My husband Chris is an avid bicycler, so he is currently driving me crazy with nonstop Tour de France ‘thrilling’ news updates and trivia. Example: “Honey, Honey! Lance just tweeted that he had oatmeal for breakfast! Can you believe it??? Oatmeal!!!”
He’s so excited and wrapped up in Tour minutia that I feel bad about not getting pumped up over Contador’s ‘big dig’ (whatever that is) or how many chains Cadel Evans has broken.
It’s a strange sport. The Tour is at once very straight forward – the fastest guy wins; and infuriatingly complicated – what the hell are those jerseys about? Plus the very strange, very French unofficial ‘courtesies’ observed by all but the most crass riders.
For instance, it is considered poor form (but not illegal) to attack (try to get in front) while a rider is relieving himself, which they seldom stop for (shew, watch out spectators!). Traditional race etiquette holds that when the race happens to go through the hometown of a participant, the peloton (group of riders) will graciously allow him to lead. Additionally, the peloton usually will give the lead (briefly at least) to a rider on his birthday.
The race course changes each year but always ends in Paris. It is considered extremely bad taste to attack the leader on the final stage. The ride into Paris and round and round the Champs Elysees is really just ceremonial. I’ve seen riders drink champagne as they ride!
WHAT DO THE JERSEYS MEAN?
At the end of each day of racing, called a stage, four special jerseys are awarded. To my eye, anytime you put spandex on world class athletics it’s special. But beyond being revealing and appealing, I’ve broken the code on the jersey phenomena – see below.
Based on a really complicated, impossible to understand system the French came up with to befuddle riders from other countries. It’s calculated on arbitrary ‘points’ awarded for ‘sprints’ to gain ‘time bonuses’ which are really deductions. Uh? Well YOU try and figure it out.
It has something to do with mountains, I’m sure about that part. But you don’t have to win a stage to get it, which seems, well just wrong. If I were racing in the Tour, I would do everything I could to avoid winning this jersey. The polka dots are just butt-ugly and sooo gay - in a bad way.
I think this originally designated virgin racers. But bike racers in Europe have mega-rock star status, including their own groupies, so virgin riders are even scarcer than riders with one testi. Nowadays the White Jersey is given to ‘Best Young Rider’, whatever that means in a sport where almost everyone is in their 20s.
The overall race leader. The guy with the lowest overall time. This is the only jersey that is easy to figure out. And the only one that means squat.
Chris and I have been lucky enough to have witnessed first hand several stages of the Tour de France and the Italian equivalent, The Giro de Italia. But by a bit of extreme good fortune we will find ourselves in Paris on the 26th of July and hopefully somewhere along the Champs Elysees along with thousands of others as Lance, et al crosses the finish line.
I have to admit, even I’m excited!