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.