On Saturday, 5th July, arguably the most grueling of endurance events, the Tour De France begins – I have to confess, before I became involved in triathlon, I had no idea about cycling, and the whole thing looked to me like a huge bunch of skinny guys wearing brightly coloured lycra, riding together for hours on end and then racing the last 30 seconds!.
If this is you, then I urge you to watch what is an extravaganza of endurance, strategy, teamwork, motivation and suffering, with a little bit of luck, both good and bad thrown in at random. See how the teams get their ‘lead out trains’ into position to provide a springboard for the team sprinter to launch his attack, how the domestiques (helpers) will fetch and carry water and nutrition up and down the peleton (main bunch)for the teams ‘star’ rider.
For the uninitiated, here are some fast facts and some basic explanations of some of the basics, including who wears what colour jersey, and why…
The 101st Tour de France will be made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of 3,664 kilometres.
These stages are as follows:
9 flat stages (these are typically the days that end up in crazy sprint finishes)
5 medium mountain stages and 6 high mountain stages – five with a summit finish (these are the days when the tiny guys race up the hills, and the bigger guys hang on for their lives!)
1 individual time-trial stages (an individual race against the clock over a pre-set distance – this year it is 54km – you will never see suffering like it!
2 rest days (these will be the 15th and 21st July)
So who wears what colour jersey – and why?
Yellow jersey – for most, the race’s fabled yellow jersey stands above all else, rewarding the rider who completes the race in the lowest overall time. Contenders must possess a combination of skills in climbing and time trialling, but also be strong enough to hold the pace of the peloton when it is being driven through hostile terrain by teams of rivals determined to drop you at every possible opportunity.
Green jersey – the green jersey rewards the rider who wins the race’s points competition. Although most points are traditionally picked up at the finish of the flatter stages, where the sprinters come into their own, the competition has also been won by riders who have shown the most consistency, picking up points where they can.
Polka dot jersey – won by some of the greatest climbers in cycling, the polka dot jersey rewards the race’s ‘King of the Mountains’ (KOM), the rider who amasses the most points from the numerous categorised climbs throughout the race. Theoretically, the harder the climb, the more points are won. Although often won and coveted by pure climbers, as with the green jersey the most consistent riders in the mountains can also come out on top.
White jersey – for the ambitious all-rounders in the race aged 25 and under, winning the white jersey is like winning the yellow jersey. It is awarded to the rider who completes the race in the lowest overall time.
Most aggressive rider – although largely a token prize, winning the most aggressive rider’s jersey still gets you a podium appearance once the race finishes on the Champs Elysees in Paris. After every stage, excluding time trials, a panel of journalists vote to decide the day’s most aggressive rider. Not necessarily the stage winner, it could be someone who has attacked most, instigated a breakaway or simply been a major factor in the day’s proceedings. There is no jersey for the most combative rider of the previous stage, but he can be recognized from his back number: it is marked with a white number on a red background instead of the usual black on white.
If you’re already a fan of ‘Le Tour’, then like me you’ll already be planning both work and training around the critical stages – it really is that important.
And finally – who will win?? – with all the summit finishes, my money is on last years winner Chris Froome, but as the saying goes, may the best man win.
After 3 weeks, and 3,664 kms of riding, he usually does.
By InnerFight Endurance coach, Neil Flanagan