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Tour de France Crash Course- Know your Tourmalet from your d'Huez

  • Tour de France Crash Course- Know your Tourmalet from your d'Huez

On Saturday, the 102nd edition of the Tour de France will roll out of the Grand Departe (That's the start of the race for non-French speaking readers) and if you're reading this, you're scrambling to find out as much as you can for those conversations around the water cooler.


So, if you want to come across as someone who knows their cycling and knows the jewel in the crown of the racing calendar, read below.


The race:

Le Tour began in 1903 as a publicity stunt and quickly captured the hearts and minds of the cycling world. It has been around for 112 years but 10 editions were missed due to the first and second world wars.


Early editions would see cyclists ride lengths more than double and sometimes triple those of today's race.


Stages could, at times, be in excess of 400 kilometres with the cyclists riding through the night.


Drinking of alcohol and the use of amphetamines was widely accepted until the 1960s-70s simply so the riders could get through the race.


Cyclists were also forced to complete all mechanical repairs on their own without assistance and early photos of the riders see them carrying bike tubes around their bodies in case of a puncture.


It's a far cry from today's team cars and mechanics that often repair and maintain bikes on the fly.


The modern day race covers just over 3,000 kilometres in 21 stages with the longest stage around 250 kilometres.


The final stage is always a ride onto the Champs Elysee in Paris. There is a gentleman's agreement between the general classification riders not to attack the leader of the race.


A breakaway commonly goes off the front before being reeled in by the sprinting teams who try to deliver their man to the most prestigious of stage wins.

Race Terms:

SBS takes its race coverage feed from French television stations and as such many of the graphics come with French wording. French isn't quite everyone's second language as such, here's your crash course in French cycling terminology.

Tete de la course: The front of the race. Usually a self-delusional individual who thinks they can ride out at the front for 4 hours and win the stage. Commonly reeled in less than a kilometre from the finish by a peloton moving at 60km/h.

Peloton: A large group of 160 sadists who commonly spend the day bludging in a big pack that is happy to let the Tete de la course stay out in front until the final 20 kilometres when they start the chase and overhaul the lead rather spectacularly.

Breakaway: A group of delusional riders who think they can stay away all day. Sometimes they do and provide plenty of entertainment that often sees a couple of riders with jelly-legs trying to out-sprint each other. See Tete de la course.

Maillot Jaune: The leader's yellow jersey presented at the end of each stage along with a cuddly, plush lion by two podium girls.

Polka-dot jersey: All white jersey with red polka dots all over it giving the wearer the look of having chicken pox. Presented to the King of the Mountain points classification. It has nothing to do with Peter Brock or the Bathurst 1000.

Domestique: The team servant to the lead rider; effectively a butler on wheels. Gets him food, shields him from the wind and picks up water bottles.

Alpe d'Huez: Alpine mountain with outstanding views punctuated by a large collection of motor-homes and drunk Dutchmen eager to see riders inflict immense pain on themselves over the 13.8km climb.


Riders you should know


Lance Armstrong: Don't mention him; don't ask why he's not riding this year. He retired a number of years ago and is serving a lifetime suspension for doping. Mentioning him is akin to Basil Fawlty mentioning the War to his German guests.


Phil Anderson: The first Australian to wear the leader's yellow jersey, mentioning him will earn you immediate brownie points with avid cycling followers.


Cadel Evans: You've probably heard this name before and it's Australian cycling knowledge 101 these days. Evans is so far the first and only Australian winner of the Tour de France, completing the feat in 2011. If you've kept a lazy eye on his career, don't ask why he's not riding with Silence Lotto anymore. Firstly, he's retired. Secondly, he left Silence Lotto for Team BMC in 2010. Thirdly, Silence Lotto are now known as Lotto-Soudal. If you want to sound like a bit of a Cadel expert, mention his solo ride on the Col du Galibier in 2011 that limited his losses to leader Andy Schleck and set him up for his time trial ride in Grenoble.


Alberto Contador: He's aiming for the Tour-Giro d'Italia (Look up the Giro, I can't do both here) double this year. A rather illustrious set of wins to have on your palmares (career victories- saying this will show how much you're into your cycling). Contador has also had the doping authorities circulating after he was found guilty of taking the banned substance Clenbuterol a couple of years ago.


Nairo Quintana: This tiny climber from Colombia is the expressionless Terminator of the peloton. His face gives away absolutely nothing whether he's in severe pain or riding comfortably. His expressions, or lack of, greatly contradict those of Frenchman Tommy Voeckler who is known as the man of 1,000 faces and is often spotted with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.


Chris Froome: The 2013 winner rides for Team Sky and is another example of the English claiming someone not born there. Originally from Kenya, he made his name as the super domestique (helper) for fellow Briton Brad Wiggins in his win in 2012. Froome will lead Sky for his third consecutive Tour after crashing out in the race's first week last year.


Richie Porte: He's the Australian essentially responsible for Froome's win in 2013 with the Tasmanian chasing down attacks and violating race rules by picking up racing gels for a flagging Froome on a mountain stage. He did lead Sky at the Giro d'Italia this year but sickness and injury prevented him from finishing a race he was tipped to win.


Key Stages:

The race generally won't heat up until they hit the mountains.

Stage 11- Pau to Cautarets/Vallee de Saint Savin

This year, that doesn't truly happen until Stage 11 when the riders will tackle the Category 1 (Lower the number, tougher the climb) Col d'Aspin and Hors Categorie (Hell on wheels) Col du Tourmalet. The Tourmalet is truly a beast of a climb and whilst it starts comfortably, you round the first bend and the pain starts and doesn't stop until you reach the top. With this being the first of a number of mountain stages, don�t expect too many fireworks from the big players.


Stage 12- Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille

This stage sees a mountain-top finish up a Hors Categorie climb. You may see some of the big riders flex their muscle and test out their opponents. The Tour won't really be won here but riders could definitely lose it if they crack too soon.


Stage 19- Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire/Les Sybelles

Perhaps the most fearsome day of the Tour this year, it features four climbs, the smallest being the category 2 Col du Mollard. It will feature the formidable Hors Categorie Col de la Croix de Fer (Listen to Phil Liggett for correct pronunciation) and category 1 summit finish of the La Toussuire.


Stage 20- Modane Valfrejus to l�Alpe d�Huez

If the riders didn't enjoy the day before then they're not going to like this stage. They revisit the Col de la Croix de Fer again before having to tackle the famed Hors Categorie Alpe d'Huez. The Alp is perhaps the most famous of the Tour and has often featured plenty of fireworks. With this being the final stage before the roll into Paris the next day you'll see plenty of action with the leader trying to hold the yellow jersey and fighting off any contenders who fancy a shot at him.

So there you have it. The 2015 Tour de France in a nutshell. Coverage will kick-off on SBS at around 10pm on Saturday night. Tune in that time every night to catch French chef Gabriel Gate making you hungry and thirsty by showcasing the best of French cooking.

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