Exploring the Peloton: Things You May Not Have Known About the Tour De France
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Exploring the Peloton: Things You May Not Have Known About the Tour De France

The Tour de France is arguably one of the greatest athletic events of all time. It is an annual cycle race with over three weeks and near 2,200 miles of competition through the countryside and treacherous mountains of France (including the famous Alps) and sometimes Italy. Hidden within the popular competition is a rich heritage of cycling history.

Endurance sports haven't quite caught the imagination of the American people yet; we still favor our baseball, basketball and football as a nation. So while popular runner Steve Prefontaine engineered a running boom in the early 1970s and popular cyclist Lance Armstrong initiated the same idea for American cycling in the late 1990s, there remains a great lack of familiarity with one of the greatest endurance contests in world history: the Tour de France. You may have known that the leader with the lowest aggregate time sports the famous yellow jersey (known as maillot jaune in French) and that the peloton is the main group of riders, but here are some lesser known facts about the tour that may pique your interest.

A Dynamic Event

Just as the weather is never exactly the same, the course of the Tour changes every year. You can be sure of some constant ideas, such as the general start stage, the inclusion of des Alpes and the Pyrenees, and the finale of the event down the Champs-Elysees in Paris, but the circuit around France is never constant in length. In general, though, the Tour consists of 21 stages of 2,200 miles or less of competitive racing. This dynamic structure introduces constant change to the event. For example, in 2011, the lack of a prologue time trial shook up the course of events significantly.

Races Within the Race

Have you ever found yourself mystified about why a small group of riders suddenly jumps into the lead, or why the entire peloton suddenly surges forward in a mad dash? Aside from team strategy, there are multiple competitions going on within the Tour, and not all of them concern the maillot jaune. Other contests include King of the Mountains, Points Leader, and Best Young Rider. These leaders are signified by, respectively, a white jersey with red polka dots, a green jersey, and a white jersey.

King of the Mountains is fairly straightforward: points are awarded for reaching the peaks of summits based on their distance and grade, and the position the rider is in when reaching the summit.

The points leader accumulates points by winning stages and by crossing intermediate sprint lines in a leading position. The best young rider, simply enough, is the highest placing general classification rider under 26 years of age.

A Moment of Mercy

In an event in which the riders are punished with rigorous mountains and endless miles of riding, there is one rule that presents mercy (and also makes the final stage of the Tour nearly an exercise in futility): on a flat course, once within 3 kilometers of the finish, if a rider is in the leading peloton, he is credited with the same finish time as the rest of the peloton. The same happens if the rider crashes in the same scenario. This was done to encourage more vigorous racing in the flatter stages.

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Comments (1)

A great tribute to the Tour de France. Quite a tradition here! Thanks, Dustin.  

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