. So we thought it might be helpful to update our guide to this great sporting event!
The Tour de France is the oldest and most prestigious cycling stage race in the World. The first Tour de France took place in 1903 with the goal of promoting sales of the magazine L’Auto. The Tour de France has been held annually ever since, with the exceptions of the two World Wars. The TdF (that’s how it will be referred to from now on) is a UCI World Tour event, which means it is open to cycling teams that are ranked as UCI ProTeams (though each year there are a number of ‘wildcard’ entries).
The TdF takes place over three weeks in July with the race consisting of 21 stages. Each stage takes one day to complete, though there are normally two rest days in the three week period, giving the riders and teams a much needed chance to recover a little.
In terms of route, the TdF will sometimes start in another county (Holland in 2015), before heading through Belgium and then back to France. This is an opportunity for spectators in other countries to witness this magnificent spectacle which is the Worlds largest annual sporting event.
For the uninitiated, the TdF can seem a little confusing, the different Jerseys, the tactics, the lead outs. So, here on Cycling New Forest, we have put together a brief guide to help you get the most from this wonderful event.
The race normally covers up to 2,200 miles along a route that takes the race around France. Each stage can cover a distance of up to 225km (140 miles) that is covered in around 5 hours or less. There are a number of different stage types which are:
- Flat stage (when they say ‘flat’ read ‘relatively’!): can often result in sprint finish.
- Hilly stage: more undulated terrain which may not suit the sprinters teams so well. A chance for a breakaway1 to snatch a win
- Time Trial: Each rider completes a set course against the clock. Also known as the ‘race of truth’
- Team Time Trial: Each team completes a time trial course as one team – working together, by taking turns on the front.
- Mountain stage: Each year the Tour heads into the mountains (normally the Alps) and will feature a climb up one or two mountains.These are sometimes known as the “Queen Stages” as this is where the race reaches the highest altitude and can be key in deciding the overall winner of the race. The mountain section of the stage may come at the middle or end of the stage, sometimes both. Don’t for a minute think that the riders just turn up at the foot of a mountain and then climb it on their bikes. They race 100km to get there first.
- The Yellow jersey (Leaders jersey) : This is worn by the rider who has completed the overall distance in the shortest time. This is not necessarily the same as the rider who wins a particular stage (this is the source of much confusion!). It’s yellow because the race was originally organised by L’Auto newspaper which was printed on yellow paper.
- The Green jersey (Points jersey) : Points are awarded at the finish line as well as an intermediate point on the stage. The rider with the most points wears the green jersey.
- The Polka Dot jersey (King of the Mountains jersey) : Points are awarded at the top of climbs and mountain passes. The rider with the most points wears the polka dot jersey.
- The White jersey : This is awarded to the best young rider – 25 years or younger, who has the lowest overall time.
Cycling is a team sport and each of the 22 teams in the Tour de France are made up of 9 riders. Normally a team will consist of a GC (General Classification) rider who is going for the overall win. In addition to this the team may also have a sprinter and as such build up what’s referred to as a “lead out train” to help position the sprinter at the optimal point to go for the finish line – if the stage is set for a sprint finish.
During the stage itself, you’ll often hear commentators talking about ‘attacking’. When a rider attacks, he is accelerating away from the riders around him to try and build up a time gap. He will do this by moving quickly to one side of the road and accelerating hard at the same time. This makes it harder for other riders to follow or to ‘keep on his wheel’. If the attacking rider can do this successfully, he will distance himself from the main group.
If an attack is successful, it will be referred to as ‘the break’. The break may consist of a lone rider or a group of riders, if a group, then they will often try to work together to increase the gap between themselves and the peloton. Most breaks do not reach the finish line, but every now and again it works! A break is great for the sponsors of the teams in it as they gets lots of TV time.
As the stage nears the end, the main group of riders or ‘peloton’ will start to increase the pace to catch the breakaway riders. It’s at this point you will often see the sprinters teams take up the role of pacesetting off the front – the result being that the peloton elongates into a long line. In most cases the peloton will catch the break, though it can be in the last few km of the race. The speed of the peloton at this point will be around the 30mph mark, which, if you’ve every tried to ride your bike at that speed on the flat, you will know how impressive it is.
If you can understand a few of the tactics and whats happening as the race unfolds, you will get much more from it!