Le Tour de France is coming to Yorkshire! For those of us who are long time followers of the Tour, this is exciting news. Cycling has been growing in popularity in the UK for a number of years now, and cyclists from all disciplines are British household names. It’s pretty fabulous that Yorkshire will host the first two stages, before it heads to Cambridge for Stage 3. I absolutely LOVE how much enthusiasm the people of Yorkshire have shown for the Tour, it feels really genuinely like other people are as excited as me!
But for every one of us who is giddy about the chance to watch the peloton make its way across our fair county, there is another person asking what all the fuss is about? Who is this Chris Froome character? And what the hell is a peloton anyway? So, for you (and with apologies to die-hard cycling fans for any omissions), here is a very, very basic guide to Le Tour de France.
So, what is Le Tour de France?
In a nutshell, it’s a professional road cycling race. One of three European Grand Tours, with the other two being the Giro d’ Italia and the Vuelta a España. Le Tour de France is the oldest and the most famous. Twenty-two teams of nine riders will compete in this year’s Tour.
But it doesn’t always start in France?
That’s right. It’s starting in LEEDS this year! It’s visited many other places in the past, including Belgium, Ireland, Spain and in 2007, it came to London. There are 21 day-long stages that are ridden over the 23 days of the Tour, two rest days and an individual time-trial ridden against the clock over a set distance. Apart from the time-trial, all 200-ish riders will ride together, finishing in Paris along the Champs-Elysée. The name for the largest group of riders cycling together is the peloton.
What will it be like to watch?
It will be incredible! Before the riders pass through, the tour caravan—a procession of team trucks—makes its way along the route handing out merchandise for spectators. If you get yourself to a good vantage point you will be able to see all the riders pass by, undoubtedly in a bit of a blur, but there may be some early break-away riders at the front, a few bunches of riders together, then the main peloton. And don’t forget to clap the last rider— the Lantern Rouge. It’s going to be a special thing indeed to see the Tour go through the beautiful Yorkshire landscape.
What are these coloured jerseys about?
There are several different award categories in the Tour. The general classification is the overall winner; basically the person to complete the overall course in the fastest time. This person will wear the yellow jersey. During the 23 days of the Tour, the yellow jersey holder can change several times, and the winner can be decided on the very last day. Imagine, 21 days of cycling, and it all comes down to seconds… The general classification contenders are not generally in contention for all the sprint finishes (see green jersey below) and they don’t have to win the stages. Something it took ages for me to explain to my mum as she screamed at the TV to Bradley Wiggins in 2012…
The King of the Mountains wears the red and white spotted jersey. Typically, this kind of rider is a specialist climber, coming into their own during the mountain stages. There’s nothing quite like watching the climbs up some of the famous mountains of Le Tour. Even if you’re not a fan of cycling, they’re pretty jaw-dropping. As are the descents… The first climbs that count towards King of the Mountains points will be in North Yorkshire, even though they’re classed as ‘flat’ stages which will amuse anyone, like me, who has ridden up there!
The sprint champion wears the green jersey. This is Mark ‘the Manx Missile’ Cavendish territory. Just watch him as he finds some magical extra gear to get past the other riders at the finish. It’s extraordinary. The sprint specialists are supported by very important team members who will ‘lead-out’ the sprinters, buffeting them against the wind and finding their way through the other riders, until at the crucial moment, when they’ll move to one side and let the sprinter go for it to the finish.
The young rider champion wears the white jersey. This is for the person with the most points who is under 26 years of age. You may also see world champion rainbow (blue, red, black, yellow, green band on a white background) jersey if the current champion is riding.
Alongside individual awards, there is also a team points classification. All the other riders will wear team colours. The teams are made up of riders from many countries and are usually emblazoned with sponsor logos and colours. Team Sky is one that British readers will probably recognise from seeing Bradley Wiggins (2012 winner) and Chris Froome (last year’s winner) wearing it. Teams ore often sponsored by more than one company, leading to team names like Omega-Pharma-QuickStep and other combinations!
But not everyone can win a jersey?
No. Some of the most important riders on a team are not chasing individual titles. Most teams will have a veteran rider who will act as a kind of team leader when they’re out on the road, helping make decisions and planning. The roulers are team riders who try to keep the pace right for their team, the lead-out man is a sprint specialist who will support a team’s most likely green jersey candidate and—probably the most important of all—are the domestiques. They’re the guys who’re the backbone of the team. From taking a turn at the front of the peloton (where it’s harder to ride) to collecting water bottles from the team support car, the team spirit in Le Tour is indomitable. It’s one of the most special things about team road cycling. That and the unwritten, but well-recognised etiquette that means riders don’t take advantage of others’ misfortune, give special privilege to riders in certain circumstances and occasionally make whole-Tour decisions about how to end a Stage. For example, if you ride through your home town, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be rolling through first, and if there’s a big crash, no-one uses it to take advantage at the front. I love that so much. (Even if sometimes they pretend they didn’t realise there had been a crash. I’m talking to you, Alberto Contador…)
That sounds lovely, but isn’t it rife with drugs?
Hmm. In the past, the Tour has had more than its fair share of doping problems. Lance Armstrong, probably the most famous rider that the world has ever known, was recently stripped of all his titles. Having said that, I think that current doping tests are making for the cleanest Tours we’ve seen in recent history and I for one believe riders like Bradley Wiggins when he talks of his desire to keep cycling a clean sport.
So, who do I want to win?
The interesting thing about the Tour is that people don’t necessarily support riders from their own country. It’s not like football in that way. There’s a huge amount of respect for many riders, even if some of them can be a bit controversial. And I’m not even talking about Lance Armstrong when I say that! There are some big personalities, riding under a hell of a lot of stress, which makes for fascinating times. Having said that, I’d love to see a British rider win the 2014 tour because it’d be the third one in a row. It seems that Bradley Wiggins won’t be riding, so fingers crossed that maybe Chris Froome (who starts in the yellow jersey as holding champion) can make it two and cycle his way into history.
Now, go and visit Le Tour Yorkshire and maybe I’ll see you at the Grand Depart. Vive Le Tour! …