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One of sports’ most grueling and captivating events is the Tour de France, or as the French shorten it, “Le Tour.” The “tour” is a 21-day bicycle race through the mountains and countryside of France. If you don’t already know, the 2022 edition of Le Tour just ended last Sunday in Paris with an 8-lap jaunt down the Champs Elysees and around the Arc de Triomphe. As always, it displayed the amazing talent and endurance of 176 young men, from all over the world, who rode bicycles harder and farther than we can imagine. 

For brevity sake, I will henceforth abbreviate the Tour de France, TDF. The TDF began in 1903. The 2022 race was the 109th edition. The TDF takes place over 23 days in July and is divided into 21 stages, or sessions. One stage occurs every day and lasts about 4-5 hours. Stages are flat, hilly, or mountainous depending on location, of course, and can be a long as 136.7 miles. After the ninth stage and after the fifteenth stage, Rest Days are inserted to let the riders recharge or heal from any injuries sustained. 

Stages vary in length from 80.8 miles to 136.7 miles. Stages are run on the streets and roads of various parts of France through farmland, vineyards, forests, or on steep mountain roads. For the first time, this year’s TDF began in Denmark so stages 1, 2, and 3 were all flat stages (Denmark has no mountains). Each stage begins in one city or village and ends in another. Along the way, riders bicycle through some of the most beautiful countryside anywhere and through quaint towns and cities. The roads are lined with thousands of spectators waiting to get a brief glimpse of the activity. At the end of a stage, riders are bussed, or flown, to the city where the next stage begins. 

This year’s TDF spent the first three stages in Denmark, took July 4th off, then traveled through northern, eastern, and southern France, through the Alps and the Pyrenees mountains, and spent one day in Switzerland. There were six mountain stages, 6 hilly stages, and 9 flat stages. Two of the flat stages are “Time Trials.” Here, riders race individually against the clock for who has the fastest time on the route.

Each rider is a member of a team. Each team has 8 riders. There were 22 teams in this year’s TDF, so 176 riders started the TDF. Somewhere around 135 finished the race. Riders on each team are placed in “classifications” depending on their strengths and talent. Each team has riders who fall into the four main classifications, and some who are in more than one. That means the rider is vying for the championship in that particular classification.

The four classifications are represented by a specially designed jersey worn by the best rider in that classification. The four classifications are General, Points, Mountain, and Best Young Rider. They are designated by the following jerseys:

     YELLOW JERSEY (Fr. maillot jaune): this class has the riders who have it all—they are fast

              sprinters, strong mountain road climbers, and have incredible endurance. The winner

              has the shortest elapsed time for the 21 stages.

     GREEN JERSEY:  the rider who accumulates the most points. Points are accumulated by

              winning stages, winning sprints, and being in first place at various locations along the

              stage route.

     POLKA DOT JERSEY: King of the Mountains—awarded to the rider who is the best climber

              in mountain stages. Points accumulate by being first to reach the summit of a climb.

     WHITE JERSEY: given to the rider under age 23 with the best overall performance. 

Each day/each stage whomever is leading after the stage gets to wear the special jersey the next day and until someone else has a shorter elapsed time or more points in their classification.

Each team member has a role, and each member works to help the others. The General Classification (GC) riders are the stars of the team. There may be one or two. Another member is a sprinter—he’s the guy who sprints to the finish line for team points. Every team has 2 or 3, possibly 4, climbers who lead the way for the GC’s and sprinters. These are guys who get no glory, but sacrifice their bodies for other members of the team. They are the lead rider for other team members. 

The Peloton is that huge mass of bike riders who ride incredibly close to one another for mile after mile on the stage route. The lead riders for the teams cut the wind so other team members can draft behind them. The leaders do all the hard work allowing the sprinters and GCers to rest and be fresh for the race to the finish. Riders in the mid portion of the Peloton expend little energy keeping up and are fresh to give it their all at the end. The yellow jersey contenders are usually behind 2 or 3 of their teammates and stay there until it’s time to break away to get to the finish. Lead riders ride as hard and fast as they can, until they are exhausted. They peel off the front and fall in behind while the second rider takes over drafting riders behind him. This repeats itself for miles allowing the GC rider to be strong at the end. The technique works well on flat stages, but not as well on mountain stages. Not every rider can climb rapidly.  

This year’s tour had some very exciting stages, incredibly steep, long climbs, dangerous sprints, and outstanding individual performances. These “boys,” as 50-year announcer, Phil Liggett, likes to call them, are incredible athletes with more strength in their legs and more endurance than is imaginable. 

But the best thing about the TDF is the amazing 21-day travelogue of the stunning geography and architecture of France. From the air and from the ground, dozens of centuries old forts, castles, chateaus, mansions, towns, villages, and cities are showcased in between coverage of the action on the stage routes. I’ve already made a list of places I want to visit if I ever travel to France. It’s highly unlikely I will, so images from the Tour de France will have to suffice. The culmination of Le Tour is the magnificent entrance into Paris. Passing the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, the Seine, and much of the expanse and beauty of Paris is amazing. 

Several years ago, on a golf trip, a good friend of mine said he had to get back to the condo to watch the TDF. I thought he was crazy because I thought it was just a boring bike race. Well, my boredom only stemmed from the fact I didn’t understand what the Tour de France was all about. Once you watch it, learn about stages, classifications, action, and individual personalities, you get hooked! I know Sandy and I did. We haven’t missed watching one minute of it for the last six years. We DVR it, fast forward through commercials, and play the travelogue parts over and over. 

Next year, give it a try, yourself. First, read about it, study the teams, get to know the riders, and examine the stages. Knowing what’s going on increases ones’ level of interest; it certainly did ours. Then watch closely for the flyovers of unbelievable chateaus, mansions, vineyards, fields of sunflowers, and breathtaking mountain landscapes. Watch the exciting sprints, marvel at the endurance and will of these athletes, and be in awe of the buildings and cathedrals constructed centuries ago. 

Sunday, after the TDF ended, my brother texted me to say he “felt a little sadness that it was over.” It’s “like a vacation that’s over and you have to go home. It really is a wonderful sporting event and opportunity to experience Europe from your armchair.” I couldn’t have said it any better!

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for the info. I have watched before but not knowing the Jersey colors meaning and the course info will help next year.

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