|Our photo from the 2012 Tour de Poitou-Charentes|
We are not a sports mad family. We do enjoy an active and outdoor lifestyle, but none of us could explain the ‘off-side rule’ and we conveniently manage to miss football and rugby on TV even if it is World or European cup games. The tennis also passes every year without us feeling the need to watch a single match. However, last year Ade and I found ourselves tuning into ITV4 every evening to watch the Tour de France coverage and we are counting down the days (seven) until the start of the 100th Tour begins in Corsica on June 29th.
Each of the 22 teams are made up of nine cyclists and despite it looking like it is a ‘one man and his bike’ sport the teams work hard together and for their team leader. The lower ranking members put team tactics ahead of personal triumph, support their leader and are referred to as domestiques. They help to pace the team leader and ensure he is where he needs to be for the best chance of victory.
This is the main body of cyclists who group together during the race. This helps with pace and wind resistance. There are always some who drop behind the main peloton and others who will breakaway often in an attempt to win a stage.
The Stages or étapes.
The Tour de France is a race made up of 21 stages, one stage per day and with only 2 rest days in the 23 days. This year these stages will cover a total of 3,404 km and are made up of 7 flat stages, 5 hilly stages, 6 mountain stages, 2 individual time trials and 1 team time trial. The time trial days are against the clock and do not include group or peloton riding. The Tour takes in different areas of France each year, often includes an overseas stage (next year this will be in Yorkshire), but always visits the Alps, the Pyrenees and finishes on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, where Mark Cavendish has crossed the finish line first for the last four years.
The Yellow Jersey.
This is awarded at the end of each day to the person who has the fastest time overall. This may not be the winner of the current days stage, he is known as the stage leader or la tête de course. It is possible for the Yellow Jersey to change many times during the race or, like last year when Bradley Wiggins stormed it, for it to remain with the same rider for many days.
The other Jerseys.
As well as the Yellow Jersey, there are other jerseys awarded for different ‘wins’ during the race. The red Polka Dot Jersey is awarded to the King of the Mountains, the rider who gains the most points from the mountain climbs that day. The White Jersey is presented to the rider under 25 who has been awarded the most points each day and the Green Jersey is for the leader of the general points. Points are awarded during the day for individual sprints as well as stage wins.
This is a publicity convoy that drives the route about an hour before the cyclists pass by, adding to the excitement of the crowd and enabling the sponsors to throw advertising merchandise at them.
The thing that struck me most last year was the awe I felt for the stamina of the cyclists who often cover over 200km a day, day after day. Compared to the pampered lifestyles of the professional footballers with their orange, plastic wives who manage 45 minutes of play before they need a rest, the cyclists (in my opinion) are real sportsmen. The Tour de France is tough, but it is only one event in their sporting year, some have already competed in a similar event in Italy and others will go on to do the Spanish tour too. Our British riders do us proud and I hope Mark Cavendish continues to triumph in Paris and wish him and Chris Froome all the best. Chris was second to Sir Bradley Wiggins last year, who managed to retain the Yellow jersey day after day and then became the first EVER British cyclist to win, and I’m sure Chris and Mark have their sights set high this year.