This is a public service for persons like myself who enjoy the beau paysage, the castles, the scenery, the quaint villages – oh, and all those amazing athletes in their pretty colours zooming along for 3,000 kilometres…
REAL IDIOT’s GUIDE TO THE TOUR DE FRANCE
On the final rest day, I took a breather from watching those lithe bums en masse and the adorable scenery of la belle France, and attempted to work out what the hell is going on.
What is it?
The Tour de France is a very-big-deal cycling race that is held every summer, late June-July.
In France, yeah?
Mostly. They often dip into Spain and Italy because it’s Europe, man, there are countries wherever you look. One year they somehow or other included Ireland and have been to old enemy Angleterre three times – 1974, 1994 and 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1998_Tour_de_France
It’s men only, for the same reasons (as far as I can make out) that the gentlemen’s singles at Wimbledon is men only: they’re goddam stronger than us, girls.
There are about 200, and these guys are part-man, part machine. They have to cycle a couple of hundred kilometres every day for three weeks, with just two rest days. They are professional cyclists, sponsored by big companies like Sky, which is in pole position this year. And they’re all in their twenties and thirties – the oldest guy to win, ever, was 36.
This is the really tricky bit. I have been surfing net for simple cycling sites (alliteration!) and listening to my husband’s patient explanations for years, and I’m still pretty hazy. However, I think this is right:
- The overall winner is the guy who completes the course in the shortest time. He gets to ride through the last bit, the climax ride through Paris
- The yellow jersey is given, each day, I am told! to the guy who has done the course in the quickest time at that stage. So it is cumulative – on day three, if Pierre Vitesse zooms through the 140 km in an hour, he will still not be the winner unless his times for the three days are still the lowest in the competition. The jersey winner gets to wear it all the next day. Isn’t that cute!
- There is also a king of the mountains, who does the best time in the hilly bits (some of which are savage – think of cycling up the side of the new Shard building in London). This guy gets the spotted jersey.
- There is also a junior winner, the best time under 25, who gets the white jersey (le maillot blanc – everything sounds better in French.)
- There is also a green jersey, for the person who gets the most points for various speedy and good things done. Bit boring so that’s all you need to know.
When you’re watching, you often wonder about the bunching of guys in the same team colours, and why their star rider is tucked away. It’s all strategy: like chess on bicycles, moving people here so they can advance somewhere else brilliant later. I don’t concern myself with this too much as I am admiring the chateaux – and the derrieres.
This is the mass of riders – kind of like the lumpen proletariat of the Tour, only they are all aristocrats. There is a breakaway group of small speedsters, then the peloton. I don’t think they have a word for the laggards at the back – les aussi-courants?
Most Famous T de F winner
For the general public it’s Lance Armstrong, the American who incredibly came back from having testicular cancer to win the Tour SEVEN TIMES (1999 to 2005). Unfortunately, his name has been linked with illegal drug use more recently. Some people do say that it would be impossible to ride the T de F without using some extraordinary substance, ie, it’s not actually humanly possible. It sure ain’t for ordinary mortals.
This year a British man, Bradley Wiggins, is looking good, riding for the Sky team. Early favorite Cadel Evans, the Aussie who won it last year, is beginning to catch up after a slowish start which wasn’t helped by some so-and-so throwing a packet of tacks all over the course.
This year’s finish
Will be on Sunday July 29, in Paris. This is the finishing-line cycle, and not as exciting to watch as the earlier days when they are sweating up mountains or gliding through beautiful villages.
And the money?
Fancy leaving this out the first time I uploaded! The total prize pool is around €2 million euros, and everyone gets something, even if only €400. The winner gets around half a million which they earn in blood, really. Again, the prize allocation stuff is complicated so here’s a link from some Kiwi experts http://www.roadcycling.co.nz/TourdeFrance/tour-de-france-demystified-part-2.html
I would be very grateful if anyone cares to correct this very simple guide, written to help my own understanding, and with the thought that there are other vague-ohs out there like me. Thanks to John Sills, who helped me out with the yellow jersey! John is also omniscient – and passionate (seriously, correct use of word) – about pop music. He is at http://tfw5.com
In fact the Wikipedia entry is pretty good but too detailed if you don’t want to do a thesis on competitive cycling.
The official site is too much head-in-the-spokes for me – but there are pictures of the jerseys. http://www.letour.fr/indexTDF_us.html
And here’s an interesting piece on the diet and general superhumanity of the Tour de France riders, from my friends at The Conversation website in Melbourne, Australia. http://tinyurl.com/cxl3f95
PS If anyone wants to read a pleasingly surreal account of man actually merging his atoms with that of a bicycle, there is the work of Irish genius Flann O’Brien, and The Third Policeman (although I don’t think the Tour de France ever gets a mention in this 1940s novel). http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5684946