The Tour de France explained
5th July 2016
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The Tour de France, which started on 2 July this year and finishes in Paris on 24 July, is a gruelling cycle race covering over 2,000 miles around France including climbing some of the most testing roads in the Alps and Pyrenees mountain ranges.

If you've never quite understood how the race works, or are planning to watch for the first time, here's a quick guide to the Tour de France.

  • The race takes place over 3 weeks with each day being a 'stage'.
  • Teams - riders are in teams of 9 cyclists with teams put together around the strengths of their best cyclist - either someone with the potential to win the entire race or with a specialist skill such as sprinting or cycling up mountains (also called climbing).
  • There will be a number of riders in a team called domestiques whose role is to support and protect the leading riders in their team, collect food and distribute to the members of the team and, in extreme circumstances, give their bike to a leading rider if their replacement bike is not readily available.
  • Peleton - is the name for the main group of cyclists during each stage. Sometimes there will be a 'breakaway' with a group of cyclists going ahead in an attempt to win the stage.
  • The race usually starts on relatively flat roads which means that the day can end with most of the cyclists together and finish in a sprint with riders reaching speeds of over 40mph. 
  • Each stage is timed with a winner for each stage. Because the race takes place over many days, the rider with the lowest aggregate score is the overall winner and wears the Yellow Jersey. The holder of the Yellow Jersey can change several times during the race, particularly once the riders reach the mountain stages where the time differences between the first and last riders can be significant.
  • As well as the yellow Jersey there is a Green jersey for the rider who wins the most points which are awarded at the end of each stage but also at intermediate sprints within each stage. This jersey is usually awarded to a sprinter.
  • The polka dot jersey is awarded to the rider who wins the most points while climbing in the mountains. Mountains are graded by their steepness from 4th category to the most demanding Hors Category (HC).
  • The white jersey is awarded to the rider under 26 who comes highest overall.
  • There is also an award each day for the rider who is most competitive. The next day you can spot them as their number is on a red background.
  • And finally the slowest rider overall is awarded the Lanterne rouge.
  • As well as flat stages and mountain stages riders also compete in a time trial - where they ride individually and race against the clock on a set course. This is usually the first stage, called the prologue and usually the second to last stage. Sometimes there can be a team time trial where each team will ride a set course against the clock and the time is determined by the first 5 riders to cross the finish line.

If this has been a helpful introduction to cycling and the Tour de France you might also be interested in these cycling events:

  • Giro D'Italia - this 3 week race around Italy takes place in May each year.
  • La Vuelta - from late August this 3 week race takes place in Spain.
  • Ride London Surrey - takes place from Friday 29 to Sunday 31 July with events throughout London.
  • Ride London Surrey 100 - on the same day amateurs can tkae part on a shorter 100 mile course.
  • Tour of Britian - 4-11 September over 6 stages starting in Glasgow and finishing in London.
About the Author

Tracey S

Member since: 27th June 2014

I have over 20 year’s marketing experience working for companies including Hewlett Packard, Royal Mail, Hitachi and AQA. I live in Fleet and am the owner of thebestof Fleet helping small and medium companies...

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