Thursday, July 2, 2009

FAQ's For the First Time Tour Viewer (and A Refresher For The Rest of Us)

With the start of the 2009 Tour De France just 2 days away I thought it would be a good idea to address some of the questions that newer viewer of the Tour might have and to refresh (or possibly enlighten) those of you who have watched the Tour in past years. If there is something that I miss or a specific question(s) that you might have, leave them in the comments and I would be happy to answer them for you.

1) What are all the different jerseys for and how does a rider get to wear one?

There are 4 different jerseys that the Tour gives out after every stage and each denotes the leader of a specific classification.
  • Yellow Jersey (Maillot Jaune, Mellow Johnny)-The wearer of the Yellow Jersey is the race leader on elapsed time. Whatever rider has the lowest elapsed time at the end of each stage is the wears the Yellow Jersey for the next days stage. Time is calculated by adding each stages finishing time together, for example Dave Zabriske of Garmin wins the Stage 1 Time Trial in a time of 25:15.33, second place is Levi Leipheimer in 25:15.48. In the final standings second place is rounded up and Zabriske would have a one second advantage over Leipheimer and wear the Yellow Jersey for Stage 2. Wearing the Yellow Jersey is a great honor if only for one day, it is an even bigger honor if that one day happens to be the last one in Paris!
  • Green Jersey (Maillot Vert)-Classified as the Most Consistant Finisher but in reality it is the Sprinters who vie for this jersey. This classification is done on a points system where points are awarded at the finish line of each flat stage on a sliding scale from 25 for 1st place to 1 point for 25th place and on a similar sliding scale for mountain stages (the points aren't as much for 1st and don't go as deep). There are also intermediate sprints out on the course that are worth 6,4 and 2 points respectively for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd on the road. If the competition is tight for the Green Jersey you will see the sprinters mixing it up for the intermediate sprints also.
  • King of the Mountain (KOM)-This is the red polka dot jersey given to the leader of the Best Climber competition. This is also done on a points system where points are awarded for classified climbs on the route. The harder the climb the more points are available and there are double points at the finish line for a stage that finishes on a mountain top.
  • White Jersey-The Best Young Rider (under 25 as of Jan 1) is done like the race leader on elapsed time. This is a very prestigious jersey to win for a young rider as several future Tour winners have won it in the years preceeding their Tour victories.

As far as some other jerseys you may see in the Tour, each country generally has it's national road race and time trial championship the week or two before the Tour starts and the winners of those respective races wear their countries colors during the race. There is also the road race World Champion and time trial World Champion jerseys that are worn by their winners.

2) Is every team trying to win the Tour and if not what are their objectives everyday?

No every team does not have a contender for the General Classification (Overall) victory. That being said every team comes to the Tour with objectives and can leave feeling like they had a sucessful Tour if those are met. For a team like Skil-Shimano their objective for the Tour might be to have a man in the breakaway everyday, or wear the Green or KOM jersey for one day. On the other hand for a team like Astana anything less than a Tour victory will be seen as a failure. Each team will plan their day based on the stage and what the standings look like at the beginning of the day. For some teams putting a man in the breakaway is no more than getting some "face time" on TV for their sponsors, for others it is a tactical decision based on what the standings look like and who is wearing what jersey, it also is affected by the long term goals of the team.

3) It's a race so you should try to be the first one to the line everyday right?

No, not at all. The Tour De France is 21 stages over 3 weeks covering 2,500 miles around France, Spain, and a small part of Italy. It would not be humanly possible to be first everyday.

4) If the riders don't all cross the finish line at the same time why are they given the same time as the winner in the standings?

This is a carryover from the days when all the timing was done by hand, it is also a safety issue for the riders. Bunch sprints are dangerous enough with only the sprinters taking part, if everyone wasn't given the same time at the line you would have 180 riders trying to get to the finish line at the same time and that would just be a giant crash fest. Also as a side note, if there is a crash within 3km of a flat stage finish, anyone behind the crash is given the same time as the winner of the stage.

5) Why do guys breakaway everyday? They know they are going to get caught right?

Sometimes the break does stay away and for an average rider that might be the only way he will ever win a stage of the Tour de France. Most of the time though the break does get caught though. Some riders are in the break for "TV time" for their sponsors, it is a huge financial obligation to sponsor a Pro Tour team and this is how the sponsors make their money back by getting free advertising. Other riders are in the break for tactical reasons, if there is a climb at the end of a stage the rider in the break can drop back and help his leader on the climb, also as cycling tactics work if you have a guy in the break then you are not obligated to provide help on the front of the peleton to chase the break down. This can save a team critical energy by not having to push through the wind on the front of the group.

6) How do the tactics of cycling work? What does all this attacking and counter attacking do and why do the riders do it?

I could write an entire post (and probably a book) on cycling tactics and why things are done the way they are done. The best way to answer this question is to discuss each day's stage and dissect the tactics that were employed on that particular stage.

7) What is a domestique?

Domestique is a French term for the "worker bees" or teammates on a particular team. Each teammate has a specific purpose during the race in order to give his team leader the best chance to win. Some of the duties include dropping back to the team car to get water bottles (called bidons), sitting out front, to the sides, and behind the leader to keep him out of the wind and safe from trouble. Giving up his wheel or entire bike to the leader in case of a crash or mechanical situation. The domestiques of the winning team are rewarded for their hard work at the end of the race. The winners share is 400,000 euros which the leader traditionally splits among the team and takes none for himself (he will make plenty of $$ at the post Tour crits and in endorsements). Lance always paid his guys an additonal bonus on top of splitting the winnings.

8) What is doping and why do riders dope?

Doping is a catch all term for the use of performace enhancing drugs and the practice of reinfusion of oxygen enriched blood to the body. Endurance sports are all about delaying fatigue and recovery. By enriching the blood whether through the use of a blood booster like CERA or EPO or by a transfusion of blood already enriched with oxygen the rider is delaying fatigue and aiding in recovery due to the higher count of red blood cells. The red blood cell acts as a courier taking oxygen to the working muscle and removing lactate, by having more of these than another rider it will allow the athlete to go harder for longer and recover quicker. Now to quote Lance it isn't going to "make a donkey into a thoroughbred" but it will allow an above average rider to possibly become a podium contender and a Top 10 rider a chance to win.

I am sure that I missed a few so let me know what you want answered.

Vive Le Tour!

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