why i watch le tour

Why I watch the Tour de France:

Endurance and Determination
These guys test the limits of what is humanly possible.  Riders participating in the 2010 tour will travel 2,263 miles over 23 days (including the two “rest” days) at an average speed of 27 miles per hour, while climbing mountains in both the Alps and the Pyrenees.  200 of the very best cyclists in the world will begin the tour — 25 of them will not finish because of injury or a race that is simply too hard.

mathias frank has already exited the tour -- broken thumb, torn muscle, and a little blood

Competitions within a Competition
  • General Classification – The rider with the lowest overall time.
  • Team Competition – The team with the lowest overall time.
  • Points Classification – Sprint points are available at each finish line and several intermediate sprint locations.  The rider with the most sprint points wins the points classification competition.
  • King of the Mountains – Climbing points are available at the top of many hills and mountains.  The rider with the most climbing points wins the King of the Mountains classification.
  • Best Young Rider – The rider under 26-years old with the lowest overall time.
  • Most Combative Rider – Basically the most aggressive rider, who takes the greatest risks.
  • Stage Wins – A prologue and 20 stages provides 21 opportunities for single-day wins.

jerseys of the tour de france

Not only do there exist all these competitions within the larger race, but it’s easy to keep an eye on the current leader in most of these categories — they wear a special jersey:
  • @ Yellow = General Classification / Overall Leader
  • @ Green = Points Classification / Sprint Leader
  • @ Red Polka-Dots on White = King of the Mountains
  • @ White = Best Young Rider
* The “Most Combative Rider” doesn’t get a special jersey, but rather has his number printed in white on a red background (all other riders have black on white).

Generally speaking, each team has a couple of guys capable of winning one of the individual competitions within the tour.  But there are nine riders on each team, meaning most of them will play the role of domestique (French for servant) to a stronger rider. Domestiques are asked to do anything from shielding wind to leading out sprinters to chasing breakaway groups to getting water for teammates.  These guys regularly set aside personal glory for the sake of their team (or other members of their team).

map of the 2010 tour de france

Tour cycling is a unique sport because:
  1. The races are so incredibly long.  This allows strategy to be played out over weeks rather than over minutes or even hours.
  2. There are several competitions for every team to consider, most requiring different strategies.
  3. So much of the strategy can be internalized.  Mind games are constantly employed — more so, I believe, than in other sports.
  4. Teams are often forced to work with one another, as are riders from different teams.  With every breakaway, there are decisions to be made as to whether to chase as a group or send one of your own riders in the breakaway.  One team might be left with the responsibility of leading the entire peloton of riders back to the breakaway.  Or several teams might share the work, depending on who’s in that lead group.  Today’s enemy may be tomorrow’s ally.
  5. All of this strategy is played out while being forced to conserve energy for future team and individual opportunities.
Individual Time Trials
Just one man against a clock… against 200 other men against clocks.

Phil Liggett
One of the best announcers in sport.

Lance Armstrong
Dude had testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and his brain.  He had surgery on his manly area and his brain, and went through numerous rounds of chemotherapy.  Then the guy won the Tour de France a record seven times, retired, came back to place third in last year’s race, and is racing his last tour (de France) this year.  He’s currently ranked fourth, and has arguably (undeniably really) the best team in the tour.

lance wins his seventh tour

If you’ve never given the tour a chance, you really ought to.  My advice:  watch the Sunday, July 11th, Stage 8. It’s the first high mountains stage, and it’s followed by one of the only two rest days.  Contador will try to take the yellow (even though I don’t think he’ll be able to defend it).  Should be a really exciting stage.

Why do you watch the tour?  Or… “Why not?” might be the better question…

* You can find my tour predictions here.



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18 responses to “why i watch le tour

  1. He had surgery on his manly area? You’re talking about his mustache, right?

    In your opinion, should whoever runs cycling just break down and let these guys use performance enhancing drugs? When everyone is cheating, is anyone cheating? I get a little tired of the initial champion eventually getting accused of doing drugs or stripped of their title…

    • yes, i did mean the mustache area. otherwise i would have said “near his peepee.”

      as far as drugs go, i’m not sure how i feel about it. i don’t question all that much who was indeed the best because of a few performance enhancers. but of course i’d prefer everyone to race clean. i guess a lot of my opinion would rest on whether or not it’s actually possible to rid the sport of them — because races occur in reality.

      [i guess it’s like in baseball?]

  2. Wow! I never watched the tour because I had no idea what it really was. I may have to watch it this time. Thanks for the explanations.

  3. Nice wrapup of Le Tour. I went down to Rotterdam on Saturday for the prologue. Quite a good turnout.

  4. i go for the lumberjack competions 😉

  5. JMF

    I’ve never been an active watcher; I mainly keep up on the ticker, hoping that the U.S. is winning — no different than the World Cup. Alas, cycling is very cool (unlike some other Central American sports), but I do have a couple questions:

    1) Why is it necessary to send a rider to keep up with breakaways? Does having just one guy in the breakaway count for the entire team?

    2) As far as strategy, do they have coaches/callers that are viewing from afar that tell them what to do? Or are all decisions made on the spot by riders? Do they communicate by radio, etc?

    *Lance Armstrong’s book is one of my fav books of all time.

    As far as doping goes, most lay-people don’t understand the most key point about performance enhancing drugs: THEY DO NOTHING TO ENHANCE PERFORMANCE. All anything like that can do is make you more capable.

    I take testosterone and HCG (kinda legally), and of themselves, they do nothing. Taking test is not going to make you stronger or faster. What it DOES do is make you more capable. It helps you to recover faster, so you can work out much harder. It helps you get bigger and stronger and faster — but only if you put in the work to make that happen. It simply helps you recover.

    I’m not excusing using illegal substances. It’s just ridiculous when you hear someone say, “Well, if I was taking a bunch of crap I probably could have hit 750 home runs too, just like Barry Bonds.” Maybe — if you’d put in 15 hrs a day since you were 10 yrs old striving towards that goal.

    • i’ve never read lance’s books.

      i’m with you on performance enhancers. some of the stuff they’re banning, i see as part of a slippery slope argument — and i’m okay with that.

      as for your questions, bernard did a pretty stinkin’ good job answering in my absence (we’ve got several visitors in town this week). i’ll still add a little, though — because when else do i get to talk about cycling:

      1. it’s not necessary — only sometimes useful. the majority of teams don’t send someone in the breakaway, either because it was unimportant, they couldn’t, or it wasn’t worth tiring out that one cyclist. there are 22 teams in the tour this year, and you’ll very rarely see a breakaway with riders from more than half of those teams; usually it’ll be more like 5 or 6.

      every time there’s a breakaway — or even an attempt — there’s a conscious decision made as whether or not the peloton will let those riders go it alone. generally they’re going to catch them anyway, but they won’t even give it a chance if there’s a real contender in the group.

      actually, if there ever is a real contender in the breakaway, the breakaway will try to convince him to leave. they’ll make sure he knows he’s unwanted. because they all know they’ll work hard for nothing if he’s there, only to be caught in the end. they might all just quit pushing, make him pull, and wait to be caught. it’s not worth their effort.

      and the benefits for a team having someone in a breakaway are limited to:
      – communication with breakaway
      – exposure and advertisement (want your jerseys to be seen on tv all day long)
      – that rider’s overall time is added with his team for the team award
      [- that riders’ points earned are his alone]

  6. Ike

    I really don’t know how I found your site….but I was so impressed with such a young man gutting it out in Geita. I love a mans…man! Your my brother…. so I must love you even though you prefer soccer over real football and now finding out you like to watch men in tights riding a bike. Oops…..forgot “cycleguy” visits this site. Now I’m banned from both sites!!!

  7. JMF – Brett is more of an expert than I, but I can offer this…

    1 – It depends on who is in that breakaway and whether the team coach feels that the breakaway is a real threat to the overall goals of the team. Having someone in the breakaway gives that someone a chance to win a sprint or a climb IF the breakaway looks to be a good one and IF you have a contender in that particular competition. There are team points at stake, but not in the General Classification, which is why the contenders for the yellow jersey will almost NEVER be in a breakaway except in the mountains, where they often finish the climbs alone. As well, having a rider in the breakaway means that the coach can get radio feedback as to what plans are being made in the breakaway, whether the riders there are trying to attack or are getting tired, etc., and there’s no other way to get that info. As well, in theory, putting a rider in the breakaway can be an effort to slow the breakaway down a little bit by letting that rider take their turn “at the front” but sneakily riding just a bit slow or even forcing a good rider to pull him along and get more tired, thus giving the peloton a stronger chance of reeling in the breakaway. Most breakaways don’t succeed. The peloton has much more collective horsepower and, unless they screw up and don’t start catching soon enough, they can easily outrun a small breakaway and catch them just before the end, setting up a bunch sprint.

    2- There are coaches following in cars that are in radio contact with the riders. The coaches decide the strategy in most cases for the overall team, but an individual rider will make some decisions at the end of a sprint or a climb on their own.

    • a fellow cycling lover… well said, bernard.

      • I’ve been a bit more of a TdF junkie / cyclist in years past than I am now. We used to ride a lot (mountain bikes) before kids and my heart surgery. I’m a huge (well, at least “big”) Lance fan but there’s a lot of other guys I really like, too. Jan Ulrich was awesome in his day, and it was fun to watch Pantani’s ears in the wind (what a shame to die at 34 of a cocaine od). Also like Hincapie. Contador, however, could fall off the bike today and I would be completely happy, after that mess last year… 🙂

        • i’m not a big contador fan myself, but i’m not sure how i feel about last year. i mean i feel like contador’s the stronger rider of he and lance — so i like him as the team leader last year. i also think he’s a stronger rider this year, but his team can’t help enough…

          i think cancellara’s (sp?) one of my favorite riders overall.

          • TdF is eat up with tradition, a form of chivalry, almost, and my gripe with Conty is that you simply respect the 7 wins. Especially on your own team. I don’t remember for certain, but I seem to recall that he attacked Lance specifically in violation of Bruyneel’s orders. Perhaps he’s stronger, but a member of a cycling team is supposed to do what he’s told to do, regardless, or the team concept doesn’t work. Lance obeyed orders, and lost #8 because of it. (Just my cycling opinion :))

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