Saturday, July 26, 2014

More Tour de France Facts and Trivia



Some more Tour de France stuff as the 21 stage race nears its end. The Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana make up cycling's prestigious, three-week-long Grand Tours; the Tour is the oldest and generally considered the most prestigious of the three.

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While 2013 marks the 100th running of the Tour, the race is actually 110 years old. The race wasn’t run during the two World Wars. 

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Despite covering 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) over 21 days of riding, the time between first and second place has often been measured by mere seconds. Eight times, less than a minute separated first and second place. The closest was the 1989 Tour, when American Greg LeMond beat Frenchman Laurent Fignon by a mere 8 seconds. 

Laurent Fignon, wearing the yellow jersey, keeps just ahead of his American rival Greg LeMond (left) on the 1989 Tour de France.

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Each day of the race is called a stage and is a race unto itself. Typically, the Tour is made up of 21 stages. Only three riders – Belgian Eddy Merckx, Frenchman Charles Pélissier, and Belgian Freddy Maertens – have won eight stages during a single Tour. 

Between 1961 and 1978, Eddy "the Cannibal" Merckx won 525 races, including five Tours de France, four Giros d'Italia and three world championships.

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The 2005 Tour had the fastest average speed at 41.5 km per hour (25.8 mph), which is nearly double the slowest year, which was 1919 at 24.1 km per hour (15 mph). 

1921 beer stop 

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Twenty-two teams participate in the race, and each team is made up of nine cyclists, meaning 198 riders (unless any pull out prior to the start). Rules mandate that each team member be dressed identically: the same team shorts, jersey, socks, shoes, gloves, and helmet. 

Chris Froome, 2013 winner Tour de France

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The only exceptions are the leader jerseys. Most people know that the overall leader – that is, the rider with the lowest cumulative time, wears the yellow jersey. But there are other competitive classifications. The leader in points (a complicated system is used to calculate a rider’s “points”) wears a green jersey. The “King of the Mountain” wears a white jersey with red polka dots; it’s determined by a point system based on performance on mountain climbs. The rider under age 26 who has the lowest cumulative time wears a white jersey. 

2012 Tour de France

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The King of the Mountain jersey is red polka dots because the original sponsor of the jersey, Chocolat Poulain, sold candy bars with polka dot wrapping. 

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There are two other “minor” competitive classifications that don’t get you a jersey, but a different colored number to pin to your jersey. First is the most combative rider of the day; the following day, he wears a number printed white on red, instead of the usual black on white. And the team classification goes to the team with the lowest cumulative time among their three best riders. The next day, that team would wear numbers printed black on yellow. 

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L'Auto announces the route of the first Tour de France

The Tour de France was created as a promotion for the French newspaper L’Auto-Velo. Because the pages of the paper were yellow, race organizers designated that the race leader’s jersey should be yellow, too. But originally, race leaders were indicated by green armbands. Race organizers thought the bands were too difficult to spot, hence the maillot jaune (French for yellow jersey) has become part of cycling lore. 

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Known as “The Cannibal,” Eddy Merckx of Belgium has won the most Tour stages at 34. 

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Tour de France riders have a gentlemen’s agreement that allows riders to take what’s called “pauses pipi” – or quick potty breaks – without trying to make up time on each other. And breaks are needed; a day’s race often lasts more than five hours. 

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During the early years of the Tour de France, gearing systems were banned. Cyclist would grind up steep hills on a single speed – or riders could stop, remove their chain and flip their rear wheel for another gear. 

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Records and times from the years Lance Armstrong dominated the race have been vacated. The Tour organisers don’t list winners or official finish times for 1999 to 2005. 

Lance Armstrong, left, and team-mate George Hincapie toast the Armstrong's 2005 Tour de France victory at the start of the final stage 

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Because of the spectacle that is the Tour de France, several groups have interrupted the race as a demonstration. A few examples: In 1982, striking steel workers halted the team time trial, and in 1990, farmers attempted to blockade the race. 

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Four cyclists have died during the Tour. Three were killed in on-course crashes, the fourth, French rider Adolphe Helière died swimming on a rest day between stages. 

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Since 1975, the Tour has always finished on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. 

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The day’s stage doesn’t usually pick up from where the previous day’s stage ended. Often there are long drives, boat rides, or airplane flights to get cyclists to the next starting line. 

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During the 1950 Tour de France, many riders took a break from the extremely hot weather by jumping into the Mediterranean for a swim. 

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Early Tour organisers designed routes to be as grueling as possible to make the race more of a spectacle. In fact, one of the race founders, Henri Desgrange (above, with bike), said: “The ideal Tour would be one in which only one rider survived the ordeal.” 

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Prior to big climbs of the Tour de France, riders in the 1920s shared cigarettes - thought to help respiration.

Health and modern fitness principles were not part of early Tours. Some riders smoked while participating in the race. And instead of energy drinks, riders would share bottles of wine while riding. 

1964: Racing cyclists getting fresh supplies of wine in the during the 11th stage of the Tour de France 

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The Tour de France has legions of dedicated and flamboyant fans lining the roads. One of the most well known is German resident Dieter “Didi” Senft, who dresses in a red and black devil costume and carries a pitchfork as he cheers (or goads) riders up some of the most difficult climbs. Senft has been the Tour’s devil since 1993, only missing 2012 because of health problem. 

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Before the riders take to the roads for each stage, the Tour de France Caravan rolls through. With about 250 vehicles, the Caravan is an hour-long, mobile show with music, dancers, and skits. Advertisers also pass out promotional items, such as hats, pens, and water bottles, to those lining the streets. 

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While the race is primarily an individual race, teams support their lead riders. Team members allow the leader to draft to save energy, and some have even dismounted and given the team leader their bikes if needed. 

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 Early Tour riders were as much mechanics as they were cyclists. They were expected to make their own repairs. Riders would even strap spare tires over their shoulders. 


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