While the French Men’s soccer team was CRUSHING its competition (Allez Les Blues!) and winning the World Cup for the first time in 20 years, another major sporting event was taking place in France and entertaining the soccer-hating population of the country (yes, they do exist). I’m talking of course of about the Tour de France. This annual bicycle race circulating through many regions of France (and sometimes neighboring countries) is one of France’s oldest tradition and famous event. If you’re like me, you do not get cycling races but still want to sound like you know your stuff, so here’s a cheat-sheet for you.
The race first started in 1903 by a newspaper named l’Auto. The race occurs over a period three weeks, consisting of 21 étapes (stages). Each étape varies in length and is held in a different region of France. The cyclists run one étape every day. Some can be flat and easy for the racers. Others occur in steep mountain sides which can be very hard. Those étapes are decisive when setting up the classment. Cyclists race in 22 teams of eight. Each team has a leader or protected rider while the rest of the team is composed of domestiques (servant in French) that support the leader and help him in what he needs. The Tour includes five competitions but the only one you need to worry about is the general classification: the racer that completes all stages with the shortest time received the most famous Maillot Jaune (yellow jersey).
However, it is the not the sole jersey awarded. At each étape, four jerseys are awarded. The yellow jersey is awarded to the cyclist who finished the stage with the shortest time. The cyclist will get to wear the jersey the next day and give it to the winner of the next stage (the overall winner of the Tour gets to keep it definitely). The green jersey, maillot vert, is given to cyclist who is currently at the end of the leaderboard in term of points since points are awarded to the first 15 racers to reach the finish line. The polka dot jersey, maillot à pois, is given to the cyclist who earned the most points in a mountain climbing étape. Finally, a white jersey, maillot blanc, is given to the best cyclist that is under 26 years old. It stands as a junior maillot jaune.
The stages can last up to 5 hours. It can be dull and hard to follow unless you are an avid cycling fan. But you’re not. You’re not even sure how to pronounce Tour de France. Aside from accidents, fans somehow obstructing the road or some cyclist taking shortcuts or cheating, drama can occur after the races in the form of doping testing and award stripping. Cyclists are tested before and after each stage. Since French people take cheating seriously, pee can even be sometimes frozen so it can be tested on later. This is how the United States tarnished its reputation forever in the Tour de France, in one of the most infamous incidents of all time. One of its racers was found guilty of what the United States Anti-Doping Agency described as “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” We are of course talking about Lance Armstrong.
Once an accomplished cyclist and athlete who had excellent performances in Olympic games and other international competitions (including the Tour De France), the American athlete was found guilty of doping and using substances for many years. He was stripped of many titles and banned from practicing any sports professionally for an indeterminate sentence. Among those striped titles were SEVEN Tour de France titles. Mr. Armstrong had earned the record of most titles won by an individual. This had interesting repercussions: as of right now, the official records of the Tour De France show that there are no first place winners from the year 1998 to 2005. The leaderboard starts at the runner-up.
If this woke up a new interest in the event, you should definitely follow its progress on the official website www.letour.fr. We are currently at the 12th étape which is in the Alps. The British competitors Team Sky has currently the shortest overall time with a three minutes gap with the runner-up.