It’s July. That means one thing to me. The Tour de France! The greatest cycle race in the world – and three weeks of watching the highlights each evening!
It’s not secret that I enjoy cycling – and that I have passed that on to at least one of my children. It’s also fair to say that he shows considerably more talent and physical ability than me.
I started watching the Tour de France (and the Vuelta a España) in around 2011 or 2012. I’m not sure which but 2012 was the year when Team GB and Team Sky’s success started to switch Britons on to cycling and I think it was before then. I remember the discovery that it was more than just a race to see who is fastest around a course. There are actually several races happening at once. Then there are the team dynamics – who is working with whom to achieve what outcome. It’s a team sport and and individual sport, all rolled up in one. And the three “Grand Tours” (Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España) are huge spectacles, each with 21 stages over three weeks…
In the Tour de France there are several competitions:
- the overall leader in the general classification (shortest cumulative time since the start of the event) is awarded the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) and he wears that for the next day.
- the leading young rider (under 26) is awarded the maillot blanc (white jersey).
- the rider with most points gained for mountain-top positions (based on the difficulty of the climbs) wears the red and white polka dot jersey.
- the rider with most points in the points competition (intermediate sprints, finish positions, etc.) wears the maillot vert (green jersey).
The other grand tours have similar systems but the jersey colours vary.
There are also prizes for the most combative rider, and a team classification. Put those things together and the dynamics of the race are many and varied.
I watch the Tour de France on ITV – mostly because I like the production style of their coverage. In previous years, the highlights programme has featured quiz questions at the start and end of each advertising segment but this year it’s little facts about the race and the sport – which is steeped in history. I’ve collected some and posted them here, along with a few extras I added myself.
|Autobus||A group of riders (typically non climbers) who ride together on mountain stages aiming to finish within the time limit.|
|Baroudeur||A rider who attacks the race from the start in order to show off their sponsor and try their luck in winning the stage.|
|Barrage||Race officials impede the progress of team cars when they could affect the outcome of the race.|
|Bonk||A sudden loss of energy, cause by depletion of gycogen stores in the liver and muscles. Usually caused by a lack of proper fuelling.|
|Blocking||When riders of leading teams ride the width of the road to control the peloton’s speed, to ensure that no more riders join the breakaway.|
|Breakaway||A group of riders who have managed to ride off the front of the race, leaving a clear gap.|
|Broom wagon||A support vehicle following the race, that may pick up riders unable to continue. First introduced in 1910.|
|Bunny hop||To cause one’s bicycle to become airborne momentarily. Usually performed to avoid pavements.|
|Cadence||The rate at which a cyclist pedals (in revolutions per minute). High cadence is typical in climbers.|
|Chasse patate||French for “hunting potatoes”. A rider caught between breakaway and peloton, pedals furiously but makes little headway.|
|Circle of Death||A Pyrenean stage including the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque. Dubbed the “Circle of Death” in 1910.|
|Coup de chacal||The “Jackal Trick”. A surprise attack in the last few kilometres to detach from the peloton and win the race.|
|Danseuse||(French: danser – to dance.) Riding out of the saddle, standing up, and rocking side-to-side for leverage.|
|Derailleur||The gear-shifting device which is controlled with a lever on the handlebars or frame. First permitted at the Tour de France in 1937.|
|Domestique||A rider whose job is to support other riders in their team, typically carrying water (literally “servant” in French).|
|Dossard||Race number attached to the back of a competitor’s jersey. If not visible then fines will ensue.|
|Drafting||The ride close behind another rider or vehicle using their slipstream to reduce wind resistance and required effort.|
|Echelon||A diagonal, stagger line of riders in single file. An echelon is formed to save energy when riding in a strong crosswind. The Belgian teams are considered the masters of riding in an echelon.|
|Feed zone||A designated area for soigneurs and other helpers to hand out food and water to riders.|
|Flamme rouge||The red flag suspended over the road to confirm that the finish line is one kilometre away.|
|Full gas||Riding as hard as possible, which can leave on needing recovery, and vulnerable to attack.|
|Hors catégorie||A term applied to the hardest climbs on the Tour. A climb that is literally beyond category.|
|Hors délai||Literally “out of time” – a rider finishing outside the time limit is eliminated from the race. Typically occurs on a mountain stage.|
|King of the mountains||The leader of the mountain classification. First sponsored in 1975 by Chocolate Poulain whose chocolate bars were covered in a polka dot wrapper.|
|Lanterne Rouge||French for “red lantern”, as found at the end of a railway train, and the name given to the rider placed last in a race.|
|Magic spanner||The scenario where a mechanic appears to be adjusting a rider’s bike from the support car. The reality is the rider is usually using the team car to rest of get back to the peloton.|
|Maillot jaune||Yellow jersey. Firs introduced as the colour of the leader’s jersey in 1919. Yellow was the colour of L’Auto newspaper.|
|Musette||French for a farm horse’s nosebag. Small cotton shoulder bag, contains food and drink given to riders in a feed zone.|
|Muur||Dutch for wall. A short, steep climb. Muur de Huy is one of the more famous examples, last used in the Tour in 2015.|
|Palmares||The list of races a rider has won. (French, meaning list of achievements.)|
|Panache||Style or courage. Displayed by breaking away, remounting after a crash or riding whilst suffering injuries.|
|Parcours||The profiles of the race or stage route in French.|
|Pavé||Road made of cobblestones. Significantly cobbled stages have featured 6 times in the Tour de France since 2020.|
|Pedalling squares||Riding with such fatigue that the rider is unable to maintain an efficient pedalling form that is strong and smooth.|
|Peloton||A group of cyclists that are coupled together through the mutual energy benefits of drafting, whereby cyclists follow others in zones of reduced air resistance.|
|Pull||To take a “pull” is to ride at the front of the peloton or group. Usually done in short bursts, it requires immense power and endurance.|
|Road rash||The cuts, scratches and bruises that riders pick up after a fall or crash.|
|Rouleur||A cyclist who is comfortable riding on both flat and rolling terrain. A powerful rider, they can drive the pace along for hours.|
|Soigneur||The French term for “healer” who usually specialises in giving the riders post-race massages. A soigneur will also look after the riders’ non-racing needs.|
|Souplesse||The art of perfect pedalling that gives the rider a smooth and efficient style on the bike.|
I’m not suggesting that readers of this blog will suddenly become cycling fans but maybe you’ll understand a little more about how it works when, later this weekend, the Tour de France culminates in a sprint on Paris’ Avenue Des Champs-Élysées and the overall prizes are awarded. And, if nothing else, enjoy the scenery along the rest of the route to Paris!
Featured image: author’s own – a still from the video taken when I was a Tour de France marshall in 2014!