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Ten Facts You Didn’t Know About The Tour de France

Posted in Cool Stuff, General, Human Powered Vehicles, Newsworthy, Racing by Kurt Ernst | July 3rd, 2010 | 14 Responses |

This year’s Tour de France, the 97th running of the race, begins in Rotterdam on July 3rd. Riders from all over the world will compete for the chance to wear the yellow jersey, or the chance to be crowned the best young rider, or the chance to be labeled the best sprinter or the best climber. More than just a demonstration of physical fitness, the Tour is a 23 day chess game in which victory is based as much on mental strength as it is riding ability.

No one in the history of the sport is better at the head game than Lance Armstrong, who’s indicated that this will be his last Tour. His main rival this year is Alberto Contador, the winner of last year’s event and Armstrong’s former teammate. Contador is young, strong and on his way up. Armstrong may be older and wiser, but it’s doubtful if he can match the younger Contador’s physical strength. Knowing Armstrong, this year will be an epic battle, since he’s not a man content to go out without a fight.

In honor of today’s Tour de France start, below are ten things you probably didn’t know about the Tour de France, unless you’re a hardcore fan like me.

A rider will burn nearly 124,000 calories over the course of the tour. Excluding the ceremonial prologue, that works out to be roughly 6,526 calories per day of energy expended. If riders ate fast food, they’d need to suck down 12 Big Macs per day.

An average rider will wear out three chains over the course of the event. Lance Armstrong in his prime wore out one chain per week.

The largest winning margin was 28 minutes and 27 seconds, racked up by Fausto Coppi over Stan Ockers in 1952. Funny, but no one accused Coppi of doping.

Lance Armstrong averaged 25.026 miles per hour over the entire race in 1999, claiming the fastest average speed in a Tour de France.

The derailleur wasn’t used in the Tour de France until 1937. Prior to the introduction of lever actuated gear changes, riders had to stop and rotate their rear wheel to modify gear ratios. One side of the rear wheel had a “climbing” gear, while the other had a “downhill” gear.

Greg Lemond was the first American to win a Tour de France, and racked up victories in 1986, 1989 and 1990. Lemond was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law while turkey hunting two months before the 1987 race.

Despite Tour legends about riders pushing until their hearts exploded, only one rider (Tom Simpson in 1967) has died on an ascent. Simpson’s death was later attributed to heat stroke, but amphetamines were found in his blood, leading to the Tour’s first doping scandal. Two riders (Francisco Cepeda in 1935 and Fabio Casartelli in 1995) have died in crashes while descending mountain stages.

There are four colored jerseys for which riders compete during the Tour. The white jersey, introduced in 1975, goes to the best young rider. The red polka dot jersey goes to the rider with the best climbing ability, who is called the “King of the Mountains”. The green jersey is awarded to the best sprinter, and the famed yellow jersey goes to the rider who leads the general classification with the lowest amassed time in the event.

Although bicycle frames and components have gotten light enough to build road bikes below 10 pounds, the Tour mandates a minimum weight of 14.998 pounds for bicycles used in stages other than time trials. This baseline ensures that all riders are competing on similar equipment.

More than almost any other sporting event, the Tour is steeped in tradition. The main pack, called the peloton, stops en masse when a group consensus determines it’s time for a bio break, so no riders are receive an advantage for holding it in. Regardless of how much you may hate your team leader, if he’s wearing the yellow jersey, it’s your job to protect his lead. Even faster riders dare not attack a teammate in yellow, as it would be the end of your professional cycling career.

Sources: Wikipedia and Maxim UK

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14 Responses

  1. DaveMofo says:

    !0 lbs! That is freaking LIGHT. And I bet Christmas was a little awkward for the Lemond family that year, huh?

    “So..good turkey, huh?”

    “You fucking SHOT me.”

  2. Mixster says:

    Fact 11 relates to the handling/speed aspects of the bike and car mix: the average Tour rider hits the deck not less than 3 times during the Tour. Lots of road rash, broken collarbones, etc. Most unforgettable scene: Beloki’s crash in 2003 Tour, w/ Lance on his wheel. Are links to YouTube permitted?

    Here’s the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_8m5-sR6I4

    Awesome to find another car crazy Tour fan! I love racing bikes, also like NASA events.

  3. Kurt says:

    DaveMofo, now THAT was funny.

    Mixster, cool link – I remember that crash. Lance got badmouthed for taking a “shortcut”, but if you watch the vid you can see he didn’t pick up any positions from it.

  4. Jake says:

    Loved this article! I am amazed about the derailers, having come from the 10+ speed generation. I’m a mountain biker, but I can’t imagine not having two or three speeds at my fingertips to play with in the varying terrains. I hope they at least had quick release wheels!

  5. teebird says:

    I remember reading many years ago that it was an old Tour de France tradition that if the race passed through a rider’s hometown and he was near the front, the other riders would back off a bit an let him take the lead so he could look like a hero until they got past his hometown crowd. However, Eddie Mercx, the great Belgian rider would have none of it. If you wanted the lead, you had to take it from him.

  6. asdasd says:

    124000 calories? Thats 124kCal. Its like jogging for a 10minutes or something. This must be wrong!

    • Kurt says:

      asdasd, I got the same number from several sources, so it’s either correct or common misinformation.

      If you can burn 124,000 calories by jogging for ten minutes, you could make a fortune selling your exercise regimen. Ten minutes of jogging where I live probably burns about 500 calories.

  7. tifoso says:

    @Jake Quick releases weren’t invented until 1933, by none other than Tullio Campagnolo, who lost a race in the Dolomites in 1927 when he had to stop to switch his rear wheel to its climbing gear, and because of the near freezing conditions, wasn’t able to undo the wingnuts which secured the wheel to the frame. There’s a monument to him and his inspiration at the pass, Croce d’Aune.

  8. Nicolas says:

    I always wondered about the bio/nature break.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the peloton stop for that break, so maybe I’ve just blanked it out.

    I half-thought they’d just piss themselves not to lose position.

    • Colin says:

      they always go to commercial during the bathroom breaks, and they never talk about it while on the air. that’s why no one remembers it.

      funny thing, though, if you don’t have to go during the break, and have to go later, you have to fall to the back of the peleton and pee while riding. Quite hard to do cleanly if you aren’t used to it.

  9. Nicolas says:

    It was nice not the hear Greg Lemond whining about doping, as he’s done almost incessantly since the end of his career. Just when I thought he’d gone away, we get Landis, and he’s shaping up to be a magnitude worse than Lemond, if that’s possible.

  10. doctornino says:

    No one had to accuse Coppi of doping…He said it himself:

    Coppi was often said to have introduced “modern” methods to cycling, particularly his diet. Gino Bartali established that some of those methods included taking drugs, which were not then against the rules.

    Bartali and Coppi appeared on television revues and sang together, Bartali singing about “The drugs you used to take” as he looked at Coppi. Coppi spoke of the subject in a television interview:

    Question: Do cyclists take la bomba (amphetamine)?
    Answer: Yes, and those who claim otherwise, it’s not worth talking to them about cycling.
    Question: And you, did you take la bomba?
    Answer: Yes. Whenever it was necessary.
    Question: And when was it necessary?
    Answer: Almost all the time![25][26]

    Coppi “set the pace” in drug-taking, said his contemporary, the Dutchman, Wim van Est.[27] Rik van Steenbergen said Coppi was “the first I knew who took drugs.”[28]

    If Coppi did it many other World champions and Tour champions did it and are doing it!

  11. Destructicus says:

    The commonly-used “calorie” as it relates to food is actually the kcal. One food calorie is enough energy to raise 1000 g of water 1 degree Celsius at standard ATP. So the riders actually consume 124,000,000 actual calories during the course of the race, which is 124,000 of the more commonly used food “calories.”

  12. Colin says:

    But you didn’t mention that even though it is against tradition to protect your team leader, that is how Lemond won his first Tour. He hated his team leader cuz he was a pansy, so Lemond took over and won the Tour. Which was one of the most controversial wins of the Tour.