Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Tour de France

The summer is approaching the Côte rapidly, now, and thoughts are turning towards the grand boucle — Le Tour de France. In late July, this wonderful race, the world’s greatest annual sporting event, will see the finest road racing cyclists traverse the great ranges of the Mercantour and the Hautes Alpes to the northeast of Digne. Eager fans will already be writing their slogans on the bitumen over the Col de Lombarde and the Col de Larche and poring over the Tour route maps, planning their viewing points on the big climbs.
Running from Saturday July 4th to Sunday July 26th 2009, the 96th Tour de France will be made up of 21 stages and travels the hexagon of France covering a distance of 3,500 kilometres. From Wednesday the 1st of July, opening day of the Tour offices and the press room, until the 5th of July when the pack will leave Monaco to cover the 2nd stage heading to Brignoles, the Tour should welcome around 4500 riders and followers added to 150 000 spectators according to a realistic broadcast. The route crosses 19 high passes, and visits a number of new stop-over towns all over France.

If you are not a fanatic, you may find the technicalities of long distance cycle racing somewhat opaque, so let’s try to simplify it. Above all, it is a team sport, with about 20 teams of 9 riders each. Le Tour involves 21 days of racing stages over a month, and most of the riders are domestics, expected to do the hard slog of leading the group into the wind, carrying water bottles from the team car to the front, and generally expending their reserves of energy to defend the stars, the minority of riders who have a chance of winning a jersey as a leader.

Every year the winner of the Tour de France is awarded with the “Yellow jersey”. But there’s more than one kind of leader. ‘Sprinters’ have explosive strength. They try to win points on the long undulating stages, and the domestics lead them out at the last moment to win by micro-seconds. The best sprinter wears the green jersey. On the big mountain climbs, on the other hand, the domestics attempt to lead the ‘climbers’ to a position where they can surge up, dropping the pack, and winning the stage by minutes, even tens of minutes. Climbers ride for the polka-dot jersey.

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