Hi, my name is Ian, and I am a Tour de France addict.
I love this time of year. During these 23 glorious summer days, I prefer to sit in my house and watch lycra-clad, skinny guys ride bikes. I will sit and watch salt-crusted, exhausted men, ride up and down mountains and along roads lined with sunflower-filled fields for hours on a Saturday or Sunday. It is my Super Bowl, my World Series, and my NBA and NHL finals all in one. I don’t get bored, and I don’t skip stages.
My wife, on the other hand, lasts about two days, and I fully recognize that I bear much of the blame for this. Early on, I failed to sit down and fully explain the intricacies of the race. Taking a step back, I realized how confusing and complicated the different jerseys and competitions, the points, the time gaps and bonuses, and the different stage types could be.
If you are the significant other, roommate, training partner, or concerned parent or friend of a TdF addict, read this four part series. It will help you communicate with the afflicted individual and help you to understand our odd annual ritual. Don’t worry, you won’t need to shave your legs to watch if you decide to join us on the couch!
The Riders – Cyclists are not a homogenous bunch. They come in all shapes and sizes and a variety of specialties. Depending on the goals of the team, the composition and number of each type of rider can vary greatly.
GC riders – These are the stars of the peloton. Well, the media gives them the most attention, at least. They are the ones who garner all of the coverage before the big stage races, aka the prima donnas. Ok, that may be a little dramatic. General Classification riders are good all-around-riders. They can climb. They can time trial. They can ride in the cross winds. They can sprint…ok, most of the GC riders cannot sprint worth a damn. You won’t see these guys going for the win until it really matters, until they can gain time. Finishing tenth place on a sprint stage doesn’t matter if all of the other GC riders finish right with them. They plan everything out. The know when they can stop to pee, when they can talk to the DS in the team car, and when to be at the front of the race. They don’t race all that often, but they go deep into the pain bank when they do.
Sprinters – These guys are nuts. They are the speed demons and daredevils of the peloton. They can propel their bikes forward at more than 40 miles per hour. At the end of a flat stage, they hurtle down the road at crazy speeds, bumping and pushing each other to get into the best position. They produce some really exciting finishes and some spectacular crashes. The best of them know how to be in the right place at the right time. The best of the best remain invisible until the last kilometer of the race, protected by teammates and conserving their energy. They have the ability to generate an enormous amount of power over a very short period of time. However, sprinters are allergic to inclines. Immediately after arriving at the base of a big climb, the sprinters all group up and ride in together in what is called the “Autobus” or “grupetto” in Italian. Literally, they all bunch up in an effort to make the time cut. Fortunately for the sprinters, the TdF organization is not likely to eliminate all of the star sprinters if they miss the time cut and arrive together as a group. Safety in numbers, I guess.
Climbers – These whispy riders defy gravity. They may not be able to generate the raw power of the sprinters or the sustained power of the time trialists, but man can they go uphill. The only thing keeping the climbers from being GC contenders is their inability to time trial. Some teams contract a climber as the GC rider knowing that a top ten or top five finish is the best they can do. The time that climbers lose in time trials, though, directly translates into explosive action in the high mountains where the climbers try to claw back time. Like the time trialists, climbers have an extraordinary ability to suffer. There is nothing like watching these guys go on the attack. It is a thing of beauty.
Time Trialists – The Time Trial (TT) Specialists live for the one or two days of the TdF that are time trials. On those days, they get to shine. On every other day, they are monster work horses for their teams, driving the pace to pull back breaks, controlling the peloton by keeping the pace high. The TT rider has the unique ability to settle in at a really hard effort and zen out. It is almost like they set this high power effort, but they mentally retreat to the back room of their mind to play pool or sit by the water. Ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration, as TT riders do endure the same amount of pain as every other riders. They just can take it longer that the others. While others say they rode until their legs just couldn’t turn the cranks another revolution, the TT riders actually get much closer to that level of fatigue than anyone else. Despite the massive amount of power that they can generate, TT riders don’t tend to make good sprinters or GC riders. They are normally much too big to handle the high mountains to contend for the GC, and they lack that top-end power and speed to compete in the sprint. Think of the TT riders as having giant turbo diesel engines.
Rolleurs/Breakaway Specialists – These guys are good at a lot, but they aren’t great at anything. They climb ok, they sprint ok, and they can ride solo ok. Being ok, though, won’t win you a stage if you are competing with guys who are great in that type of stage. So, how do they win? Well, they go out on the breakaway and hope to stay away. On the rare occasion that they get to compete for the stage, they get to duke it out with their peers, rather than do battle with the specialists.