#bikeschool: Le Tour 101


After last week’s Alternative Guide to the runners and riders of this year’s Tour I got lots of requests to continue the advice across a range of other Tour related areas. I will attempt to make the next two editions of the #bikeschool blog a little more factual than the last, however I cannot be held responsible for what comes out from the Noggin Box!

I have spent the last 8 years engrossed in watching professional cycling, on the TV and online. The knowledge of riders, teams, tactics and the equipment that I have picked up has mainly been down to watching large amounts of cycling from my couch, much to the derision of Mrs Dexter and the detriment of my own cycling performance! Due to this I was quite surprised when people reported the they had never watched a professional cycle race and were planning on making Le Tour their first foray into ‘a French July’. That’s when it struck me… cycling means so many different things to so many different people…. and that’s what makes it so special. If someone says ‘cycling’ to me, I think of monocoque frames, Di2 and O’symetric chainrings. If this means nothing to you then I can honestly say I envy you! I’m not being facetious, as much as I love being able to watch bike racing with a modicum of knowledge and experience, some of the most exciting times in July were spent watching, learning and then re-watching stages of the Tour as the lexicon of the professional peloton washed over me year by year and became part of my Id.

I’m not professing to know everything there is to know about cycle racing or to be able to regurgitate any of my gleaned knowledge in a comprehensible way…. but I’ll give it a bloody good go! This week is mainly going to focus on ways to watch, listen and read about Le Tour wherever you are in the world and also a glossary of racing terms that you may see or hear during July. Some of the options discussed in this post may or may not be available in your particular location on the planet so please do check them out first.



This fantastic site, run by Marco Kooijman(@marcokooijman), José Been (@TourDeJose) and their dedicated team of race reporters began life as a live Twitter feed update which enabled people to get up to the minute commentary on Pro Cycling races via twitter. I first added @ProCyclingLive as a Twitter friend to enable me to keep on top of races whilst I was at work, surreptitiously checking my phone for 140 character updates on Le Tour and the Giro d’Italia. Fast-forward 2 years and they now provide one of the most valuable services on the internet for Pro Cycling fans. Gone are the dark days of hunting down live feeds of races from across the world only to find they are broken, or maybe even worse, they are working but you can’t understand the commentary as you chose to go the pub rather than those Luxembourgish night classes. Enter the dawn… enter ProCyclingLive.com’s Live Stream directory. Here you will find all of the working feeds for large and small races that they have been able to source, sorted by language. Some of these feeds are geo-restricted so that you can view them only in certain countries but this is down to the host broadcaster not ProCyclingLive and there are often more than one feed option in your chosen broadcast language. They are almost always online to answer/fix technical queries  during races via @ProCyclingLive and this really should be your first stop for live feeds online.


NBC Sports

I’m a massive fan of American sports, culture and media…. and all round ‘Yankophile’ you could say. One thing I’ve never got the hang of is the wacky TV networks that seem to change every 5 minutes. They may in fact never have cha nged or sold their own souls to each other but that is of no concern to me really, all I need to know is where is my sport coming from!? Versus has covered Le Tour for a few years now and American audiences have been ‘blessed’ with the gravely tones of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin for years now. I say ‘blessed’ as although they are known as God’s of cycling commentary I can’t flippin’ stand them! But we won’t go into that now… I digress. If my research is correct, Versus is now/was/always has been owned/part of/parent to NBC Sports. With a quick look at the NBC Sports Cycling page we’re excitedly told they have a 2011 TOUR DE FRANCE ALL ACCESS page…. but that is all I can tell you. I don’t know if you have to pay for watching live coverage online that will be part of this super-user access as it doesn’t seem to be online yet… just 10 days before the start of Le Tour. It will almost certainly be geo-restricted to north America and I am sure NBC will be showing Le Tour on TV. I’ve no doubt that some of the American flavoured readers of this blog can confirm that in the comments section below.


Fairly similar to the NBC Sports site in the sense that it’s not really clear what they are providing during the race in the sense of Live footage or updates, Cycling.tv is fantastic for post race analysis and reports. It is essentially a digital magazine so floods the screen with lots of different features and options but never really feels like it’s focusing on one particular thing. There are a range of subscription options to this site and if you are interested in Pro Cycling and want to further your knowledge in a general sense I would urge you to check this site out. However, be sure you clarify what you get for the subscription price and what they offer for each race. It was many years ago when they were a much smaller site, but I got bitten by signing up and not realising they were only showing highlights of certain races.



As you are probably aware from the amount of trouble ‘Larry’ has got himself in to in France, L’équipe is a very powerful organisation in France and provides possibly the most comprehensive coverage of any printed media across th e world. Unfortunately the news paper itself is not available outside of large cities and is only printed in French, so unless you are confident at reading conversational french then the next best option is the L’équipe website via Google translate. If you can ignore the often clunky translations this site is a must for a good evening read between stages and to get some of the most up to date information on riders and teams in between live TV broadcasts. There is a lot that happens at Le Tour before and after the cameras are rolling so you need to stay on the ball!



The Steephill.tv site is a great one-stop-shop for news, interviews, highlights and some amazing photos from each day at Le Tour as well as most other major cycle races. It is always one of my evening sites I visit in between stages to catch up on highlights and usually the final few kilometers on demand. Right now you might be thinking you won’t need to bother watching a 3 minute highlight package as you’ll be watching the stages live on TV and chatting about it on Twitter for the whole of July. Let me tell you something…. even the most dedicated Tour couch potato will miss a stage or two. It’s inevitable if you have any sort of life outside of watching cycling on TV, which I’m sure you all have. And Murphy’s law says the day you miss watching it live is when a hilarious Saxo Bank soigneur shoves a steak in Clenty’s musette bag….now you wouldn’t want to miss that would you!? So the small highlights packages that you can catch up on whilst at work or as you go to bed become like beautiful nuggets of beautiful things. Trust me, if that is the only morsel of Tour activity you get that day, you’ll be more than pleased!



Given that you are reading this blog you are probably already aware of the power of Twitter and how it is used by sporting stars and fans alike. A quick Google search will find you a list of Pro Cyclists and Pro Team accounts which are worth following on Twitter. I was going to list them all here for you and spoon feed you but decided it would take me until the end of stage 14 to do that and I got bored! It’s worth checking out the pro rider accounts if you find them as they often dish out some inside info and behind the scenes pictures before and after stages and are well worth following, even if it’s only for the month of July! There are some more…. and I must be careful here…. ‘colourful’ characters on Twitter that make watching cycling and interacting on Twitter very fun. In no particular order these include:

@UCI_Overlord, @podium_live, @cipothelionking, @festinagirl, @Bonnie_D_Ford, @flammecast, @TheRaceRadio, @sofaboy, @CycleBoredom, @AussieLarry, @nedboulting & @cyclingtips.


Road.cc Fantasy Cycling

If you have a competitive streak such as myself, merely watching Le Tour may not be enough for you! If you fancy yourself as a DS and think you can pick a decent team throughout the race I invite you to join my Road.cc Fantasy Cycling League. You will need to sign up to the site first and then join league 6665 . This league has been running for a while now and those that have joined already do have some points (most more than I do!) but don’t worry, the scores can be filtered for Le Tour so if you want to join now we can still compete evenly throughout July.  The rules and points scoring systems are pretty simple and can be seen here. This could create some interesting Twitter interactions in the future!


Racing Jargon

Here is a small list of jargon that I have compiled that may help you this July when watching Le Tour if you are not that accustomed to Pro Cycling:

@: In English language race results in the G.C. (see below) an “@” sign is used to denote the amount of time or number of points behind the winner each rider is. In the example below Luis Ocana won the race, taking 6 hours, 51 minutes, 15 seconds to complete the course. Joop Zoetemelk was behind him and crossed the finish line 15 seconds later. Pollentier was still further behind and crossed the line 3 minutes and 34 seconds after Ocana. Van Impe and Thévenet finshed int he same group as Pollentier but slightly behind him. The “s.t.” means that they were given the ‘same time’ as Pollentier. If a rider finishes close enough to a rider who is in front of him so that there is no real gap, he will be given the same time as the first rider of that group.

1. Luis Ocana: 6 hr 51 min 50 sec

2. Joop Zoetemelk @ 15 sec

3. Michael Pollentier @ 3 min 34 sec

4. Lucien van Impe s.t.

5. Bernard Thévenet s.t.

Abandon: To quit a race. See also Broom Wagon

Arrivée: French for the finish line

Arrivée en altitude: French for hilltop finish

Attack: Generally a sudden acceleration in an attempt to break free of the peloton (see below). On flat roads it is usually done by riding up along the side of the pack so that by the time the attacker passes the peloton’s front rider he is traveling too fast for the pack to easily react. In the mountains it is usually enough to accelerate from the front.

Autobus: In the mountains the riders with poor climbing skills ride together hoping to finish in time to beat the time limit cutoff. By staying together in a large group they hope that if they don’t finish in time they can persuade the officials to let them stay in the race because so many riders would otherwise be eliminated. It doesn’t always work. Often the group lets a particular experienced racer lead them in order to just get in under the wire. This risky strategy minimizes the energy the riders have to expend and you will often see the top sprinters in the Autobus as the race heads into the mountains. You may also hear it called the Grupetto (Italian).

Bidon: French word for a water bottle, often thrown at unsuspecting members of the crowd.

Bonk: To completely run out of energy. Sometimes a rider will forget to eat or think he has enough food to make it to the finish without stopping to get food. The result can be catastrophic as the rider’s body runs out of glycogen, the stored chemical the muscles burn for energy. Famously José-Manuel Fuente didn’t eat during the long stage 14 in the 1974 Giro. He slowed to a near halt as his body’s ability to produce energy came to a crashing halt. Merckx sped on and took the Pink Jersey from the Spaniard who had shown such terrible judgment. It’s happened to many great riders including Indurain and Armstrong but not always with such catastrophic results.

Break: Short for breakaway.

Breakaway: One or more riders escaping from the front of peloton, usually as the result of a sudden acceleration called an “attack”. Riders will work together sharing the effort of breaking the wind hoping to improve their chances of winning by arriving at the finish in a smaller group. This can also be called a “break”. Some riders do not possess the necessary speed to contest mass sprints and therefore try very hard to escape the clutches of the peloton well before the end of the race.

Bridge: Short for bridge a gap. To go from one group of cyclists to a break up the road.

Broom Wagon: When Henri Desgrange added high Pyrenean climbs to his 1910 Tour he thought it would be necessary to have a rescue wagon follow the riders in case the mountain roads were beyond their ability to ascend, hence the Broom Wagon to sweep up the exhausted racers. It is still in use, following the last rider in a stage. Today when a rider abandons he usually prefers to get into one of his team cars. Years ago the Broom Wagon had an actual broom bolted to it but today this wonderful bit of symbolism is gone. In the 1910 Tour if a rider could not finish a mountain stage he could restart the next day and compete for stage wins but he was out of the General Classification competition. Today an abandonment sticks. The rider is out of the Tour for that year. Before a rider enters the broom wagon an official removes the dossard or jersey number on the rider’s jersey.

Bunch: When preceded by “the”, usually the peloton. Far less often a group of riders can be “a bunch”

Cadence: The speed at which the rider turns the pedals.

Caravan: The long line of vehicles that precede and follow the racers.

Caravan publicitaire: The line of cars and trucks that precedes the race, promoting various company’s goods and services. When Henri Desgrange switched the Tour to using National instead of trade teams, he became responsible for the racers’ transport, food and lodging. By charging companies money for the privilege of advertising their goods to the millions of Tour spectators along the route he was able to help pay the new expenses. When the Tour reverted to trade teams the publicity caravan remained. Although you rarely get to see it on TV, if you like getting sprayed with Evian water and having Haribo thrown at your face , you’ll love this bit!

Category: In European stage racing it is a designation of the difficulty of a mountain climb. This is a subjective judgment of the difficulty of the ascent, based upon its length, gradient and how late in the stage the climb is to be ridden. A medium difficulty climb that comes after several hard ascents will get a higher rating because the riders will already be tired. The numbering system starts with “4” for the easiest that still rate being called a climb and then with increasing severity they are 3, 2, 1. The most challenging are above categorization, or in the Tour nomenclature, “Hors catégorie”, HC. The origin of the classifications apparently comes from the gear that the commissaire’s car needed to be in to safely drive the ascent. Therefore a steeper, harder climb would mean the car would have to drop from 2nd, to 1st gear, making it a category 1 climb.

Chapatte’s Law: Formulated by former racer and Tour commentator Robert Chapatte, it states that in the closing stages of a race a determined peloton will chase down a break and close in at the rate of 1 minute per 10 kilometers traveled. If a break is 3 minutes up the road the peloton will need to work hard for 30 kilometers to catch it. TV race commentator Paul Sherwen regularly uses Chapatte’s Law to come up with his often surprisingly accurate predictions of when a break will be caught. It’s now calculated by computer on French television.

Circle of Death: In 1910 Desgrange introduced high mountains into the Tour. The big stage with the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque was called the “Circle of Death” by the press who doubted that the riders could perform the inhuman task that was asked of them. Now the hardest mountain Tour stage is still occasionally called the Circle of Death.

Col: French for mountain pass.

Commissaire: A race official with the authority to impose penalties on the riders for infractions of the rules. A common problem is dangerous or irregular sprinting and hanging on to or drafting team cars. The commissaire will usually relegate the offending rider to a lower placing.

Contre-la-montre: French for time trial

Criterium: A bike race around and around a short road road course, often a city block. Good criterium riders have excellent bike handling skills and usually possess lots of power to enable them to constantly accelerate out of the corners. The Dutch and the Belgians are the masters of the event.

Départ: French for the start line of a race.

Directeur Sportif: The 0n-the-road manager of a bike team. Although French, it is the term used in English as well.

DNF: Did not finish. Used in results to denote that the racer started but did not complete the race.

DNS: Did not start. Used in results to denote a racer who was entered in a race but failed to start. Often seen in results in stage races where the rider abandons after the completion of a stage.

Domestique: Because bicycle racing is a sport contested by teams and won by individuals a man designated to be the team leader has his teammates work for him. These men have been called domestiques since Tour founder Henri Desgrange used it as a term of contempt for Maurice Brocco whom he believed was selling his services to aid other riders in the 1911 Tour. Today the term has lost its bad connotation and serves as an acknowledgement of the true nature of racing tactics. Domestiques will chase down competitors and try to neutralise their efforts, they will protect their team leader from the wind by surrounding him. When a leader has to get a repair or stop to answer a call of nature his domestiques will stay with him and pace him back up to the peloton. They are sometimes called “water carriers” because they are the ones designated to go back to the team car and pick up water bottles and bring them back up to the leader.

Dossard: French for the rider’s race number on the back of his jersey.

Drafting: At racing speed a rider who is only a few inches behind another bike does about 30 percent less work. Riding behind another rider in his aerodynamic slipstream is called drafting. This is the basic fact of bike racing tactics and why a rider will not just leave the peloton and ride away from the others, no matter how strong he is. Only in the rarest of cases can a racer escape a determined chasing peloton. To make an escape work he needs the pack to be disinterested in chasing for some length of time so that he can gain a large enough time gap. Then, when the sleeping pack is aroused they do not have enough time to catch him no matter how fast they chase. Hugo Koblet’s wonderful solo escape in the 1951 Tour is one of the rare instances when a solo rider outdid a determined group of elite chasers. A rider who drafts others and refuses to go to the front and do his share of the work is said to be “sitting on.” There are a number of pejorative terms for a rider who does this, the best known is “wheelsucker” or “twat”.

Drop: When a rider cannot keep up with his fellow riders and comes out of their aerodynamic slipsteam, whether in a break or in the peloton, he is said to be dropped.

Échappée: French for breakaway

Echelon: When the riders are hit with a side wind they must ride slightly to the right or left of the rider in front in order to remain in that rider’s slipstream, instead of riding nose to tail in a straight line. This staggered line puts those riders further back in the pace line in the gutter. Because they can’t edge further to the side, they have to take more of the brunt of both the wind and the wind drag of their forward motion. Good riders then form a series of echelons so that all the racers can contribute and receive shelter.

Équipe: French for team

Escape: When used as a noun it is a breakaway. When used as a verb it is the act of breaking away.

Ètape: French for stage.

Feed zone: The specific point along a race route where the riders pick up food and drink. Racing etiquette generally keeps racers from attacking at this point, but there have been some famous initiatives that have started while the riders were having musettes (bags) of food handed up.

Flahute: French slang for tough-guy bike racer, usually Belgian. A Flahute thrives on the cold-weather, rain, winds, slippery cobbles and sustained high speeds that characterize the Belgian Classics. A Flahute should expect to taste wet cow dung thrown up by the other riders’ wheels as they race across barely usable farm country roads.

Flamme Rouge: French. A red banner placed at the beginning of the final kilometer of a race.

Flyer: Usually a solo breakaway near the end of a race.

Field: See Peloton

Field Sprint: The race at the finish for the best placing among those in the peloton. The term is usually used when a breakaway has successfully escaped and won the stage and the peloton is reduced to fighting for the remaining lesser places.

GC: General Classification

General Classification: The ranking of the accumulated time to determine its winner.

Grand Tour: There are three Grand Tours, all lasting 3 weeks: the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España.

Green Jersey: In the Tour, awarded to the leader of the Points Competition. Often called the Sprinters Jersey as points are gained at intermediary sprints along the race route and at the finish of each stage.

Grimpeur: French for a rider who climbs well.

Hilltop finish: When a race ends at the top of a mountain, the rider with the greater climbing skills has the advantage. It used to be that the finish line was far from the last climb, allowing the bigger, more powerful riders to use their weight and strength to close the gap to the climbers on the descents and flats. The Tour introduced hilltop finishes in 1952 and did it with a vengeance ending stages at the top of L’Alpe d’Huez, Sestrieres and Puy de Dôme.

Intermediate sprint: To keep the race active there may be points along the race course where the riders will sprint for time bonuses or other prizes (premiums, or “primes”). Sometimes called “Hot Spots”.

ITT: Individual time trial.

Jump: A rider with the ability to quickly accelerate his bike is said to have a good “jump”.

Kermesse: A lap road race much like a criterium but the course is longer, as long as 10 kilometers.

King of the Mountains: In 1933 the Tour de France started awarding points for the first riders over certain hard climbs, the winner of the competition being the King of the Mountains. In 1975 the Tour started awarding the distinctive polka-dot jersey or ‘maillot a pois’ to the leader of the classification. The first rider to wear the dots was the Dutch racer Joop Zoetemelk. The classification has lost some of its magic in recent years because of the tactics riders use to win it. Today a rider wishing to win the KOM intentionally loses a large amount of time in the General Classification. Then when the high mountains are climbed the aspiring King can take off on long breakaways to be first over the mountains without triggering a panicked chase by the Tour GC contenders.

KOM: King of the Mountains.

Lanterne Rouge: French for the last man in the General Classification. Some years riders will actually compete to be the Lanterne Rouge because of the fame it brings and therefore better appearance fees at races.

Maillot a Pois: French for Polka Dot jersey awarded to the King of the Mountains. More correctly, Maillot blanc a pois rouges

Maillot Blanc: White Jersey. Currently worn by the best rider under 25.

Maillot Jaune: See Yellow Jersey.

Maillot Vert: French for Green Jersey. In the Tour de France it is worn by the leader of the points competition.

Mechanical: A problem with the function of a racer’s bicycle, usually not a flat tire. Because rules have sometimes been in place that prevent rider’s changing bikes unless a mechanical problem is present mechanics have manufactured mechanicals. In the 1963 Tour de France Anquetil’s manager Géminiani cut one of Anquetil’s gear cables so that he could give him a lighter bike to ascend the Forclaz.

Minute Man: In a time trial the rider who starts a minute ahead. It’s always a goal in a time trial to try to catch one’s minute-man.

Musette: A cloth bag containing food and drinks handed up to the rider in the feed zone. It has a long strap so the rider can slip his arm through it easily on the fly, then put the strap over his shoulder to carry it while he transfers the food to his jersey pockets.

Natural or nature break: Because races can take over 7 hours the riders must occasionally dismount to urinate. If the riders are flagrant and take no care to be discreet while they answer the call of nature they can be penalised. Charly Gaul lost the 1957 Giro when he was attacked while taking such a break so he later learned to urinate on the fly.

Off the back: To be dropped.

Paceline: Riders riding nose to tail saving energy by riding in each others slipstream. Usually the front rider does the hard work for a short while, breaking the wind for the others, and then peels off to go to the back so that another rider can take a short stint at the front. The faster the riders go the greater the energy saving gained by riding in the slipstream of the rider in front. When the action is hot and the group wants to move fast the front man will take a short, high-speed “pull” at the front before dropping off. At lower speeds the time at the front is usually longer. See echelon

Palmarès: French for an athlete’s list of accomplishments.

Parcours: The race course.

Pavé: French for a cobblestone road.

Peloton: The main group of riders traveling together in a race. Breaks leave the front of it, dropped riders exit its rear. Synonyms: bunch, group, field, pack.

Piano: Italian for soft. It can mean slow or easy when riding. The Giro often has “piano” stages where the riders intentionally take it easy until the final kilometers leading up to the sprint.

Pink Jersey: Worn by the rider who is currently leading in the General Classification in the Giro d’Italia. It was chosen because the sponsoring newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport is printed on pink paper.

Podium: The top three places, first, second and third. Many racers know that they cannot win a race and thus their ambition is limited to getting on the podium. In major races such as the Tour and the Giro, attaining the podium is such a high accomplishment that it almost makes a racer’s career.

Points: The usual meaning is the accumulation of placings in each stage. Today the Tour gives more points to the flatter stages so the the winner of the points competition is a more likely to be sprinter. See General Classification. In the Tour the Points leader wears a green jersey, in the Giro he dons a purple jersey.

Polka-Dot Jersey: Awarded to the King of the Mountains

Prologue: French. An introductory stage in a stage race that is usually a short individual time trial, normally under 10 kilometers. The Tour has also used a team time trial format in the Prologue.

Pull: A stint at the front of a paceline.

Rainbow Jersey: The reigning world champion in a particular cycling event gets to wear a white jersey with rainbow stripes. The championships for most important events are held in the Fall. A former World Champion gets to wear a jersey with rainbow trim on his sleeves and collar. If a World Champion becomes the leader of the Tour, Giro or Vuelta he will trade his Rainbow Jersey for the Leader’s Jersey. Thor Hushovd is the current World Champion.

Rouleur: French for a rider who can turn a big gear with ease over flat roads. Rouleurs are usually bigger riders who suffer in the mountains.

Soigneur: Today a job with many duties involving the care of the riders: massage, preparing food, handing up musettes in the feed zone and sadly, doping. Usually when a doping scandal erupts the soigneurs are deeply involved.

Sprint: At the end of a race the speeds get ever higher until in the last couple of hundred meters the fastest riders jump out from the peloton in an all-out scramble for the finish line. Teams with very fine sprinting specialists will employ a “lead-out train”. With about 5 kilometers to go these teams will try to take control of the race by going to the front and stepping up the speed of the race in order to discourage last-minute flyers. Sometimes 2 or 3 competing teams will set up parallel pace lines. Usually the team’s train will be a pace line organised in ascending speed of the riders. As the team’s riders take a pull and peel off the next remaining rider will be a quicker rider who can keep increasing the speed. Usually the last man before the team’s designated sprinter is a good sprinter who will end up with a good placing by virtue of being at the front of the race in the final meters and having a good turn of speed himself.

Stage race: A cycling competition involving 2 or more separate races involving the same riders with the results added up to determine the winner. Today the victor is usually determined by adding up the accumulated time each rider took to complete each race, called a “stage”. The one with the lowest aggregate time is the winner. Alternatively the winner can be selected by adding up the rider’s placings, giving 1 point for first, 2 points for second, etc. The rider with the lowest total is the winner. The Tour de France used a points system between 1905 and 1912 because the judging was simpler and cheating could be reduced. Because points systems tend to cause dull racing during most of the stage with a furious sprint at the end they are rarely used in determining the overall winner. Because points systems favor sprinters most important stage races have a points competition along with the elapsed time category. In the Tour de France the leader in time wears the Yellow Jersey and the Points leader wears green. In the Giro the time leader wears pink and the man ahead in points wear purple or more accurately “cyclamen”. The race’s ranking of its leaders for the overall prize is called the General Classification, or GC. It is possible, though rare, for a rider to win the overall race without ever winning an individual stage.

Switchback: In order to reduce the gradient of a mountain ascent the road engineer has the road go back and forth across the hill. The Stelvio climb is famous for its 48 switchbacks as is L’Alpe d’Huez for its 21. In Italian the term is Tornante.

Team time trial: See time trial. Instead of an individual rider, whole teams set off along a specific distance at intervals. It is a spectacular event because the teams go all out on the most advanced aerodynamic equipment and clothing available. To maximize the slipstream advantage the riders ride nose to tail as close to each other as possible. Sometimes a smaller front wheel is used on the bikes to get the riders a few valuable centimeters closer together. With the riders so close together, going so fast and at their physical limits, crashes are common. Some teams targeting an overall win practice this event with rigor and the result is a beautifully precise fast-moving team that operates almost as if they were 1 rider. Sometimes a team with a very powerful leader who is overly ambitious will shatter his team by making his turns at the front too fast for the others. Skilled experienced leaders take longer rather than faster pulls so that their teammates can rest.

Technical: Usually refers to a difficult mountain descent or time trial course on winding city streets, meaning that the road will challenge the rider’s bike handling skills.

Tempo: Usually means riding at a fast but not all-out pace. Teams defending a leader in a stage race will often go to the front of the peloton and ride tempo for days on end in order to discourage breakaways. It is very tiring work and usually leaves the domestiques of a winning team exhausted at the end of a Grand Tour.

Tifosi: Italian sports fans, sometimes fanatical in their devotion to an athlete or team. The term is said to be derived from the delirium of Typhus patients.

Time Limit: To encourage vigorous riding the Tour imposes a cutoff time limit. If a racer does not finish a stage by that time limit, he is eliminated from the race. This prevents a racer’s resting by riding leisurely one day and winning the next. The time limit is a percentage of the stage winner’s time. Because it is the intention of the Tour to be fair, the rules are complex. On flat stages where the riders have less trouble staying with the peloton and the time gaps are smaller, the percentage added to the winners’ time is smaller. On a flat stage it can be as little as 5% of the winner’s time if the speed is less than 34 kilometers an hour. In the mountain stages it can be as high as 17% of the winner’s time. The faster the race is run, the higher the percentage of the winner’s time allowed the slower riders. The Tour has 6 sets of percentage time limits, each a sliding scale according to the type of stage (flat, rolling, mountain, time trial, etc.) and the stage’s speed. If 20 percent of the peloton fails to finish within the time limit the rule can be suspended. Also riders who have unusual trouble can appeal to the commissaires for clemency. More than once Paul Sherwen, now a television racing commentator, was given special dispensation for riding courageously when he had suffered misfortune but bravely continued and yet finished outside the time limit.

Time trial: A race in which either an individual or team rides over a specific distance against the clock. It is intended to be an unpaced ride in which either the individual or team is not allowed to draft a competitor. The riders are started at specific intervals, usually 2 minutes. In the Tour the riders are started in reverse order of their standing in the General Classification, the leader going last. Usually the last 20 riders are set off at 3-minute intervals. If a rider catches a racer who started ahead of him the rules say that he must not get into his slipstream but must instead pass well to the slower rider’s side. This is one of the more often ignored rules in cycling. The Tour’s first time trial was in 1934.

TTT: Team time trial

Transfer: Usually a Tour stage will end in a city one afternoon and start the next morning from the same city. When a stage ends in one city and the next stage starts in another, the riders must be transferred by bus, plane or train to the next day’s starting city. This schedule is normally done so that both the finish and start city can pay the Tour organization for the privilege of hosting the Tour. The racers loathe transfers because this delays their massages, eating and resting.

UCI: The governing world body of cycling, the Union Cycliste Internationale.

Virtual Yellow Jersey: Not the leader of the Tour in fact. When a rider has a large enough lead on the Tour leader, so that if the race were to be ended at that very moment he would assume the leadership, he then is called the Virtual Yellow Jersey.

Virtuel Maillot Jaune: French for Virtual Yellow Jersey

White Jersey: See Maillot Blanc

Yellow Jersey: Worn by the rider who is leading in the General Classification in the Tour de France. Traditional history says that Eugène Christophe was awarded the first Yellow Jersey on the rest day between stages 10 and 11 during the 1919. It is further believed that Yellow was chosen because the pages of the sponsoring newspaper L’Auto was printed on yellow paper. Both may not be true. Philippe Thys says that he was given a Yellow Jersey by Tour founder Desgrange during the 1913 Tour. And Yellow may have been chosen because jerseys of that color were unpopular and therefore cheap and easy to get.


Woah! Without doubt the longest blog post I’ve ever written but I hope I’ve managed to hold your attention and that these tips will help you enjoy Le Tour de France in whatever way you choose to follow it. Please feel free to leave any of your own comments and tips below. Until next time…..


Enjoy Your Ride

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4 Responses to “ #bikeschool: Le Tour 101 ”

  1. Daniel Bennett on June 21, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    So it sounds like the tour is arround the corner then. I know I’m ready for it. Sweet Post though. Clog’s the brain! Haha! Bring on the #TDF

  2. Heather Nielson on June 21, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Ah well done Stevie!  Very inclusive. I gleaned lots of great nuggets of wisdom. I don’t have a T.V. so the internet and twitter are my only sources of coverage in any form.  Also, I joined your fantasy cycling team but never found the time to play. I’m sorry, I’ll blame twitter. And lastly, you’re going to lose your bet, just so you know….muahahahahhahahaha!!!

  3. Darryl is Loving the Bike on June 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Wow, this is something.  What a great collection of information on the TdF, Stevie.  I am totally loving your posts about this and can only imagine what you’re going to come up with when you write some posts from France.  Once again, I hope everyone reads your post today.  Great job, Stevie.


    • Bob A on June 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm



    June 2024
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My question is other than juice, can you suggest modifications in lieu of table sugar for energy and hydration.


Both raw/organic honey or agave can work great in the homebrew (substitute in the same quantities for the sugar, or to taste), but you do have to shake well in order to make sure they don’t settle out.  Have you tried either of these?  Also, make sure to use at least the minimum amount of salt recommended in the homebrew as the temps rise, you need the sodium replacement if you’re sweating.

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