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.
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.
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).
Tour cycling is a unique sport because:
- The races are so incredibly long. This allows strategy to be played out over weeks rather than over minutes or even hours.
- There are several competitions for every team to consider, most requiring different strategies.
- So much of the strategy can be internalized. Mind games are constantly employed — more so, I believe, than in other sports.
- 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.
- 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.
One of the best announcers in sport.
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.
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.