The Tour de France 2015 will be one of the year’s most thrilling sporting events – guaranteed – but this grand, tradition-filled race can feel a little esoteric and confusing for newbies.
Here’s everything you need to be on the edge of your seat watching the world’s maddest, toughest bastards go properly mental in fluorescent Lycra…
1. The Tour de France lasts just over three weeks – and it is one helluva slog
It’s three whole weeks of (almost) non-stop cycling. Over the course of the Tour the riders cover around 3,500km, along a circuit spanning the entire nation.
The Tour is divided into 22 days of racing. Each day comprises one “stage”, which can last up to five-and-a-half hours and cover over 200km.
Some of these stages are relatively flat (i.e. kind on the legs) and some are torturously mountainous (i.e. absolute screaming bastard murder on the legs).
Each of the stages has its own winner. Points are awarded to the first 15 riders who cross the intermediate (i.e. halfway) line; even more points are awarded to the first 15 riders who cross the finish line.
Still with us? Cool.
2. The Tour is made up of five competitions in total
There are five titles up for grabs: the General Classification (the biggie); the Points Classification; the Mountains Classification; Best Young Rider; and Team Classification.
The rider who completes the stages in the shortest times will come out on top of the General Classification and win the Tour.
3. What’s the deal with the jerseys?
The Yellow Jersey (“Maillot Jaune”)
The famous yellow jersey is worn by the rider currently at the top of the General Classification, meaning they currently hold the best times for the stages completed so far. At the end of all the stages, it goes to the winner.
The Green Jersey (“Maillot Vert”)
This goes to the rider with the most points overall, the leader of the Points classification’. Sprinters like Mark Cavendish tend to go for this one.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, “How is the winner of the Yellow Jersey not also the winner of the Green Jersey? They’re both about being the fastest, right?”
Well, winning the Yellow Jersey is all about consistently crossing the finish line first, second, third (or not far behind) across the entire Tour. Winning the Green Jersey, meanwhile, is all about doing well on the sprint stages, which have more points up for grabs than the other stages.
The two things are subtly different, honestly. It’s all in the maths.
The Polka-Dot Jersey (“Maillot a Pois”)
Despite its tendency to clash with the rest of an outfit, this is also a particularly sought-after garment. Also known as the “King Of The Mountains Jersey”, it goes to the rider with the most points from the (hard, haaard) mountain stages.
The White Jersey (“Maillot Blanc”)
A junior Yellow Jersey, basically. Given to the rider under 26 with the lowest overall time.
4. It’s set to be the most competitive and enthralling race in years
With big-hitters Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana battling for supremacy over a challenging, varied route – featuring six mountain-top finishes, a cobbled stage, an individual time-trial and a team time-trial – this year’s Tour de France is set to be a big ol’ nail-biter.
5. There’ll be a hefty British presence at the race
There’ll be no less than ten British representatives on the 2015 Tour de France – only the second time that’s ever happened. Gawd save ver Queen!
6. Britain is the only country to win it more than once in the last five years
Thanks to Chris Froome (2014 Yellow Jersey winner) and Sir Bradley Wiggins (2012 Yellow Jersey winner) we can feel confident that road cycling is one sport that we don’t harbour delusions of grandeur in. We are actually pretty damn good at it.
7. It’s a team sport
The 2015 Tour will be made up of 22 teams, consisting of nine riders per team. They don’t necessarily need to all come from the same country. For example, the UK-based Team SKY is made up of five Brits and four other European nationals.
8. It’s the world’s largest annual sporting event
Having been held every year since its inception in 1903, Le Tour de France has grown to become the most watched annual sporting event. (Nope, the Superbowl isn’t bigger). The Tour is broadcast in over 188 countries, on 121 different television channels, with over 4,700 hours of TV coverage annually. So, pretty popular then.
9. The race often starts outside of France
The Grand Départ, as it’s known in France, often takes place on foreign shores. This year’s Tour will kick off in the Dutch city of Utrecht. The race will conclude with its traditional sprint stage along the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
10. Watch closely and you sometimes get to see riders wet themselves
You’re in a race, you’re cycling for up to five hours at a time, and when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. So if they require a ‘number one’, riders will often take care of business while riding, with other riders taking care not to overtake at that time (a clever tactic, if you ask us).
Sometimes, the peloton (group of riders) will agree amongst themselves to stop up by the side of the road – somewhere discrete, with few spectators – and the cameras will artfully cut away to show viewers a nice bit of local architecture, which the commentators will wheel out a few interesting facts about.