Posted on July 9, 2014

Unsure about how the Tour de France works? Then check out this Q&A from our cycling expert to help you understand the ins and outs of what they do and why…

What is the Tour de France?

The TdF is a cycle race across France. However, although the main body of the race takes place in France, the event normally holds a ‘Grand Depart’, in which the race features 2 or 3 preliminary stages in another country. In 2014, the ‘Grand Depart’ brought the Tour to Yorkshire. The winner is the person who reaches the finish line on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in the lowest total time after competing in 21 stages (1 day = 1 stage) over a 3 week period. Two rest days are included but the riders still go out for a 100 mile ride on these days just to keep ticking over.

How long is the race?

Each stage is approximately 200km in distance except for the time trials which are approx. 30-50 km. The overall distance is normally around 3000km.

How many teams enter?

There are 21 teams of 9 cyclists – 189 riders in all.

What are the different types of rider in the team?

Leader – the person most likely to challenge for the General Classification (GC) title. This is the Tour’s main prize, the overall winner.
Climber – someone who specialises in climbing the mountain stages.
Sprinter – someone who is quick on the flat stages and can sprint to claim a stage victory in a bunch finish.
Domestique – riders who are in the team to help the leaders i.e. protect them from the wind, get bidons (water bottles) pace the leaders up hills or on the sprints to save energy.

What is the difference between the jerseys?

Each day any rider can ‘win’ points available for either the Green or the Polka Dot Jersey, at certain locations during the stage. Points are won for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd placed rider at either a green jersey sprint point or at the ‘top’ of a climb for the Polka Dot Jersey. The Jerseys are often referred to by their French titles. These are in brackets below.

Yellow Jersey (le Maillot Jaune) – the overall leader of the race (fastest time of the all the stages completed).
Polka Dot Jersey (le Maillot à Pois) (red dotted) – best climber (gained the most points on climbs on each stage).
Green Jersey (le Maillot Vert) – Points leader (the rider who has gained the most points for sprints).
White Jersey (le Maillot Blanc) – Best Young Rider (this is the same as the Yellow Jersey for the under 25 y/o riders).

Who wins the stages?

The first week of the race is normally suited to the Sprinters as the stages are mostly flat. These stages also encourage the ‘breakaway’ rider. This is a rider who wants to try and win the stage and get that all important TV coverage for his sponsors. Typically these breakaway riders will get away from the Peloton (main bunch) to gain a time gap but generally will get caught within 10 km from the finish of that stage. The other teams will try and set the stage win up for a sprinter, but sometimes these breakaways do work. You have the overall or GC contenders like Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, who will always be looked after by the Domestiques. When the race gets to the Mountains, this is when the GC riders start to shine. They are generally better at climbing than the other riders. This is where the race can be won or lost. The winner of the TdF is normally the best climber and has the strongest team around him to protect and help him.

Are there any different types of stage?

The race will also have 1 or 2 Time Trial stages. This is an individual race against the clock over a short distance (you will see the riders on different bikes from the normal bikes; these are designed purely for speed and aerodynamics).

Who are in the team cars that follow the riders?

Each team will have a few team cars following behind the riders. In these cars are the management, mechanics and doctors. They will also have spare bikes for each rider should the rider have a mechanical problem or a crash and they will provide the riders with instructions and orders via a radio. Each rider has his own ear piece. The team cars will have TVs fitted in them so that they can see what is going on in the race and inform the riders.

Can the riders get help from the fans?

The riders are not allowed any assistance from spectators, for example, if the rider sustains a puncture, they will have to wait for the team car to pull up alongside and change the wheel.

Do the riders win any money?

Yes, the riders will have a contract with the team they ride for but they will also get bonuses. Riders who win the day’s stage will get a certain amount of Euros; he will then share this money with the team (including the mechanics and doctors). The rider who wins each jersey overall will also win set amounts and share this money with the team, as it is a team sport.

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