14th May 2014

By ‘Eck It’s The Tour de France – A Beginners’ Guide

Yorkshire will come that bit closer to becoming universally recognised as God’s Own Country this July when it will host this year’s Grand Départ. There’s been such a buzz of anticipation since it was announced that this year’s Tour de France will set off from the City of Leeds, it’s little wonder Lonely Planet has voted Yorkshire the third best place in the world to visit in 2014.

Our cue to offer you a brief intro to the Tour.

The Tour de France is to cycling what the World Cup is to football. Being the most prestigious of all bicycle races, it’s often simply referred to as The Tour or Le Tour.

The Tour is indeed an epic bike race. Staged over three weeks, this year’s Tour will comprise three English stages followed by 18 on the Continent (mostly in France with brief incursions into Belgium and Spain) climaxing with the final stage on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Among the factors that make The Tour truly engaging is that whilst only one person can win it, victory depends upon team tactics and togetherness – so much so that The Tour has been described as ‘chess on wheels’. Every one of the 22 teams participating in 2014 will be vying to help their team leader(s) achieve glory. For the favourites, ‘glory’ means first in the General Classification, as Britain’s Team Sky achieved with Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013. If Yellow isn’t attainable, the Green, Polka Dot and White Jerseys also bring enormous prestige. For smaller teams, even to win one stage is an immense achievement that will make its sponsors happy and its fans very proud.

Stages

Eddie Merckx

5 Wins. Eddie Merckx - the Mohammad Ali of cycling - probably the most revered Tour de France winner, ever.

Each of the 21 days of racing at the Tour is called a Stage.

Flat
Nine days of this year’s Tour, including the first three on English roads, are designated as ‘flat’ stages. If you have ever huffed and puffed up Buttertubs Pass, which Tour riders will tackle on the Leeds-Harrogate stage, you’ll understand that ‘flat’ is a relative term when it comes to describing Tour gradients. When you see the peloton cruise up such hills at 30 KPH (on inclines where the everyday rider might struggle to maintain 6 KPH) you realise that ProTour road racers truly are a breed apart. Add the fact that these cyclists are riding a daily average 190km over 23 consecutive days (including the two rest days) and you understand why the Tour is generally regarded as sport’s ultimate human endurance test.

On flat stages, the peloton tends to stay together because its momentum is so formidable, the peloton almost always catches small breakaway groups before they can build any significant time advantage over the pack. Many flat stages climax with an exciting (sometimes terrifying) bunch sprint finale. Success at these bunch sprints usually determines who will be wearing the Green Jersey in Paris.

Hill & Mountain
With its five hill stages and six mountain stages, most experts agree that this year’s Tour will be one for the hill climbing specialists: a Froome rather than a Wiggins. This is when the race gets really interesting – so much so, many casual observers barely pay attention to The Tour until it reaches the dramatic cols of the Alps and the Pyrenees when the riders face climbs from sea level to 2,000m – sometimes with a sprint finish to the summit. It’s not unusual to see a burly Green Jersey contender finish a mountain stage a whole hour behind that day’s winner. It is this attritional terrain that usually determines who will be wearing the Yellow Jersey in Paris.

Time Trial
The race of truth has a staggered start with a two minute interval between each rider. Each rider races against the clock. With no riders to draft, you’re on your own. Confirming the notion that 2014 will be a climbers’ Tour, there will only be one time trial this year (we had 4 last year) – the 54km penultimate stage. Even on such a comparatively short stage, a time trial specialist can gain a minute’s advantage and effectively win The Tour that day.

The Jerseys

Yellow JerseyMaillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey) / GC (General Classification)
The GC, which scores each rider’s overall time, is recalculated at the end of each day’s stage. The rider with the shortest aggregate time is awarded the Yellow Jersey. The GC leader can therefore change from day to day. The rider who reaches the Paris finish in the shortest overall time is the winner. Greg Lemond famously won the Tour by the smallest margin ever – by 8 seconds – in 1989.


Polka Dot JerseyPolka Dot Jersey / King Of The Mountains
Mountains Classification points are awarded to the leading riders over the summit of The Tour’s longest and steepest mountain roads. Usually the preserve of wiry, lighter weight cyclists, the King of the Mountains is such an arduous contest only one British rider has ever finished in Paris wearing the Polka Dot Jersey – Glasgow’s Robert Millar in 1984.


Green JerseyGreen / Points Classification
To encourage exciting sprint finishes at the end of each stage (and to add interest to designated intermediate primes) points are awarded to the fastest sprinters. Like the Yellow and Polka Dot Jerseys, ownership of the Green Jersey can change over the duration of the race. The rider with the highest overall points total at the end of the race gets to keep it, as Manx Missile Mark Cavendish accomplished in 2011.


White JerseyWhite / Young Rider Classification
In recognition that the Yellow Jersey almost always goes to a rider in his late 20s / early 30s, the White Jersey is awarded to the best-placed rider under 26 in the General Classification.


Team ClassificationTeam Classification
The times of the best three riders of each team in each stage is aggregated to calculate which team reached the Paris finish in the lowest overall time.


Come And Join Us At Our Leeds & Sheffield Shops For Le Tour Yorkshire
5 & 6 July 2014

Le Grand Départ – the start of this year’s Tour de France – will be the 191 km stage between Leeds and Harrogate on 5 July. As it ‘appens, our Leeds shop in Chapel Allerton is located just off the very Harrogate Road along which the peloton will be pedaling. Stage 2, the following day, is set to be an equally brisk 198K ride from York to Sheffield. If you plan to visit Yorkshire to soak up The Tour’s unique atmosphere, do pop into our Leeds and/or our Sheffield shop where we plan to host all-day celebrations on both days – 5 and 6 July – to mark this once-in-a-lifetime event.

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