TDF Cyclists are regarded as one of the fittest breeds on the face of this planet.
Peter Sagan – 3x World Champion (2015-17)
3x World Champion should be sufficient to make you think of a sportsperson as part of “been there, done that” category. A category of people who have hit the top in any sport.
What could be more prestigious and distinguished than being a “World Champion”?
L’Auto (meaning The Car) was a newspaper, back in 1903, dedicated to cover the new sport of Car Racing. Due to sluggish initial response, management had no option but to turn it around. One of the journalists of L’Auto, an ex-Rugby player and a cyclist himself, came up with an outrageous idea – to organise a cycling race around France, to be held over 6 days and at a grand scale.
I choose “outrageous” as it was a completely unconventional and unorthodox thought-process to tackle a business predicament.
It clicked big time. Sales numbers soared by over 150% at the completion of the 1st race itself and the publication never looked back thereon. L’Auto now is currently run by Amaury Sport Organization. The race is held annually ever since and has gained immense popularity. Cyclists from all over the world now aspire to participate in this event which is famously known as “Tour De France” – The Tour of France.
Maurice Garin, winner of 1st Tour De France. Image Credit : Wikipedia
SALIENT FEATURES OF TOUR DE FRANCE:
- Total of 22 teams with 8 riders per team
- Involves 21 stages across 23 days; one stage every day with total 2 rest days
- Distance to be covered : Over 3500 kms (approx 2200 miles)
- Starting point of the tour can vary. Termed as “Grand Départ”, cities outside of France have had the privilege of hosting it. (Due to Covid 19, this stayed in France for the 2020 edition)
- Race always culminates in Paris – Champs-Élysées
- All of the stages are timed to the finish
- The riders’ times are added with their previous stage times and the rider with the lowest cumulative finishing times is the leader of the race. He gets to wear the YELLOW jersey. (Yellow jersey usually keeps exchanging hands after each stage, such is the level of competition).
- “General Classification – GC” is the oldest and the main competition wherein the Yellow Jersey is awarded. Winner of this category is the overall winner of Tour De France.
- In order to reward and appreciate all kinds of riders (Sprinters, Climbers, Time Trial specialists), following categories have been created : Mountain Classification, Points Classification and Young Riders Classification.
- Mountain Classification : Second oldest jersey awarding classification. Because of the severity of the climbs, points are awarded to the first 10 riders to complete the stage. Leader of this classification is awarded a WHITE JERSEY WITH POLKA DOTS. (Highest Climb in TDF has been measured at 2000 metres with other climbs falling in the range of 1000-1300 metres).
- Points Classification : Considered a sprinter’s race, points are awarded for finishing each stage in the Top 15. Higher points awarded for the “flat stage race finishes” as compared to “high-mountain stage finish”. Purely, an idea originated to highlight the fastest sprinters of the world. Leader of this classification is awarded a GREEN jersey.
World Champion Peter Sagan holds the record for winning this category 7 times.
- Young Rider Classification : Same principles as the General Classification but for riders below 26 years of age. The winner is awarded the WHITE jersey.
- Prize Money for Tour De France 2020:
- Overall winner of the general classification received €500,000
- Second and third placed riders received €200,000 and €100,000 respectively.
- Final winners of the points and mountains were awarded €25,000, while the best young rider and most combative rider (rider with the highest breakaways) were awarded €20,000 each.
- The team classification winners earned €50,000 (an award given to the team with the lowest cumulative time clocked by the Top 3 riders of that team).
- €11,000 was awarded to the winners of each stage of the race, with smaller amounts given to places 2–20.The Tour is a demanding, gut-wrenching, energy-sapping experience which the cyclists equally prepare for. They relish this experience. At times, it’s more than a combat for them. Months of meticulous preparation – physical and mental – go into an event which attracts 12 – 15 million spectators over the period of 23 days.
Fans are fully aware of the feat the cyclists are gunning for. They come out in hordes to spur their heroes on. Definitely, a must-do item in the bucket list of sporting events.
- SO, IS IT AN INDIVIDUAL SPORT OR A TEAM SPORT?It can’t be expressed enough that there are very few bigger team sports than this.
- There is a designated leader for each team. Leader may get the glory, but it is unlikely that he would have got there without his team of 8 riders (the “domestiques” – French for “servants”).
- Domestiques shield the anointed “leader” from various elements, they ensure that he is safe in the melee of the peloton, and if he were to experience mechanical failure, they would pace him back to the main group.
- They bring him his food and keep him topped up with energy drinks.
- Their only raison d’etre (mission) is to ensure that the leader uses up as little energy as possible.
- When the racing gets tough and the “domestiques” can help no more, the leader takes over, shifts into a new gear and beats his rivals.
- Even when the finish is mountainous, the team can play an important role. They send riders up the road forcing the opposition to chase and expend their energy.
- Using domestiques to chase down attacks is part and parcel of the tactics of cycling.
A Peloton (main group of cyclists who ride together for coherence) in action. The leader of a team will be in the middle saving his energy to the tune of 40-50%. Fascinating team work at display!
In Sprinting, the team plays an equally important role.
- In order for the sprinter to launch his kick in the final 300m or so, they have to first negotiate 200km of road to get there.
- The Domestiques once again shepherd the leaders throughout the day, and during the final few km, teams often form lines known as sprint trains to attempt to guide their rider to the finish.
- Ideally in that situation riders will be used one after the other to control the front of the race, till the last man peels off at 200m to go and the sprinter does the rest.
Perfect illustration of a Leader of a team making his final move after being shielded by his Domestiques to cut the wind for most part of the race. Also known as “Drafting”.
It’s only apt that the leader, if crowned the champion, shares the prize money with all his team members. Wise lesson for leaders across different sectors, may be?
HOW DO THE RIDERS GO SO EFFING FAST??
Winning cyclists can average an impossible 26 mph (approx 42 kmph). While die-hard cyclists attribute this blazing speed to modern training and nutrition as well as their legs, lungs, and bodies with less body fat percentage than fashion models, the real answers lie in fitness and physics.
AERODYNAMICS plays the most pivotal part.
The aerodynamic force, or drag force, against a moving object, is the largest force a racing cyclist, or any cyclist going over 10 miles per hour, has to overcome.
Bradley Wiggin leading the 2012 Tour de France on a time trial bike, keeping his back flat as a tabletop to minimise the frontal projected area and TO achieve the minimum aerodynamic force. (Image Credit : Denis Menchov)
- The time trial bike pitches the rider’s torso forward, making the back flat as a tabletop while their neck and eyeballs strain to look ahead.
- The position is difficult to hold for more than a few agonising breaths for the untrained or overweight, but pros may have to hold the position for hours during a time trial.
- Another key feature is the wheel rims, which are deep and tapered. Blade-like spokes that can cut fingers off replace the usual spokes with round sections that thrash the wind. To get the absolute minimum drag, time trial and track bikes forego spokes altogether and use aerodynamically slippery plastic membrane (the back wheel).
- Ducking the wind with an aggressive posture, keeping arms forward and close together during a time trial, or wearing a smooth, aerodynamic helmet and skintight clothing helps the ride, but only to an extent.Almost 3500 kms in 21 days, cyclists burn north of 110,000 calories during the course of this creme de la creme competition.WHAT DOES THEIR DIET LOOK LIKE?
- Each team travels with a team of Chefs – for whom the day starts two hours prior to the breakfast set-up: breads, omelettes, smoothies, oatmeal. While the riders eat they pack up the truck and drive to the end of the day’s race, around 150-200 miles, making sure to be out on the road before the race starts.
- It might seem a simple job trying to get the most possible calories into an athlete’s body, but it’s about more than just a big portion size.“You’re looking at a group of very, very skinny professional riders who are scared of fats, any carbs that aren’t refined, and suddenly here I am making lentils and polenta”, Hannah Grant, a professional sports nutritionist and a trained chef from Denmark.“You have to take into consideration mood swings, crashes, rainy days, which has a knock-on effect on the theoretical good stuff.” Grant said. “Athletes are only as professional as their emotional states will allow them to be.”“Every bite they put in their mouth has to make sense somehow. It has to optimise everything in them: recovery, performance, mental stability – and in a restaurant that’s not the case.”This special breed of warriors do need to be taken care of in an exclusive manner as the sport demands extremely high degree of devotion and allegiance.
PETER SAGAN, considered G.O.A.T, might have been the only one to win the UCI Road World Championships for 3 straight years, but his unsuccessful pursuit to be a Tour De France champion doesn’t tarnish his image even an inch.
He is a proud 7-time green jersey holder, has enjoyed his decade old career as a pro and is still hungry as ever to win Tour De France. Such is the potency of this spectacle.
Image Credit : Dipanjan Chaudhari
Only instance where a World Champion won the Tour De France was when American cyclist Lance Armstrong ruled the Tour De France circuit by winning it 7 times in a row. This was special as it was achieved after he recovered successfully from a testicular cancer.
Unfortunately, Armstrong’s reputation was tarnished by a doping scandal and he was stripped of all of his achievements from August 1998 onward, including his Tour de France titles.
P.S. Next time you pay a visit to your favorite book store, go ahead and look hard for his autobiography : “It’s not about the bike – My Journey back to life”.
It entails his epic fight with cancer, his daily regime during the treatment and how he won the biggest battle of his life. It’s the stuff of legends and truly inspirational.
Don’t let his smeared image stop you from learning about an act of miracle.
Tour De France along with Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España are known as the Grand Tours of Cycling. The Tour, Giro and the World Championships are termed as the Triple Crown of Cycling.
One wonders, if this sport, with the amount of endurance, grit and fortitude on display demands more inflow of money. Sponsors are at galore but the rewards aren’t.
- Few pictures from Tour De France 2019 capturing the essence immaculately.
This is me (back in August 2020). Makes me appreciate more what Tour De France athletes manage to pull off year after year. True Warriors!!
This Week’s Trivia
Q1) Sheep : NZ :: Bikes : ?
Q2) Which is the biggest bike brand in the world?
A1) Netherlands. No. of bikes owned are 20mn+ for a population of approx 17m. In fact, Amsterdammers bicycle around two million kms every day.
A2) The Giant Manufacturing Company aka Giant. Taiwan based firm which clocked revenues of USD 2bn+ in 2018.