Roger Rilling on the myths and realities that are the Tour de France.
1. Contrary to recent beliefs, the first American to win the Tour De France was not named Lance
In 1986, a young Greg Lemond was the first American to set the main stage of procycling on fire by winning the Tour in front of his teammates and defending Tour champion Bernard Hinault. Lemond went on to win the Tour de France two more times, most notably in 1989. In the event that you are reading this post, more than likely you fancy yourself a cycling fan. As such, you owe it to yourself to throw on an original pair of Oakley’s and go retro as you watch clips from the ‘89 Tour.
2. Tour riders shave their legs for aerodynamics.
I really like this cycling myth. It seems to be widely viewed that cyclists spend their evenings grooming their furry legs in order to gain some speed out on the road. Sadly, gaining speed on the bike is not as easy as having a brand new Bic razor and some spare time. Cyclists actually shave their legs for a few reasons: to make massages easier, to make wound care easier, to eliminate the chances of infection on wounds and because it strangely makes us feel more manly when we ride in the rain and can see our legs shining back at us!
3. The Tour is long.
The Tour in recent years has been 21 stages long with 2 rest days. The average Tour is about two thousand miles long. Even though by all accounts two thousand miles is very long, when the Tour started it was not uncommon to have races that were about three thousand miles.
When the Tour started it was never really intended to be a regular sporting event; it was more of an advertising scheme set up to gain attention by putting people into seemingly insurmountable races that commonly went into the night because of the length. Thankfully the promoters saw the potential of the race as a sport and eventually made the race a little more feasible.
4. All the pretty jerseys.
This is a big one. In the Tour de France, a few jerseys are handed out to signify leaders of certain competitions within the Tour. Here is the breakdown of each jersey.
Yellow Jersey: Also known as the Maillot Jaune, the Yellow Jersey is worn by the overall race leader. The tour is decided on overall time, meaning the person with the lowest overall time at any stage of the race gets to wear the Maillot Jaune.
Points Leader: The second jersey is the green jersey handed out to the points leader. This is often referred to as the sprinter’s jersey, since most of the points are awarded at the end of flatter stages and at designated points within a day’s stage. Classically, riders going for the Maillot Jaune will not get involved with the chase for points because of the inherent danger in doing so.
King of the Mountains: Next up is the King of the Mountain jersey. This is also known as the polka dot jersey. This jersey is handed out to the rider that can gain the most climbing points, which are given out at the summit of several hills and mountains.
Best Young Rider/White Jersey: This jersey is handed out to the rider that has the best overall time and is under 26 years of age. The best young rider jersey is also the white jersey and is usually a competition the team directors pay close attention to since the
winner of this competition has a great chance of going on to win the overall Tour in later years.
5. The danger of the Tour.
The Tour de France can be a very dangerous place. Mix over one hundred riders together with little safety gear on other than a helmet, place them on small roads and tell them all that their dreams can be made or broken in the next three weeks of racing and it becomes clear why the race is dangerous.
The first week of the Tour is sadly the most eventful when it comes to crashes. This year’s Tour has followed in the tradition with several crashes taking out some of the race’s favorites before the major stages have even started. It is not uncommon for a rider to find himself on the ground 1-2 times during a lucky Tour. Over the years, three racers have passed away while racing the Tour and one racer passed away while swimming in the French Riviera during a rest day. Strangely, it seems that being a spectator is more deadly, since more spectators have passed over the years just watching the race. One such accident happened during the ‘64 Tour when twenty people were killed after a supply van hit a bridge.
6. Two more weeks.
This year’s Tour is a little over a week in so you still have two weeks to catch Tour fever! The real soap opera begins when the riders start to hit the mountains; you will be able to see the strategies used within the teams. I will keep chiming in with posts on the Tour as it unfolds and please, let me know if you have any questions, like what the heck is chamois cream!?