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le Tour de France:
cycling tactics and glossary

 

 

[also applies to the Giro and the Vuelta]

image credit: Le Tour de France

Tour de France route 2013
official website for le Tour de France
[also official website in French]

 

the cycling zone

La Vuelta d'Espagne 2012

il Giro d’Italia 2013 - the fight for pink!

 

TDF current and previous years, as seen by abelard.org:

france

new : clermont ferrand and agde - from volcanoes to cathedrals photo

Germans in France
St. Quentin cathedral
Noyon cathedral
Reims cathedral
Cambrai cathedral
Soissons cathedral
Arras cathedral
cathedral destruction during the French revolution, subsidiary page to Germans in France

on first arriving in France - driving
France is not England

Click for motorways and motorway aires in France.

Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago, Rochefort-Martrou
Gustave Eiffel’s first work: the Eiffel passerelle, Bordeaux
a fifth bridge coming to Bordeaux: pont Chaban-Delmas, a new vertical lift bridge

France’s western isles: Ile de Ré
France’s western iles: Ile d’Oleron

Ile de France, Paris: in the context of Abelard and of French cathedrals
short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard

Marianne - a French national symbol, with French definitive stamps

la Belle Epoque

Grand Palais, Paris

Click to go to pages about Art Deco at abelard.org

Click to go to 'the highest, longest: the viaduct de Millau'

Pic du Midi - observing stars clearly, A64
Carcassonne, A61: world heritage fortified city

Futuroscope
Vulcania
Space City, Toulouse

the French umbrella & Aurillac

Le Tour de France: cycling tactics

50 years old: Citroën DS
the Citroën 2CV: a French motoring icon

the forest as seen by Francois Mauriac, and today
Les Landes, places and playtime
roundabout art of Les Landes

Hermès scarves
Hèrmes logo

bastide towns
mardi gras! carnival in Basque country
country life in France: the poultry fair

what a hair cut! m & french pop/rock

Tour de France route 2013

short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard

introduction
the prizes
how to become a serious nut
domestiques
just a cyclist?
training
echelon
the breakaway
some cycling slang/dictionary - a glossary
some reading
end notes

The first two sections mostly refer to the Tour de France, though other extended road races have similar prizes, while much of the glossary contents is, in general terms, universal. Often there is just a change in detail, such as a jersey colour.

There are three major tours, which vie for publicity, star entrants and money. These events also jockey for position in the annual calendar. Currently, in order through the season, comes the Giro d’Italia in May, the supremely dominant French Tour de France in July, and the Vuelta a Espagña in September.

Much to the annoyance of the Italians, top riders will use the Giro as a training run for the Tour de France. They will drop out of the Giro, rather than disturb their training schedule, as they aim to reach peak fitness to coincide exactly with the TDF. Previously, the Vuelta was early in the seaon and suffered the same annoyances.

Nowadays, the Vuelta being at the end of the season, the stars will treat the Vuelta as winding down and demand high appearance fees. But the Vuelta now tends to be dominated by Spanish riders, often famed for their climbing ability.

Another irritation is the sprint specialist who will go for stage wins early in a Tour, and drop out as soon as they hit the mountains - Mario Cipollini was famous for this. Cipollini was a wild man and one of the greatest sprinters of all time. He was constantly being fined for breaches of Tour rules such as riding in fancy clothes, such as a lion suit (he being known as the Lion King), or other imaginative cycling kits.

Mario Cipollini Mario Cipollini Mario Cipollini
Mario Cipollini

the prizes

[Note that this example gives prizes for the Tour de France.]

  • The winner of a day’s stage wins 8,000 euro
  • The yellow jersey winner - fastest time overall in the general time classification: 450,000 euro
  • The green jersey winner - winning the most points. Points are given to winners of intermediate and final sprint on each stage: 25,000 euro
  • The spotted jersey winner - best mountain climber, winning mountain points when going over summits and intermediate difficulties: 25,000 euro
  • The white jersey winner - best under 25 y.o. in the general time classification: 20,000 euro.
  • Combativity prize - chosen by a specialist cycling jury: 20,000 euro
  • Best team by time - lowest time after adding together the times of the three best members of each team at each stage: 50,000 euro.]
  • For the mountain stages, if the last climb is classed as 2nd or 1st difficulty, or out of classification [hors catégorie] the points for that last ascent are doubled.
  • For every stage except the individual against-the-clocks, the three first riders of the intermediary sprints gain 6,4 and 2 seconds respectively, while the first three arrivals for each stage gain 20,12 and 8 seconds respectively. [There are three intermediate sprints on flat stages, 2 sprints on other stages.]

  • For details of all prizes, see the 2009 Tour de France regulations [27-page .pdf], from section 1:13 to 1:28.

 

how to become a serious nut

Jerseys of the Tour de France, and other Grand Tours
the yellow jersey [le maillot jaune]
worn by the overall leader. The colour yellow was chosen because the sports newspaper, L'Auto (forerunner of L'Equipe) that first sponsored the Tour de France was printed on yellow paper.
the spotty jersey [le maillot blanc à pois rouges]
worn by the climber ahead on points ( there are sprints during the day to reach the top of rises and the first three get the points)
the green jersey [le maillot vert]
similar to the spotty jersey, but for sprints
the white jersey [le maillot blanc]
the under-25 y.o. currently leading. This is no teenager’s game. It takes a long time to build up the strength and stamina to become a top rider.
Roman Kreuziger and yeti, 2009

Roman Kreuziger, 2009 Tour de France winner of best young rider (maillot blanc) holding his Skoda yeti peluche.
Notice that the bouquet is composed of white flowers, this is also done with the other coloured jerseys.

 

 


the pink jersey [il maglia rosa]
The race leader’s pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia. [So named because La Gazzetta, the Italian sports paper that runs the Giro, is printed on pink paper.]
 
The colour of leader’s jersey for the Spanish Vuelta has varied, and is currently red.
coming last
lanterne rouge [Tour de France]
the competitor who actually finished the Tour last; named after the red lamp at the back of a train (no lantern for dropping out).

maglia nera [black jersey]
In the late 1940s, in the Italian Giro, Italy's grand tour, a prize was instigated for coming last, equivalent to the red lantern in the Tour de France. This is not so easy as might be imagined. There was a time limit after which riders are eliminated from the race, a time which was related to the time of the stage leader. (A similar rule still applies today.)

There was prize money for the maglia nera and Italy was exceedingly poor, so this prize became of serious interest. The prize had been started to stop fans from pushing off as soon as the leaders had finished.

There were no radio communications, so riders had to rely on fans and supporters to make the timing right. The main challengers would hide by the roadside in order to fool rivals into thinking they were still ahead. The winner/loser would wear a black jersey.

The black jersey had recently associated with the Fascists. There was much interest in who was black jersey, as well as the maglia rosa. Eventually, the organisers got fed up with waiting for hours for the last cyclist, and interest waned as the war and poverty gradually receded when the '40s gave way to the '50s.
[Summarised from Pedalare! Pedalare!, p.147-151]


the sweep car (or sweeper van)
right at the back of each stage, you will see an anonymous car of shame that picks up the fallen soldiers who could ride no more
[le balai = the broom]
The voiture balai or sweep car.



domestiques
[from the French: un/une domestique - a servant]
These are ordinary team members supporting their star rider. Their job is to put him into the best position to win, and to protect him from being worn down. (The teams also vie for a category win).

The peloton is regularly moving at about 30 mph/48 kmph, which sets up considerable wind resistance, even on a still day. It is the job of the domestiques to lead out and protect their leader. In among the peleton, various teams are jockeying to make opposing teams do the hard work up front. Nor do you want your leader right in the middle of the peloton, risking domino crashes. So you keep him up near the front, surrounded by his guards.

And pace your leader until you run out of energy, in order that he can use his greater strength to finish ahead. You will often see this on flatter stages, where the specialist riders are being led out until the last hundred metres or so.

You don’t want your leader burning energy and going back to the supply cars, or dealing with the feeding stations with the attendant possibility of accidents in the melée.

If your leader has already built up an individual lead in the Tour, then why go to the front? Let the others do the work. On the other hand, your leader has a chance of taking some of the stuffing out of the recent leaders, and maybe you can break away and carry him over the line, so altering the situation. Naturally, domestiques are not also rans, but are vital to the success of the leader and the team so, of course, they share in the prize money. If your leader is fortunate enough to win an extra lion or two, he may give you one as a valued souvenir.
Credit Agricole peluche lion
Credit Agricole peluche lion



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just a cyclist?

Not all cyclists have the same skill set, but no real contender can be a slouch in any department.

You just about cannot win the Grand Tour unless you are a top climber or time trialist, and damn good at both. Among the ever-present discussions, more like arguments, about whether this year’s Tour, or last year’s, or next year’s, is ‘fair’.

There will be claims that the hills are too steep and too many of them, in order to attract and favour a great climber, or perhaps the great home climbers among the Basques. Or the reverse: the climbs are too easy but the time trials are so highly represented that the climbers cannot win. Be aware that modern Tours, despite thousands of kilometres, are usually won or lost by a very few minutes.

Remember, in the Grand Tours, the cyclists ride in teams of about ten riders.

sprinters [Fr.: sprinteur]
Sprinters will tend to win flat stages with a final burst of incredible speed on the final two or three hundred metres, in the midst of bumping and barging in a dangerous melee. These are often big riders with big muscles.
 
time trialers
Much of this is about style and technique. It is essentially flat out riding for an hour, or fifty plus kilometres with highest of high-tech equipment and clothing. It costs millions to put a major cycling team on the road.
Team trial space invaders Team trial space invaders Team trial space invaders
Team trial space invaders
climbers [Fr.: grimpeur]
These are often light and all muscle and with tremendous, everlasting stamina, to drive their weight up the mountain sides. They gradually wear down the big boys to a state of despair.
 
 
You may also see the following terms:
rouleur - a fellow with stamina who can keep going all day
polyvalent - all-rounder
puncheur - strong man able to turn up the amps
leader - top star around whom the teams are built
directeur sportif - team manager

 

training

Sports training is becoming ever more complicated and scientific.

Sports cycling training includes mileage, intervals, nutrition and post-ride recovery. Fatigue is also a significant factor in race cycling, and may be one of four types:

  1. The bonk, hitting the wall, resulting from muscle glycogen depletion. Developing one or two hours into a ride, i t is more likely to occur if glucose supplements are not taken during the ride to reinforce internal glycogen stores.
  2. Post-ride fatigue, the tiredness after several hours of vigorous riding. A sign of approaching training limits, it can lead to better performance on the next outing.
  3. Over-reaching is tiredness after a week of hard training. Recovery may lead to increased speed and strength.
  4. Overtraining - this is not good, and can take weeks, or even months of recovery.

Training often includes participating in lesser competitions in preparation for a more important one. Thus, riders will cycle in the Italian Giro (and/or the Spanish Vuelta when it used to be scheduled earlier in the year) to prepare for the premium race of the Tour de France. This has caused annoyance to the organisers of the Giro and the Vuelta, when big names participate for enough days to tune their bodies, then drop out so as not to overtrain before the Tour de France.

 

echelon

Typical echelon formation
Typical echelon formation. Image: rutrainingtoday.co.uk

You will see this behaviour during the big, flat stages with side winds blowing across the plains. It also occurs when the peloton is riding along the seaside. Of course, the number of steps in an echelon is limited by the width of the road.

This can result in breaking up a peloton. If you cannot get on the first echelon, you are stuck with having to form or join a second or third one. With a group of strong riders in the first echelon, peloton break-ups a quite likely.

Rotating: the cyclists peel off the front and drift to the back of the peloton, giving the next in line a turn at withstanding the brunt of the wind.

Shielding yourself behind another rider can save up to 20 to 30% of energy on the flat. This varies by cycling speed, wind speed and wind direction. Obviously, this does not apply to a following wind, and is much reduced by in uphill sections.

 

the breakaway

(This section applies mainly to non-mountain stages.)

There is always a lot of camaraderie on the road with this roughest and hardest of all sports.

It’s very difficult for individual riders, or even half a dozen, to break away from the main peloton, for the main peloton can move considerably faster, with its wind-breaking advantages as the leaders change and change about.

So why do you so often see breakaways?
Well, what’s wrong with a bit of ambition? More seriously, it means your sponsors will have a lot of camera time, which is, after all, for what they are paying. It is also a good way of upping your personal visibility and reputation.

Who will be involved in breakaways?
It won’t be the top stars. After all, this is a risky gambit. Furthermore, all the top riders watch each other like hawks, and there is no way that they are going to allow a serious rival to gain several minutes on the road.

Remember there are team prizes, and a top team will not want to let a seriously competing team escape without inserting one of their own riders in the breakaway. They may even try to sneak in a second rider. If a strong team has managed to get one of its riders away, thereafter it will steadfastly refuse to work at the head of the peloton. This is so the team may, very happily, maintain its potential advantage.

Who else will break away?
It’s the fellow who isn’t very high up in the rankings but it’s his birthday, or the race is about to go through, or finish at, his home town; and then there’s always a bit of extra prize money.

 

some cycling slang/dictionary - a glossary

bidon
[French, un bidon, for a container for liquid - a can, tin, flask for water, milk, petrol.]
The hghly decorated plastic water bottles used by cycle race riders. The empty bidons are discarded by being thrown to the side of the road, where they are eagarly picked up as souvenirs by spectators or fans.
Domestiques returning to their team car at the back of the peloton will load up with eight or more bidons shoved down and up their maillots. The bidons are distributed amongst team members when the domestique returns towards the top of the peloton.
selection of bidons

big or small ring :
The front cogs on the pedal shaft.

bigger or smaller gear :
A bigger gear is obtained by either or both a larger front cog, or a smaller back cog.

the bonk :
Hitting the wall, resulting from muscle glycogen depletion. Developing one or two hours into a ride, it is more likely to occur if glucose supplements are not taken during the ride to reinforce internal glycogen stores.

col :
A mountain pass (from the French)

dig :
A sudden acceleration to put pressure on rivals, often several times.

étape :
From the French for ‘stage’: race stage

flamme rouge :
The archway marking the start of the final kilometre of a stage has a red pennant hung from it. This is the flamme rouge. (Also known as the red kite.)

lead out :
The guy pacing his team leader, especially on a sprint, protecting his fastest sprinter to the last possible moment.

line out :
Extended line as the pace is increased.

long cage and Deraillier :
Alternative mechanisms for switching cogs - this is technical, look it up on a specialist page.

magic spanner and the sticky bottle :
A cyclist gets a puncture, or falls in a peloton crash. Well, of course, he needs a bit of medical attention, and surely his brakes will need a bit of adjustment. So, his arm receives careful attention while the rider holds onto the car.

Or, the mechanic has to lean out of the car, holding onto the bike, while he uses his magic spanner to do some adjustments. This is very helpful in giving the cyclist a bit of assistance to regain his place.

Another useful device is the sticky bottle. The guy in the car handing it over finds it a bit difficult to let go.

maillot
French for a jersey; the close-fitting jerseys worn by cyclists. The overall leader and leaders of other classifications wear specific colour maillots, while team members wear maillots that, essentially, advertise the team’s sponsors.

Sports clothing is now a vast and technically sophisticated business, far too complpex to go into here.
 
musette :
Bag for on-the-race food and drink. Held out by team assistant and grabbed by the riders as they go past. The emptied bag is discarded to become a spectator trophy. (From the French for a small basket often used for hunting .)

not much left in the tank :
Running out of energy.

on the rivet :
Flat out. When cycling flat out, if sitting, a cyclist may sit right forward on the edge of the saddle. In the old days of leather saddles, the leather was held in place by rivets at the front (and the back) of the saddle.
Brooks Colt saddles showig rivets

palmares :
Personal list of racing sucesses,
such as stage wins, 1st on La Vuelta, 1988.

parcours :
is the day’s route

pedalling squares
The feeling when a rider is so tired that they lose pedalling rhythm, or when cycling on too larger gear - for instance, when going downhill.

peluche
Literally, plush, as in a textile having a similar touch to down or fur, such as used for the ‘fur’ of soft toys. In French, a soft toy such as a teddy bear, or a yeti, is known generally as une peluche. (A teddy bear is un ours en peluche.)

peloton
The main, often compact, group of riders, sometimes written as ‘peloton’ in English. Derived from pelote - a small, compact ball of silk, wool or rubber, also an army platoon. (The Basque game of pelote uses a small rubber ball.) Also related to the English word ‘pellet’.

put the hammer down :
Sustained increase of speed.

red zone :
Risking bonk.

rooster plume :
Heavy spray of rainwater kicked up by the bikes rear wheel in very wet conditons. Not much fun to ride behind.
 
service course :
is the team bus base.

in Spanish :

domestiques are called gregarios.
• The hardest day’s cycling is called la etapa reina.
An uphill time trial is el chrono-escalada.
Bonk in Spanish is pájara. There is also a Vuelta climb known as Pajares between León and Ovedo.
• a chuparruedas is a wheel sucker.

soigneurs :
For example, the people who hand out the musettes of food and drink (from the French for carer). Soigners also look after the riders at the team buses and during their stays in hotels.

sprockets :
Cogs on the back wheel.

tifosi :
Italian word, describing a group of fans or supporters.

wheel sucker :
Rider who rides in other riders’ slipstream, making little effort themselves.

 

some reading

The following is an exceeding boring book, almost like reading a telephone directory. It has notes on all previous runnings of the Vuelta. However, in among the addresses and telephone numbers you will discover all manner of hints on cycling tactics, with interposed examples of dubious practice and cheating. You will also find snippets on the disturbed political background of Spain, from right back to the Civil War and the Franco regime, and going up until modern times, against which times the Vuelta has been held, or not held.
Viva La Vuelta! by Fallon and Bell

Viva La Vuelta!: The Story of Spain's Great Bike Race by Lucy Fallon and Adrian Bell (foreword by Sean Kelly)

£16.10 [amazon.co.uk]

Mousehold Press, pbk, 2005
ISBN-10: 1874739404
ISBN-13: 978-1874739401

Marker at abelard.org

Pedalare! Pedalare! is very similar to Viva La Vuelta!, but relating to Italian cycling and the Giro. This book is less of a telephone directory. It gives less background on the actual race, but more on the culture of cycling from the days when cycles were an essential part of the slow modernisation of Italy. Pedalare! Pedalare! is generally rather shallow and a bit romantic. There is a useful section towards the end about doping, which amounts to “It’s always with us, and always has been”.

“But the socialists remained, on the whole, firmly critical of the sport itself, as opposed to the practice of cycling. the first 'red' cycling' convention passed a motion which saw sport as 'a very serious problem … a powerful way of diverting the attention of workers, and of young people in general, from an understanding of social problems and the importance of political and economic organisation'. In a similar vein, in 1912 another socialist condemned 'young people' who were 'more interested in reading La Gazzetta dello Sport as opposed to Avanti!?' (the socialist daily newspaper) and 'only concerned with making love or racing their bikes'. Sport was seen as inspiring 'localistic and militaristic' attitudes. Cycling was good, the sport of cycling was bad. Despite these trenchant statements, the sport soon became immensely popular among peasants and workers all over Italy. If cycling was Italy's 'opium of the people', it was indeed a potent drug." [Quoted from Pedalare! Pedalare!, Part 1, chapter 1]

La Gazzetta is the sports paper of Italy, and the founder and still the organiser of the Giro d’Italia.

Pedalare! Pedalare!: A History of Italian Cycling
by John Foot

Pedalare! Pedalare! by John Foot

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, pbk, 2012
ISBN-10: 1408822199
ISBN-13: 978-1408822197
$20.00 [amazon.com]
£5.39 [amazon.co.uk]

Kindle edition
2683 KB
Bloomsbury Publishing 2011
ASIN: B0055S2GDQ
$14.16 [amazon.com]
£7.97 [amazon.co.uk]

end notes

  1. The Bonk describes the disastrous moment when suddenly there is nothing left in the tank. Legs become as jelly, and to reach the finish line requires enormous will power to keep going to the end.

    The body’s glycogen store produces the energy neeeded to perform effectively. During long-endurance exercise, the body’s store of glycogen is depleted. When the glycogen is completely depleted, the body has no more fuel. Instead it burns fat which results in a rush of exhaustion and the accompanying collapse in performance.

    To counter this problem, generally riders will use a sports drink, together with supplements to replenish glycogen stores during the ride. The drink has the additional benefit of hydration. Tour de France participants are estimated to receive half their daily calorie intake from on-bike supplements. Obviously, choosing the right carbohydrate sports drink is vital.

    The sports drink choice requires balancing glycogen replenishment and rehydration, as the two interact. Greater carbohydrate in the drink detracts from rehydration, while causing digestion problems. Thus, generally riders choose an isotonic drink with 6-7 per cent carbohydrate. This appears to give a good balance between hydration and glycogen replenishment.


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