Great News! The biggest sporting event in the world (based on facts – see below) starts on Saturday 1st July. In order to help you sound like a pro cycling pro, we've put together a handy guide to the race. We've created this explanation of all things Tour de France in the form of FAQs. Partly to ensure that you sound knowledgeable about the race when talking to others, but mainly for you to print off and give to your friends and loved ones to stop them asking you questions while you are trying to watch it on TV. For 5 hours a day. Every day. For the best part of a month. How good does that sound…
What is this “France Cycling Tour” that everyone is talking about?
In a few short minutes, once you have memorised this article, you shall be fluent in 'Tour de France'. However first, as with all cycling etiquette, if you are going to be taken seriously, you have to use the correct terminology. Which is, of course, ‘Le Tour’ (that’s French for ‘The Tour’, FYI). ‘The Tour’, ‘Tour’, or ‘TdF’ (TdF is usually reserved for when writing in whatsapp groups, forums and chat rooms). No other derivations of its name should be used, and NEVER EVER refer to it as the Tour of France – it is a French race and that should be respected at all times – it adds a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.
OK – so what actually is it though?
In a nut shell it’s a bike race. Around France. And it’s kind of a big deal. In fact, it is the most attended annual sporting event in the world, with an estimated 15 million people rocking up on the road side to (mostly) cheer the riders on over the 3 week event. Oh, almost forgot, there are another estimated 2 billion sports fans due to tune in on TV worldwide – that also makes it the single most watched televised sporting event on the planet too. Told you - facts!
Whaa! That’s a pretty big deal. So why are the cyclists not paid like footballers?
Well, actually, they are. With that amount of publicity for sponsors the riders are all taking home 7 figure salaries. Froomey, our boy, is one of the better paid, and thought to be on around £5m a year at Team Sky – not bad for 3 weeks work. The reason you didn’t know this before is because where footballers spend their money on fast cars and big lifestyles, cyclists tend to be a little more sedate as people, and tend to squirrel it all away. Unless, of course, you're Peter Sagan. Then you get a professionally produced remake of the final scene of Grease, with their wife and your mates. Just for a laugh. Oh, peter....
Pretty cool – so what’s with France then? How did it all begin?
Picture the scene – it’s coming up to Christmas in 1903. You’re sitting around with your journalist friends, scrolling through Instagram and Facebook, and generally killing time updating your blog. Well this is exactly what the journalists from L’Auto newspaper were doing when young Geo Lefevre, a hotshot cycling journalist for the paper, and chief editor Henri Desgrange, came up with a gruelling stage race across all of France. The truth is, the L'Auto blog wasn't getting many hits, and they were languishing behind their rivals. This TdF masterstroke rocketed them to best selling bike mag of the day, as they had exclusive rights to the race, so you had to buy L'Auto for any updates. Funny to think Le Tour was invented to sell newspapers!
At 3:16pm on 1st July 1903 the first ever Tour de France rolled out of the French equivalent of The Dynamo, called Café Reveil-Matin, in the village of Montgeron. Between 60 and 80 entrants started the 6 stage race, but by stage 4 there were just 24 remaining, such was the physical toll of riding all day and all night (the early races were sadistic). The race was eventually won on 19th July by local Parisian chimney sweeper, Maurice Garin, clocking a Strava average speed of 25.68kph over the 6 stages. L'Auto's coverage of the race had broken the internet and Le Tour de France had been born.
Interestingly the race almost came to an abrupt end just one year later, when the riders began to cheat and lie by cutting corners and sabotaging each other’s steeds. However these stories of treachery and deceit only fuelled more sales of the newspaper and the Tour went from strength to strength – adding stages, starting during the day (crazy, right!) and increasing the prize money to attract more riders. In fact, the Tour has taken place every year since 1903, with only the minor inconveniences of two Wold Wars managing to stop it. And here we are now, blogging about the start of the 104th race! Hopefully you are now aware of the gravity of what will begin on 1 July in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Hold on – I thought it was the Tour de France, not ‘Deutschland-Tour’. What has Düsseldorf got to do with it?
Whilst the origins of Le Tour lay firmly in France, in order to keep it down with the kids, the Tour has had its first stage or few in a different country in recent years. Remember Yorkshire hosting the first 2 stages in front of hundreds of thousands of crazy northerners back in 2014? The race's best ever Grand Depart? Sure! Le Tour then visited Cambridge and London for a little more sophisticated applause before heading over to France for the remaining 18 stages. Most years it starts in another country, and usually will cross a few borders en-route to the mother land. This year the first stage starts in Germany.
Let’s get to the format then – How long do we have to shout at the television for?
The modern race takes place over 21 stages (like 21 mini races). Each stage is between about 100km and 200km long, and usually lasts around about 3 to 4 hours (excluding time trials which are usually much shorter and are where each rider is set off individually instead of a mass start). Be careful though, there is also the pre and post-race analysis to watch, so I’d probably look to block out about 5 hours a day in total from 1 – 23rd July. Oh – there are also 2 rest days (when the riders don’t race). These rest days will sometimes need more of your time, as there is a lot of press conferences and general gossip to be spilt while the riders take a break from cycling... by going out cycling (no joke!). Make sure you get on Twitter on the rest days and tune into the brilliant rest day Tweets – it’s a great insight into the behind the scenes ‘life on the road’ of a professional cycling team.
What's with all the different coloured kits? Who is riding with who?
There are 22 teams in the 2017 edition – each team are allowed 9 riders – so that’s 198 riders signing on. OK so far? Each team has a kit in their team colours and caked from head to toe in the team sponsors’ logos, branding and hoo-ha – so that’s 22 different coloured jerseys - Got it? OK – now forget that! You’ll see some riders (national champions) wearing their national champions colours, instead of the normal team kits (look out for the blue, red and white hoops of the British National Jersey on Steve Cummings). Then there is the world champions rainbow Jersey – Peter Sagan will be wearing that. As well as that you’ll see the yellow, polka dot, green and white jerseys being worn by whoever is in the lead of that classification each day (see below). On top of this there is a red jersey awarded each day to the rider who is deemed by the race organisers to have been the most aggressive. This refers to riding aggressively – making breaks, taking points, pushing the pace etc. not the rider who gets closest to punching another rider. Clear as mud, right...
What do these different coloured jerseys mean, then?
General Classification (‘GC’) Yellow Jersey:
The big winner – the yellow jersey (‘maillot jaune’). Chris Froome has 3 of them already and will be going for his 4th this year. It’s awarded to the rider with the lowest cumulative time over the 21 stages. The time each rider finishes each stage in is added up and the rider with the lowest total time is the winner at the end of the final stage. That's the why the person that crosses the line first, isn't necessarily the winner. For my money I’m backing the most unlucky rider in the peloton, Richie Porte, to beat Froomey to this year’s yellow jersey. Although knowing Richie like I do (which I don’t) he’ll probably sneeze into his Frosted Shreddies on the morning of the first stage and put himself in intensive care with a spoon in his brain.
Mountain Classification (Polka Dot Jersey):
These guys are hard as nails and you’ll see them testing each other’s strength of character by accelerating up the brutal mountain climbs to try and goad one another into racing too hard to the top of the climb. They are the skinny boys and, with about minus 2% body fat, and they fly up hills. At the top of each mountain there will be points on offer for the first handful of riders over the top (which are predetermined at the start of the race). The more severe the mountain the more points on offer (which is why the really big stages are the most exciting - as these tiny men bury themselves for our amusement). Whoever has the most mountain points at the end of each day gets to wear the Polka Dot Jersey (or ‘maillot à pois rouges’) the following day, and the rider with the most mountain points come the end of the race is the overall mountain classification winner. My bet for this will be my Polish mate Rafa Majka.
Sprint Classification (Green Jersey):
This is similar to the mountain classification in terms of format, but instead of points at the top of mountains they are awarded at 'intermediate sprint points' which are predetermined and spread out over each stage on the flat parts. This is why a select bunch of riders will suddenly speed up and race each other in what seems to be the middle of the race. Extra sprint points are available for winning each stage – some riders (like Mark Cavendish) love to just win races, and so will leave the intermediate sprints alone, instead waiting right until the end of the race to go for it and try to come over the line first, gaining green jersey (or ‘maillot vert’) points that way. Other riders such as Peter Sagan will play the game of attrition – picking up odd points for coming second or 3rd in the stage, as well as winning a few intermediate sprint points along the way – Peter Sagan will be looking to win his 6th consecutive green jersey in the 2017 TdF. Good luck to anyone that wants to challenge him.
Young rider (White Jersey):
The maillot blanc (remember what we said about speaking French) is awarded to the best young rider. This follows exactly the same format as the Maillot Juane, but goes to the person with the quickest time of all the riders under the age of 26 – I have Britain’s own Simon Yates pencilled in for this one. Winning the maillot blanc does not mean you can’t win the Maillot Juane too, but there have only ever been 3 riders that have won the yellow and white jersey in the same year. It’s actually more likely that a rider wins the Yellow and the Polka dot jerseys together – Like Froome did a few years ago – owing to the mountains being the part where the GC riders put time into their rivals.
Who are the guys laughing at the back whenever the going gets hard – do they get told off by the teacher?
One of my favourite parts of Le Tour, or any Grand Tour for that matter: the group at the back on any mountain stage. This is called the ‘gruppetto’, or the ‘autobus’, or often just ‘the laughing group’. In my opinion it should be given a lot more publicity than it gets, because it is the best bits of cycling in a tiny ball of lol. Obviously the sprinters can sprint much faster than Chris Froome and the other GC contenders. They can do this for very short periods at the end of a gruelling race, and generally they are able to do this by having bigger muscles than their ET lookalikey mates. The quandary is this – muscle weighs a lot, and people that weigh a lot find it hard to drag that weight up mountains. Therefore on the mountain stages the sprinters don’t have a hope of competing at the front, and don't even try to. Frolicking with their mates, they ride at the back of the pack, chatting on their phones and updating twitter.
However, each rider has to finish each stage within a certain time of the winner or they get kicked of Le Tour. Therefore in order to finish in the time limit they have to work together – and voilà! You get the gruppetto. Why is it called the laughing bus? Because in between wheelies and stopping to talk to the fans you’ll see them laughing and joking together as they coast around the route. The idea of a bunch of guys, who come tomorrow will be trying to destroy each other in a sprint, laughing and joking about how hard the mountains are is very 'cycling', and could almost happen on your average club ride (it certainly does on ours!) Unfortunately for us the camera bikes are usually about 10 miles up the road filming the actual race, so we rarely get to witness the antics of the laughing bus, but just knowing it’s there makes me happy.
What about the cars? Are they part of the race?
Kind of. The team cars carry the mechanics, the spare bikes and wheels for super fast wheel changes when riders get punctures, and also the Director Sportif – he’s sort of the team manager and gives orders on the radio, and generally gets really over excited whenever something intense happens. Watch out for the old cycling clichés at the team car such as ‘The Sticky Bottle’ – where a rider will return to the team car to collect bidons of juice for each of the other team mates, but those damn bottle can be very sticky, and as the bidon is passed from the car to the rider you’ll often see both the guy in the car and the rider holding onto it for a number of seconds, seemingly the rider doesn’t have to pedal during this as he’s pushed along by the bottle – what a lucky co-incidence!
Similar theme is the ‘Magic Spanner’ – where a mechanic will lean out the window of a car whilst driving alongside a rider. They’ll hold onto the back of the rider’s seat and play with a spanner for a few minutes while the rider coasts along getting pushed by the mechanic leaning out the car – after a few minutes the mechanic will invariably come to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with the saddle and it needs absolutely no adjustment from its original position that was meticulously calculated in the workshop – who’d have thought it!
Sometimes they don’t look like they’re putting effort in. Why?
Well they never just ride for fun as it’s a professional race, but cycling etiquette is very complex, and as we found out the red faced way at Giro d’Italia with eventual winner Tom Dumoulin, there are certain times you shouldn’t attack – when the leader of the race pulls over for a number 1 or a number 2 is one such time. Also you should see the riders sit up and wait if the yellow jersey rider gets a puncture or needs to change his bike or visit the medical vehicle. As we saw in the Giro this etiquette is often blurred and sometimes people just don’t give a sh*t about it. It usually makes for good rest day tweets though.
Are the riders all still on Drugs?
No is the easy answer to that, although we will never know, and actually at least a few of them still are. Alberto Contador’s Trek-Segafredo Team will have to reshuffle this year, after his team mate Andre Cardoso got busted this week, having eaten a dodgy steak and failed a drugs test for EPO. So it’s still knocking around.
Why does the yellow jersey holder get a teddy bear at the end of each stage?
This is one of the Tour’s many traditions. But why a cuddly toy? As if standing on the podium in lycra looking malnourished isn’t emasculating enough, they give you a children’s stuffed toy to take home with you. This tradition actually dates to those crazy old days - The 1980s! In 1987 the main sponsor was French bank Crédit Lyonnais, who produced stuffed toy lions as a marketing ploy, and although the lion stopped being their mascot, it continues to be used as the symbol of the Tour. Apparently 45 of these lions are brought to each TdF. One for the yellow jersey holder at the end of each day and the rest as spare in case there is some sort of heist! Chris Froome was actually asked what he did with them all a few years back, and rather endearingly he keeps them and brings them all home for members of his son’s play school! Do it for the kids this year Froome. They are all expecting lion teddies.
So where’s the cuddly toy going to be won this year?
This year is looking very interesting, with far less mountain top finishes than previous editions. This will make for a closer race, and it’s hard to pick one stage where you can see the GC contenders putting minutes into their rivals. The leaderboard will start to take shape right from the word go though, as the very first stage in Germany is a time trial. The final stage is also a time trial and therefore could be the all-important deciding stage, similar to the Giro earlier in the year. The last stage, stage 21, is always a ceremonial jaunt into Paris, and as long as the leader stays upright while quaffing his champagne and choking on cigar smoke it’s usually a given that he’ll remain in the leader’s jersey.
Stage 5 (5th July) finishes with a Cat 1 climb up to La planche des belles filles. This could be an early measuring contest between the GC contenders so expect some time gaps to appear there. Stage 9 (Sunday 9th July) looks like a really juicy one - with 3 really steep and long climbs that us mortals can only dream of being able to get over in one piece. And look out for a crazy fast decent to the finish line which should have you scoffing your sofa snacks double speed on the edge of your seat. Stage 18 (Thursday 20th July) is another tasty one to tuck yourself up on the sofa with your favourite flavour ice cream – finishing on the Col d’Izoard, which is a brutal climb (apparently).
What else do I need to know?
TV Coverage - Watch ITV’s coverage not Eurosport’s – Gary Imlach is one of the most articulate people I’ve ever watched on TV, and together with the knowledge of Chris Boardman and David Miller they always add flavour and context to the race. This year ITV are showing the whole of the Tour live, as well as a highlights show at 7pm. So you can watch both just to ensure you didn’t miss anything in the live show.
Watching it with mates – Head down to one of Dirty Wknd’s clubhouses to watch it – In the East you can head to Hex in Shoreditch, or West you can head to The Dynamo in Putney – both know the drill; Pizza, beer and cycling. And there will likely be many other cycling fans there whom you can dazzle with you're fluent Tour de France!
Play Fantast Tdf - This one is for the more 'invested TdF fan, but it's great fun and teaches you loads about th e race. Pick a team of pros and then cheer them on as they earn you points for doing great things. You can join the Dirty Wknd mini league - the person with the most points at the end of the Tour wins prizes - Full Details Click Here
We really hope you enjoy this year's Tour - as you know, watching the pro's makes you a better cyclist. So this is the excuse to use when pitching your boss for 3 weeks off/calling in sick for 3 weeks to actually watch the race. All of our rides during the tour will finish somewhere that will be showing the race (either Hex or Dynamo) so come along and ride with us, discuss the intricacies of why the French haven't had a winner in years, and then enjoy delicious pizza and beer whilst watching supermen fly up mountains. It's going to be great!