Why I love the Tour de France and how you can too
On one of my early cycle trips, we cycled from London and finished by cycling up the legendary 21 bends of Alpe d’Huez, slightly surprised that there were so many cyclists, camper vans and writing all over the road the day before the Tour came up. It was our first immersive experience of ‘Le Tour’ and full-on Tour fever. Luckily some friendly Français explained the rules, and the Tour came even more alive (and if you ever want to bond with a French person, talking about Le Tour is a good bet).
Ever since, it’s been an annual gripping sporting highlight for me to watch, and I even cycled the whole 21 stages in 2011, 2 days ahead of the pros, making me even more in awe of the speeds in which they cover the huge daily distances. I’ll be using photos from ‘my Tour’ to help explain how it all works – the donkeys were one highlight on the way!
Understanding the Tour can be a bit of an endurance feat in itself, and a bit of a vocab lesson, in both English and French (I’m being teacher and have put the key Tour vocab in bold). But it’s well worth a bit of effort to demystify the event, and get the full amount of excitement out of it. To make it easy on you, I’ve split it into a few stages (’étapes’ in Tour speak – see, we’re progressing already!)
Stage 1: The Jerseys
Let’s start with the one we all know – the yellow jersey or ‘maillot jaune’. This is the most important, worn by the top rider in the ‘General Classification’ (often shortened to ‘GC’). For many people, it’s the most logical one to understand, as it’s the rider who’s completed all the stages to date in the quickest time. The maillot jaune is awarded every day, and can be the highlight of a cyclist’s career to wear it even for a day. The rider wearing it on the final day wins the whole Tour.
Us Brits certainly know about the green jersey – ‘maillot vert’ as Mark Cavendish usually contends for this each year. Sprinters tend to go for it as it goes to top rider in the ‘Points Classification’. Every day the first 15 riders get points (on a sliding scale from 1st to 15th) for crossing the ‘intermediate sprint’ about halfway through the race, and also, obviously, the finish line!
You’ve probably seen the polka-dot jersey, ‘maillot à pois’, more commonly known as ‘King of the Mountains’ jersey (and you may see it shortened to ‘KoM’). This is understandably prestigious, as it goes to the strong climber with the most points in the mountain sections, by being the first to the top of certain peaks (this also has a sliding points scale like the sprints). On stages where the finish is at the top of a mountain, points are doubled.
The white jersey ‘maillot blanc’ goes to the rider under 26 with the fastest overall time. Like a junior maillot jaune.
You may spot the ‘rainbow jersey’ (rainbow stripes on white), worn by the world champion. Mark Cavendish wore this in 2011. Champions of individual countries also wear jerseys with their flags.
I always like seeing who gets the red race number, ‘dossard rouge’ for the most combative rider of each stage. This is someone who’s worked all-out making good attacks (more on attacks in the next post). It’s usually based on the amount of time they spent attacking, but is subjective too, decided by an 8 person panel.
There was a good example in 2011, when 2 riders were attacking and leading over the day’s mountainous stage, but later taken out by a media car causing a horrific crash into a barbed wire fence. They went on to finish with ripped clothes and bleeding wounds. Both received the stage’s combative award, which was definitely the right result.
There’s also a ‘team classification’ which was introduced a few years ago. No prizes for guessing who this goes to! The team with the fastest top 3 riders can take up the option to wear yellow race numbers and yellow helmets. Sky did this in 2012, the year Bradley won.
Quite enough for one day, make sure you recover well to come back for the next étapes, to find out about how and why these jerseys are fought for; plus cols, attacks, musettes, lead-out trains, and so much more that makes up the amazing Tour!
To wear your own TdF jersey, or show your new-found love of the Tour, check out my range of TdF-inspired T-shirts.