How to Understand the Tour de France

By Contributor

The Tour de France is, without a doubt, the single most prestigious and well known bicycling race in the world. While riding a bike in a race may seem like a simple undertaking, multi-stage races such as the Tour are amazingly complex events requiring an extreme level of fitness. There are many races going on within the overall context of the Tour. This article will help you understand the complexities of the Tour de France.

Watch bicycle racing. Only by following the sport can you get an understanding and appreciation of the Tour de France.

Learn about the yellow jersey, or the "maillot jaune." The yellow jersey (and a plush lion) is awarded at the end of every stage to the rider who is in the overall lead. Although many riders will wear the yellow jersey throughout the course of the event, there are generally only a few riders who are serious contenders to win in Paris.

Learn about the green jersey. This jersey is awarded to the rider who is the best sprinter. There are several mini-races during each stage. The riders who hit these points first are awarded sprinter's points. Whoever has the most sprinter's points at any stage wears the green jersey. Sprinters are generally very slow in the mountain stages.

Learn about the polka-dot jersey. These jersey is awarded to the rider who is the "King of the Mountains." These riders are rarely contenders for the overall lead. Points are awarded to the rider who reaches the top of the climb first. Whoever has the most climber's points wears this jersey. Climbers have a different mentality than most other riders.

Learn about the white jersey. This jersey is awarded to the best young rider. This rider must be under 25 on January 1st of the year of the race. The jersey is awarded based on the riders' times.

Learn about the "prix de combativité." This award goes to the most aggressive rider throughout each stage. It is a more subjective prize, and it usually given to the rider who has been most animated and aggressive and has done the most to stand out. It is indicated by the racer's number. Every other rider will bear a number that is black-on-white, while the aggressive rider's number will be white numbers on a red background.

Understand the team prizes. Each day, the teams are assessed based on the three best riders of each team. Whichever team has done the best wears numbers that are black-on-yellow, as opposed to black-on-white.

Understand the peloton. This word refers to the main body of racers. The peloton is able to use drafting technique to reduce the workload of cutting through the air. There may be more than one peloton at any given time.

Understand breakaways. Breakaways refer to small groups or solo riders who ride ahead of the main peloton. They may be hoping to win the stage, trying to score points in one of the other classifications or may be making a strategic move.

Understand team leaders and "domestiques." Team leaders are riders who have the most to gain and the greatest ability to perform during the tour. Domestiques are riders whose role it is to carry water for the leaders, ride in front of the leaders to allow them to rest, and run away in breakaways for strategic reasons. "Domestique" is the French word for servant.

Understand drafting technique. Drafting is tremendously important in cycling. If you are drafting with a group, you can reduce your workload by as much as 70%.

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