I sometimes feel like I've been living under a rock. Since I've found myself on numerous occasions skip past the content encompassing a kaleidoscope of cyclists, who battle it out in the land of the Franks. After noticing my tunnel-like vision when it came to sports, it was time to do something about it, resulting in a contrasting change of perspective, thereby broadening my horizons. In doing so, I've decided to take you on a bike ride through this beautiful sport which for most part is hidden under the carpet. So let's pedal to the medal, shall we?
History Of The Game
Henri Desgrange, who was a former champion cyclist and the director-editor of L'auto newspaper, felt melancholic knowing his newspaper wasn't doing well. To Henri's surprise, one of his journalist's who goes by the name of Geo Lefevre had dreamt of a fanciful race as a stunt to boost the circulation of his struggling daily sports newspaper. Desgrange championed the idea of turning France into one giant velodrome and the rest is history.
As part of the plan, they developed a 1,500-mile clockwise loop of the country running from Paris to Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes before returning to the French capital. Newspaper circulation soared six-fold during the race.
Finally on July 1, 1903, 60 men, mostly French with an assortment of Belgian, Swiss, Germans and Italians mounted their bicycles outside the Café au Reveil Matin in the Parisian suburb of Montgeron. Some of five-dozen riders were professionals sponsored by bicycle manufacturers, the rest simply devotees of the sport, all united by the challenge of embarking on an unprecedented test of endurance with 20,000 francs sitting at the finish line for the winner to take home as prize money. Moral of the story, you ask? The newspaper circulation grew six-fold during the race.
What is 'Tour de France'?
Also known as “Le Grande Boucle” or “Le Tour”, the Tour de France is one of the world’s largest annual sporting event. It’s a cycling competition that is held in France every year in July, and takes place in 21 stages over 23 days with a course that covers approximately 3,500 kilometers.
This is equivalent to the World Cup, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup of bicycle racing. Cyclists from around the world gather in France to compete for the chance win the prestigious Tour de France trophy and a cash prize of 5 lakh euros. The sport garners roughly 3.5 billion television viewers, and over 12 million spectators annually.
How does it work?
Tour de France is a team sport that features a total of 198 cyclists in 20-22 teams of 8. Gruelling in its outlook, the race is split into 21 stages: 9 flat stages, 3 hilly stages, 7 mountain stages including five summit finishes, 2 individual time trials and two rest days.
One stage is performed every day, covering roughly 225 kilometers, and takes about five and a half hours to complete. Each stage has a winner, and the rider that completes the most stages in the shortest amount of time goes on to win the overall title.
What role do the jerseys play?
Cyclists from the same team wear the same coloured jersey, but a select few wear special jerseys.
1. Yellow jersey
The race’s most prestigious yellow jersey, or maillot jaune, stands above all, as it designates the rider who leads the General Classification. After each stage, officials calculate who has the fastest time across the entire race. The jersey then goes to the overall leader, who gets to wear it in the following stage. Since it’s based on time and not points, the yellow doesn't necessarily go to the given day’s stage winner.
2. Green jersey
Known as the 'sprinter’s jersey', the green jersey or maillot vert, goes to the leader of the Points Classification. The amount of points given depends on the day’s stage profile, whether it’s flat or mountainous. The green will ultimately go to a well-rounded and consistent rider as most points are traditionally gained at the finish of the flatter stages, ideal for a sprinter to shine.
3. White jersey
The white jersey, or maillot blanc, goes to the General Classification leader who is 25 years or younger (on January 1 in the given race year). Put simply, it goes to the best young rider with the lowest overall time. For young, ambitious all-rounders in the race, winning the white jersey is like winning yellow.
4. Red and white polka-dot jersey
The polka dot jersey goes to the leader of the Mountains Classification, otherwise known as King of the Mountains. Points in this contest are awarded to the first riders who reach the summit of designated climbs on each stage. The rider in polka dots must be strong climber. Often, it goes to small, lightweight guys with very high power outputs
Additionally, the reigning World Champion as depicted above, gets to wear their team colours on a jersey with horizontal stripes throughout the race, and the current national road champions get to wear their team’s jersey that also features their country’s colours.
Strategies employed in Tour de France
Riders are very strategic, and don’t cycle as fast as they can throughout the race. They tend to cycle in a main group called a peloton, and have smaller groups break away to the front at almost every stage. The peloton will allow cyclists to stay ahead for a few minutes before rejoining them when they have lost momentum. Breakaways are a great method to use if a cyclist is not an exceptional climber or sprinter, because it gives them a chance at victory.
Attacks frequently occur on climbs, and involve a rider abruptly breaking away from the peloton at an extremely high speed in hopes that the other riders won’t be able to keep up with them.
A sprinter is a cyclist that finishes a race by suddenly accelerating to a high speed, and often uses the slipstream of an individual cyclist or a group of cyclists in order to conserve energy.
As seen in the image above this is a strategy used to setup a rider for a sprint finish. One rider on the team rides at a very high speed, and the team’s sprinter follows close behind to benefit from their slipstream. This reduces wind resistance, and enables the sprinter to achieve faster speeds without using as much energy as they normally would.
How does one participate?
Twenty-three teams participated in the 2021 Tour de France. All nineteen Union Cycliste Internationale World Teams are entitled and obliged to enter the race, and they are joined by four second-tier UCI Pro-teams Alpecin-fenix.
The best performing UCI ProTeam in 2020 received an automatic invitation, while the other three teams were selected by Amateur sports organisation (ASO), the organisers of the Tour.
We hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we did outlining this beautiful sport. SportsEquip caters to your every need by providing authentic sports equipment right at your door-step.