It’s nearly that time of year again! On Saturday 4th July, nearly 200 of the world’s best road cyclists will be leaving Utrecht for the Grand Départ of the Tour de France! If you don’t know your feed zone from your maillot jaune, this guide is for you!
The Tour follows a different route every year, often starting outside France and always finishing on the Champs-Élysées. Over the 23 days in between, the peloton will ride up and down mountains, over flat stages, and sometimes even across cobbles in their trip around L’Hexagone (another name for France – used due to its hexagonal shape!). The race alternates between going clockwise and anti-clockwise around France, to keep the riders from getting dizzy.
The shape of the race
Most of the racing takes place over long stages, where everyone is on the road together and racing for various points along the course – as well as the finish! However, there are also individual time trials. Here, riders will be on their own, racing against the clock on a much shorter course. Normally, there’ll be a time trial at the start of the Tour called the prologue.
There’s also usually a team time trial, where whole teams will race together one team at a time. In these stages, you’ll see riders using special aerodynamic kit, for as much speed as possible.
Dress for success
There are a few different competitions during the Tour, and the current leader of each competition is presented with a coloured jersey to wear each day. This shows who’s winning (at that stage of the race). The riders who get to wear the jerseys often change a lot over the course of the race, making the Tour really exciting to watch!
- The yellow jersey, or maillot jaune – Arguably the most famous jersey in cycling, the yellow jersey represents the overall leader of the Tour. The leader is found by adding together the time a rider takes to finish each stage. The rider with the lowest overall time is the winner, and gets the jersey!
- The green jersey, or maillot vert (often called the sprinter’s jersey or points jersey) – Points are awarded for being the first rider across the line during each stage and across certain points in stages decided by the organisers. More points are awarded for this competition on flat stages, so you’ll normally see the more muscly sprinters battling it out to get across the line first.
- The polka dot jersey, or maillot à pois rouge – This is for the ‘mountains’ classification. The rules are the same as the green jersey, but apply for the tops of climbs. The harder the climb, the more points you can win! You can’t carry much extra weight if you want to go uphill fast, so this jersey is definitely for the skinny boys!
There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’!
There are loads of different team tactics and types of teams in the Tour. For example, some teams might be more worried about the green jersey, and try and make sure their sprinter gets to the end of the race (and the sprint points) in a good position and – more importantly – in one piece. We’re going to focus on the yellow jersey. Here’s our quick guide on how to win the Tour de France:
- Keep your lead rider fresh! – Decide amongst yourselves who’s going to go for the win, and give him some helpers! That might mean using other riders to give him a slipstream (by riding in front of him and keeping him out of the wind), fetching his bottles, or even giving him your bike if he’s in a bit of a tight spot.
- Clean your plate – As well as finding a faithful domestique to be your waiter when the going gets tough, make sure you’re stuffing your face whenever you can. Eat little and often to keep from feeling bloated and keep going. You can always find a snack at a feed zone (dedicated areas where team helpers hold out musettes – which are cloth bags – full of goodies), but otherwise you’re going to need to head back to the team car!
- Stay out of trouble – As you’ve probably discovered at some point in your life, falling off a bike is not helpful for cycling performance. Keep your man near the front of the race, out of the way of crashes.
- Don’t let them out of your sight! – Remember, the other teams are trying to do the same as you! If you see their guys riding away, help chase them down! If your team are riding away, don’t help everyone else to catch up. You might frustrate your rivals a bit, but that’s racing.
- Human after all – Remember, even Tour winners are only human. They can’t attack the race every single day, so make sure that nobody else puts the moves on them while they’re vulnerable! Scupper the other teams’ attacks and give your main man a chance to rest. That might mean catching them up before they break away from the peloton, or it might mean breaking away with them – and then staying at the back and not doing any work!
Of course, there’s more to it than that, but our phone is already ringing off the hook from all the directeurs sportifs who need some advice! We hope this guide has given you a head start on understanding what you’re looking at on the TV.
If you’ve got all the knowledge, and are only a bike away from taking the yellow jersey for yourself, head over to our site for loads of great cycling deals. They’ll be going on all through the Tour!