Tour de France
To me the Tour de France is the ultimate show of athletic endurance. The Tour de France ,or Le Tour as it is known as in French,is a bicycle race that is held in France and its nearby European countries. The Tour de France is definitely the most well-known and prestigious bicycle race in the World. The Tour de France is contested over the first 3 weeks of July every year, where the riders compete against each other for almost 2000 miles (3200 km). Just thinking of the idea of having to do this huge distance over a period of 3 weeks is exactly why I think that the Tour de France is one of the toughest endurance races in the world!
The great thing about this race is that the race’s course is changed every year. This makes it really interesting ,as riders are asked to compete in different situations every year. Even though the course is changed every year , the r,ace always ends on the cobblestones of the city Paris,France. The Tour de France covers some of the most scenic parts of France and Europe and that adds to the whole attraction for spectators who watch the Tour de France. I mean in the 3 weeks you will see riders being tested in extreme heat and then also rain in certain parts. If the weather is not daunting enough going through the Alps and its enormous climbs should be enough to scare any sane person away!
- The race is broken into days/stages, where individual stage times are aggregated to determine the overall winner.
- The rider with the lowest overall time wins the race.
- 20 Teams usually compete (determined by the Tour organizers every year).
- Each Team consists of 9 riders.
- Usually 2 rest days in the 3 weeks of racing to recuperate.
Each stage/day of the Tour de France is classified into 5 different types.The type of stage has a big impact on the points awarded to each of the different jerseys (see below):
- Flat stage – This is the stage that is most conducive to sprinting ,as the more bulky sprinters do not have to struggle of the mountains.
- Intermediate Stage – This is the point within a stage where points are awarded for reaching a specific mark first.
- Individual Time Trial - This is where each rider rides on his own. To win the Tour de France you need to be pretty good on this stage .This stage clearly indicates which riders are in form. Usually only 1 Stage.
- Team Time Trial – This is where each team competes individually against one another.The riders ride behind each other to benefit from reduced resistance(aka the slipstream). The Team Time Trial has often been criticized for favoring strong teams over strong riders in weaker team. Usually only 1 of these kind of stages.
- Mountain Stages – This is where the real endurance athletes show their steel and push their body to the limits. If you see the gradient of some of these climbs , you’ll be awed!
The mountain stages are where you see riders being punished by the course of the Tour de France. When I say mountain, I’m not referring to a little hill, but rather to the massive and intimidating French Alps!You’ll also see the real contenders in the Tour de France come to the forefront ,as a rider needs to be able to conquer the mountains in order to win the Tour de France race. You’ll also see the riders who are more equipped for sprinting really start to struggle. This is also where a lot of time is won and lost in the Tour and is usually the place where the Tour de France is won.The mountains are classified according to steepness and height ,from category 1 (the most difficult) to category 4 (the “easiest”). The category in which the climb falls also indicates how many points will be awarded in the “King of the Mountains” jersey classification( see Below).
Each team of 9 riders wear their team’s sponsored jerseys , but there is also some other jerseys that distinguishes the achievers in the Tour de France from the rest of the peloton of riders. Having different jerseys/competitions make the race even more exciting , as there are different “battles” being fought for, other than just an overall winner. This basically makes the Tour more competitive.
- Yellow (maillot jaune) - Overall Leader . This is the ultimate goal and not many riders have worn the yellow jersey , even for just one day. The first day of the race is the “easiest” way for and lesser known rider to possibly win a stage and also wear the yellow jersey at the end of the day ,as he would also lead the race.
- Green (maillot vert) - Sprints . These sprint points are awarded at the end of each stage,according to the rider’s finishing position. The amount of points differ according to what kind of stage it is. The most points are awarded at flat stages ,as they are more conducive to sprinting. In addition some stages have intermediate sprints points to “spice up” the race a bit and to keep it interesting.
- Red Polka-dot - Climbs . The King of the Mountain points are awarded to the rider who reaches a specific mountain top first. The amount of points are determined according to the difficulty of the mountain (length and steepness). These points are awarded at intermediate points and at the finishing points of mountain stages.
- White - Best Young Rider . This jersey is awarded to the best placed rider under 26 ,on the overall race standings. The Rider needs to be under 26 on the 1st of January of the year of the race.
The Tour de France have been hit with pretty much yearly doping scandals. Completing the Tour de France are often compared to running a marathon every day for 20 days straight! So it is not too difficult to see the benefits that these endurance athletes will get from using illegal performance enhancing drugs …. It is a bit and sad and unfortunate to see such a “healthy” and great sport being abused by so many athletes, but in a game of inches I suppose every inch helps. To combat this ,the Cycling Federations and Tour de France are constantly improving their methods to consciously attack all offenders who use illegal performance enhancers and it can safely be said that the Tour de France has the best and most up-to-date testing methods of all sporting codes! Let’s hope they win the battle….
I suppose no discussion about the Tour de France would be complete without saying something about Lance Armstrong – Well Lance won the Tour de France 7 consecutive times…. And this after overcoming testicular cancer. Enough Said. Additionally I do think that Lance Armstrong has to get a lot of credit for his contribution towards growing the sport of cycling, specifically in America . I think the fact that you see so many more people riding their bikes in the US can directly be linked to Armstrong’s great feat in the ultimate cycle tour in the world.
The fact that I enjoy cycling and running in an effort to stay in shape and keep fit ,has definitely drawn me to the Tour de France.The Tour is watched live by over 15 million passionate spectators over the 3 weeks of the race and shows how popular the sport of Cycling is in Europe.These athletes have to be right up there with the most spectacular endurance athletes on the planet and the way these guys are able to push their own physical and mental boundaries to the limit is something I truly admire.