A complete guide to understanding the Tour de France

Over the years, as a tradition in many countries, people have been riding bicycles in groups exploring various scenes and astounding places mother nature have to offer. Biking is much more amusing when it is being done in a form of competition as people may argue or rather want to know who is the best rider among the group of riders.

It is for that reason that several bicycle riding competitions have since been introduced to give bicycle riders an important platform to compete. Of all the platforms, the Tour de France is without a doubt the most outstanding and highly respected bike riding competition in the world.

road bike hub
Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock

What is it?

Also known as “Le Grande Boucle” or “Le Tour”, Tour de France is the world’s largest annual sporting event. It’s a cycling competition that is held in France every year (sometimes neighboring countries) and takes place in 21 stages with a course that covers approximately 3,500 kilometers.

This is the World Cup, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup of bicycle racing. Cyclists from around the world gather in France to compete for the chance win the prestigious Tour de France trophy and a cash prize of €450,000 (just over $500,000).

This is a sport that garners 3.5 billion television viewers, and over 12 million spectators annually. It’s a thrilling sport and is completely free to attend.

How Does It Work?

Tour de France is a team sport that features a total of 198 cyclists in 22 teams of nine. Over the course of 21 days, usually in July, cyclists cover a race course extending 3,500 kilometers.

Tour de France is split into 21 stages: Nine flat stages, three hilly stages, seven mountain stages (including five summit finishes), two individual time trials and two rest days.

One stage is performed every day, covers roughly 225 kilometers, and takes about five and a half hours to complete. Each stage has a winner, and the rider that completes the most stages in the shortest amount of time goes onto win the overall title.

What Strategies Should I Look For?

Breakaways — Riders are very strategic, and don’t cycle as fast as they can throughout the race. They tend to cycle in a main group called a peloton, and have smaller groups break away to the front at almost every stage. The peloton will allow cyclists to stay ahead for a few minutes before rejoining them when they have lost momentum. Breakaways are a great method to use if a cyclist is not an exceptional climber or sprinter, because it gives them a chance at victory.
Attacks — Attacks frequently occur on climbs, and involve a rider abruptly breaking away from the peloton at an extremely high speed in hopes that the other riders won’t be able to keep up with them.
Sprinters — A sprinter is a cyclist that finishes a race by suddenly accelerating to a high speed, and often uses the slipstream of an individual cyclist or a group of cyclists in order to conserve energy.
Lead-out Trains — This is a strategy used to setup a rider for a sprint finish. One rider on the team rides at a very high speed, and the team’s sprinter follows close behind to benefit from their slipstream. This reduces wind resistance, and enables the sprinter to achieve faster speeds without using as much energy as they normally would.

What Do Jersey Colors Represent?

Courtesy of Shutter Stock
Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock

Cyclists from the same team wear the same colored jersey, but a select few wear special jerseys.

A yellow jersey is worn by the race’s leader. A green jersey is worn by the top sprinter. A white jersey is worn by the most impressive rider, 25 and under. A red and white polka-dot jersey is worn by the best climber.

The current national road champions get to wear their team’s jersey that also features their country’s colors, and the reigning World Champion gets to wear their team colors on a jersey with horizontal stripes throughout the race.

What Are Some Of The Terms Used?

Grand Départ — The first stage of Tour de France.
Peloton — French for “group.” Peloton is the main group of cyclists who ride together for coherence.
Breakaway — A rider or group of riders who have broken away to lead the race.
Slipstreaming — Riding close behind another rider in order to benefit from almost no air resistance.
Bonking — Also known as “hit the wall.” This when a rider has completely run out of energy.
Domestique — Every team has a leader, and the remaining riders (domestiques) support the leader in whatever way they can in order for them to win stages, accumulate points and hopefully win the tour.
Directeur Sportif — Each team has a director, known as directeur sportif, that follows riders during the race and gives them instructions, water, helps with mechanical issues and replaces damaged bikes.
Flamme Rouge — French for “red flag” this is used to indicate the last kilometer of the race.
Lanterne Rouge — French for “red light” this is the last rider in the general classification/the tour. This is not a dishonorable term.
Musket Bag — A shoulder bag containing food and water that is handed to riders at feeding stations.
SAG Wagon — A vehicle that follows cyclists and picks them up when they can no longer ride due to injury, fatigue, biking failure, and also carries gear.

Where Can I Watch the Tour de France?

Over 188 countries in the world broadcast the Tour de France and over 3.5 billion people watch it annually, so it will not be hard to find a channel. You will probably be able to watch it on the sports channels your cable carries. If not, the most reliable option would be to watch Tour de France on NBC Sports.

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