Tour de France: Things you must know

Sportstar take a look at the features of the Tour de France which makes it one of the most gruelling sports events in the world.

Riders of the Trek-Segafredo team during a training session in Dusseldorf on Friday.   -  AFP

The Tour de France is an annual cycling event held in France where cyclists from all over the world come together vying for the prestigious yellow jacket. On July 1, these athletes will line up in Dusseldorf to cycle across various counties along France, occasionally venturing into other countries, in a cruel test of human endurance. Having started as a promotional event in a bid to boost the circulation of a local newspaper in 1903, the tour has gone on to become the most high-profile cycling race in the world. Sportstar take a look at the features of the Tour de France which makes it one of the most gruelling sports events in the world.

THE COURSE

The race is made up of 21 stages and covers a total distance of 3,540 kilometres across three weeks. The start of the course or the 'Grand Depart' is set from Dusseldorf, Germany. The cyclists will go through multiple features of terrain over the course of the race. The stages are classified as nine flat stages, five hilly stages, five mountain stages including altitude finishes and two individual time-trials stages with only two rest days between them. The fans will flock to the Champs-Elysees in Paris to welcome the winners on July 23.

The 2017 edition takes the cyclists through 23 mountain climbs or hills—one stage in the Vosges, six in the Jura, eight in the Pyrenees, two in the Massif central and six in the Alps. It’s been 25 years since the five main mountain ranges of France will be visited on the tour program. In the 2017 edition the contenders will visit the neighbouring countries of Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg. 34 counties in France will also be visited.

 

 

Each stage of the race presents with a formidable challenge to the riders. The Briancon to Col d'Iozard (stage 19) is considered one of the toughest climbs on the tour, but will provide with some of the most spectacular imagery of the entire race. Jacques Goddet, a former director of the tour, described the 14.1km climb as "a terrible exigency that straddles the difficult and the terrifying." The Marseille ITT (stage 20), which marks the penultimate time-trial stage, will see the battle for the yellow jersey intensify. The course runs through the city, much like the last stage of the tour, and it starts and finishes in the Stade de Velodrome, the home stadium of the Marseille football team.

THE TEAMS AND RIDERS

The tour is commenced by a total of 198 riders, in 22 teams of nine. Each team will have its leader who will be responsible for getting the stage wins and accumulating points for the overall win. The remaining riders from the team - also known as domestiques — remain in the leader's shadow to ensure he achieves the goals.

 

A team plays to its leaders strengths. If the leader was say a good sprinter then the group would focus on getting him to the front on sprint stages. The rider would then be in contention for only the green jersey not the overall race. A service car and medical car would always be on hand for the riders. The service car would hand out specific team instructions over the radio, along with water and supplies and replacement bikes. The riders will also receive mechanical help from the service cars and neutral cars.

Christopher Froome parades during the team presentation ceremony in Dusseldorf on Friday.   -  AFP

 

COMPETITIONS AND JERSEYS

Jerseys of distinctive colours are awarded to the riders at the end of each stage. The yellow jersey is given to the rider who has completed the stages in the least time. The rider then gets to wear it the following day. Contenders for this jersey do not worry about winning each stage. They will concentrate on ensuring that the riders in contention for the yellow jersey are behind them in the overall race. The green jersey goes to the rider with the most points overall. The first 15 riders who cross the intermediate sprint line in the race and the finish line are in contention for the green jerseys. Mark Cavandish and Peter Sagan are the usual contenders for this jersey.

The jersey —polka dot— is awarded to the riders with the most points accumulated on the mountain section of the race by reaching the summit first. It is also known as the “King of the Mountains jersey”. The rider, aged 25 or below, with the least overall time is given the white jersey. These are the four main jerseys.

A rainbow colour jersey is worn by the world champion and jerseys with national colors are worn by the national champions.

TACTICS

Teams and leaders strategise through different stages of the course. A team built around sprinters form a lead-out train in the run-up to the finish or the intermediate point, guiding its speedster to the front of the pack where he can break out from behind and make a final dash. The riders do not set out for an all-out attack right from the start. They ride together in small groups called the peleton. A peleton is usually formed on the climbs and long tracks by the riders of the same team. At every stage, a small group breaks way off the front. Often you see the Peloton break away early from the bunch to give their sponsors with some air time on camera, and in the hope that they can churn out a stage win.

Chris Froome, the 2016 Tour de France winner, employed the break away tactic effectively during the stage eight of the tour. A rider usually attacks during the climbs. The leader of the team will break away from the peleton and accelerates, while his domestiques try to ensure that a contender doesn’t hunt him down.

Along with the long road races, there are two or three time-trials, dubbed as the race of the truth. These races involve riders setting off at regular intervals, usually racing alone against the clock. The course is shorter compared to a hilly or flat surface course. Since the riders need to focus on short sprints, they use special time-trial bikes and a different cycling position to aid in their aerodynamics. The time-trials of the riders are added up to their overall time of the race.

THE CONTENDERS

This year, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte will fight it out for the course of the three weeks to ensure they land the coveted yellow jersey. Through each stage, these riders must brave the heat, rain, and possibly hail, snow and crashes to be crowned the champion.