UNDERSTANDING TOUR DE FRANCE
The 2019 Tour de France begins on Saturday July 6th through Sunday July 28th. The event is the third most viewed sporting event after the Olympics and World Cup watched by 3.5 billion viewers. This overview provides a breakdown of the basics of the tour and fun facts to better understand the race.
How far do they ride and where? The 2019 Tour will travel 2,150 miles during a 21 day span beginning in Brussels and ending at the historic Champs-Élysées in Paris. There are 21 stages with each day brings various terrains and distances including individual time trials. The route is determined by a committee often made up of former racers looking for new ways to challenge the cyclists each year.
How big are the cyclists? The average man is typically between 5’ 8”- 5” 10” weighing about 140 pounds with 4% body fat. Each cyclist will begin trimming down 3 months in advance to ensure a lean body for the race. There have been larger successful cyclist like Mario Cipollini who is 6” 2” weighing 170 lbs. While he never won the tour outright, he was known as the strongest sprinter on tour winning 12 individual stages.
What is a Peloton? – The Peloton is the name for the cluster of riders in a tight formation. This grouping allows cyclists to draft off each other conserving energy throughout the race. The riders in front block the wind as well as creating vortices allowing cyclist behind to save as much as 40% of their energy depending on the wind.
There are some disadvantages of being toward the back of the pack. Cyclists are literally inches apart traveling at average speeds of 30 mph making reaction time virtually impossible. Therefore accidents that occur are often because it is very difficult to see or react when drafting in the back.
Peloton shape may change depending on direction of wind so if you see a cluster toward the rear, then there is likely a strong tail wind. If there is an elongated shape to the group then they are fighting a crosswind.
Every aerodynamic advantage including shaved leg and arms helps conserve energy. A fun 3-minute video showing benefits of shaved vs. unshaved body can be found here.
How much do the bikes weigh? The governing body named Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) mandates the bikes need to weigh a least 6.8 kg or about 15 lbs. With today’s technology like carbon fiber materials, it is easy to eliminate weight off your bike. When riding 2,150 miles, you’ll want to schlepp as little as possible so most cyclists keep their bike weight close to the minimum, however the lightest bike does not necessarily win. You still need to pedal it efficiently.
How many calories to the riders burn during the race? The daily calories consumed ranges between 5000 for flatter courses to 7000 for the mountain stages so roughly 6000 calories. To put that in perspective, these cyclists can consume 9 Burger King Whoppers, or 54 Bud Lights, or 242 carrots a day for 21 days straight….and not gain a pound. Yowza.
What do the different jersey color mean?
The Yellow Jersey– The prized jersey is the equivalent of the Green Jacket in golf’s Masters Tournement The yellow jersey is awarded after each stage to the rider who is the overall leader of the race. Each day the total amount of time taken to finish that stage is added to the cumulative time of all previous races, and the overall leader is determined. There is also a point system based up on stage difficulty that can impact the winner but essentially it is the overall leader that earns the jersey. The cyclist who is leading after each stage wears the yellow throughout the next stage.
The Green Jersey – Also known as the sprinters jersey is awarded to the cyclist with the highest number of points. Points are awarded to cyclists who finish first, second, third, etc.. at each sprinting stage. Points are awarded depending on the type of stage and position of the cyclist. You don’t have to win each stage to earn the green, but you do need to be near the front for as many sprints as possible to earn the points and jersey.
The Red Polka-Dot Jersey: The King of the Mountains jersey. Points are awarded to the first rider to reach the top of designated hills and mountains. Mountains are given points according to steepness and distance with points corresponding to the grade. The red polka dot jersey goes to the rider who has won the most points in the mountain stages by reaching the top of various climbs first.
The White Jersey: Only for the younger riders under the age of 26. This is worn by the cyclist with the lowest overall time.
What does it cost to payroll a cycling team? Every sport has financial disparity and cycling is not any dissimilar. The team with the largest budget is UK’s Team Sky with a budget of $45 million per year. Not surprisingly they have won 6 Tour de France titles and have their sites on 2019. The team with the lowest budgets have a payroll of $4 million per year and you guessed it…. have never won.
All teams have 8 riders in the race with each having a role to support the other. Essentially you have one top rider and the rest are blockers and tacklers for this rider. Only one person wins but it does take a team effort.
Enjoy the race!