“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
-H. G. Wells
Mr. Wells will not be despairing for the world come the fourth of July as that is the beginning of the three week long Tour de France. Men from various nations will ride approximately 2,200 miles on bicycle because they presumably do not know about France’s extensive railway system.
To be fair, the riders will not need the LGV as they will average a crisp 30 mph, sprint at 40 mph, and throw themselves down mountains (e.g the Alps) at 50 mph. I will be the first to admit cycling races can be a little boring, but for those willing to give them a chance, you will be rewarded with the fastest, most tactic field sport available. It is a chess match at 30 mph. The race is broadcast live on Versus, but if you do not have a desire to wake up at 0700 to watch it, Versus reairs it frequently and you can always catch highlights and results on Le Tour de France’s website.
Timing Is Everything
Cycling is similar to other racing events in that the person with the best time overall is the winner. It is unique though, because the person with the best time may never once cross the finish line first. The stage, the course the cyclists ride for any given day, is won by the person who crosses the finish line first. The rider’s time is recorded and tallied over the three week event. A rider could perpetually come in second place and have a great time and beat out the other riders. In 1990,, Greg Lemond did not win a stage, but he did win the overall Tour de France.
All The World Is A Stage
The stages are run in various ways. There are individual time trial events where the cyclist rides the course by himself and races against the clock. There are also team time trial events where a team e.g Lance Armstrong’s team Astana races against the clock. Time trial bikes are over-engineered to be aerodynamic – they look like wings were welded to a pair of wheels. Most stages are mass start stages: everyone rides the course together. In a mass start stage, every rider rolls along until a flag is waved to signify the start, then the riders race and use cunning tactics to propel their teammates to a stage victory. Additionally, if a cyclist finishes with a group of cyclists they are all awarded the same time for the stage. This timing system prevents mass sprints and riders fighting for the benign 37th place and possibly causing injury.
No I in Team
You do not win the race on your own. Lance won the Tour seven times because he had eight team mates sacrificing their bodies to make him athlete of the year. Team mates will do things like trying to set a pace for their top rider, attack break aways (riders who get away from the main group), and do other things like bring water bottles to the team. Riders who specialize in service to other riders are called domestiques.
Winning Isn’t Everything
Winning the Tour is quite a feat, winning a stage is quite a feat for that matter, but what if a rider cannot do either? Well, there are other areas to compete. If the rider excels at accelerating then he can compete for the points classification. Riders who are adept at sprinting will try and cross a sprint marker first in order to accrue points. The rider with the most points leads the points or sprint classification. There is also the mountain classification. The rider climbs as quickly as he can to a mountain check point to earn points for the King of the Mountains title.
How does one keep track of the overall first place rider and other classifications? Easy – the Tour color codes everything. The overall leader, called the general classification (GC), wears a yellow jersey called the maillot jaune (pronounced like Mellow John). The points leader wears a green jersey called the maillot vert. The king of the mountains gets the swankiest looking jersey. It is white with red polka dots and is known as the maillot a pois rouges.
Tour De France For Polyglots
Clearly, the jersey names are uninspired, which is fitting because the rest of the vocabulary is as well. The main group of riders are called the peloton which is French for platoon. In addition to Jerry Lewis movies, the French also like movies with Charlie Sheen. The peloton may also be referred to as the main group, the field, or the bunch. If a group of riders slips away from the peloton, they are called a breakaway. If a group spawns from the peloton to chase the breakaway, they are called the chase group. What about the guys in last who only give 100% instead of 110%? They are called the gruppetto or autobus and if they do not finish within a certain percentage of the stage winner then they may be disqualified from the race. If you share H. G. Wells’s views on humanities, then I hope you will enjoy watching Le Tour de France: it’s high speed chess in spandex.