clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Everything you need to know about the Tour de France

Are you just catching up on the Tour de France? Here's a helpful guide to use as cycling's biggest test winds through France.

Oli Scarff

General Classification (or GC): This is the way the person who wears the leader's yellow jersey is determined. The person with the lowest overall time wears the yellow jersey. In cycling when the riders cross the finish line at the same time, they're given the same time even if one crosses the line before the other. If a huge group comes in at the same time, they're all given the same time. That's why mountain stages and time trials are usually the determining factor in who brings home the Maillot Jaune (French for yellow jersey).

Protected Riders (or leaders): Cycling is a team sport even though only one man gets the yellow jersey. The team works for the protected rider on their team. Lance Armstrong won all those yellow jerseys but he had an incredibly strong team supporting his efforts (yeah we know why they were that strong now). Basically heading into the Tour de France, each of the teams selects their protected rider and the domestiques are responsible for protecting that rider from the elements, crashes and helping them if they have a problem with their bike.

Domestique: In French it means "servant" which is basically what these riders are. They work all in service of their designated team leader, meaning they bring them water bottles and food, protect them from the wind and help the main GC riders up climbs.

Peloton: It's the French word for "pack" and it's essentially just that, the biggest pack of riders.


Photo credit: Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

Drafting: The reason why groups ride in a peloton is because those riding behind the riders in front are often getting a bit of a free ride. Studies have shown that by drafting behind other riders, the "protected riders" save up to 30 percent of their energy. This is crucial in a three-week stage race when often times the person with the most power left in the final week of the race are often the ones on the top step of the podium.

Podium: This is where all of the riders long to finish. Obviously the top step of the podium in Paris (Paris is the final stage) is the ultimate goal and this is where the top general classification rider finishes.

Breakaway: Often times there will be a small group of riders break out of the peloton and try and get to the finish line before the large "pack" behind them uses the collective strength to catch up. Breakaways don't often succeed in today's cycling but when they do, it's enthralling because it takes truly strong men to hold off the incredible power of the peloton.

Time trial: Often referred to as "the race of truth" time trials are stages (usually one or two in each three-week grand tour) that basically has riders riding one at a time racing purely against the clock. There is no drafting behind other riders allowed as this is supposed to determine who is truly the strongest rider in a race and often creates time gaps. Even if they're often the least interesting stages to watch, they frequently carry huge implications for the overall general classification.

Sprinters: When a stage is a flat one with few climbs, the riders who are good are putting out an immense amount of power in the final few hundred meters* in a mad dash for the finish line are called sprinters. Sometimes teams are built around sprinters as protected leaders so that they can win stages instead of targeting the overall general classification. *Yes cycling is all about the metric system but it doesn't take long to get used to how many kilometers are in a mile.


Photo credit: Harry Engels, Getty Images

Leadout Train: Sprinters have their domestiques just like the overall GC contenders do. But they actually form a huge line at the front of the peloton in the closing kilometers to help launch their sprinter into a good position to use their exceptional power to get to the finish line first. A good leadout train will also help a sprinter stay out of the main peloton leading into the finish line as those are often times when crashes occur due to the high speeds and tight quarters for the riders.

Categorized Climb: A climb basically has to have a certain length and gradient in order to be considered a categorized climb. In the Tour de France, the most difficult climbs are known as HC (hors categorie) which means "beyond classification." In layman terms, it's a REALLY hard climb that's either exceptionally long or steep or both. Stages that feature HC climbs, usually with time trial stages, often determine the rider who captures the famed yellow jersey. Category 1 climbs are the second hardest and so on.

Feed Zone: Riders burn an exceptional amount of calories even if they aren't riding out in front of the peloton so they have to refuel. The soigneurs (French for those who provide care) stand at the side of the road and hand off feed bags to the riders who then eat their mini-sandwiches, Cokes, Fantas or whatever other goodie they have stored away for them.

Traffic Furniture: Curbs, roundabouts (circles or rotaries depending on what you call them) all pose huge dangers to the riders and riding in a peloton, it's tough to see these things. The problem is there are lots of these things all along the roads of France so you'll hear this term a lot, often times as the peloton closes in on the finish line.

Jersey Competitions: While the yellow jersey is the biggest prize, Le Tour features several other competitions that are sometimes tough to follow even for the most hardcore cycling fan. There is a green jersey, awarded often for the best (or most consistent) sprinter in the race; a polka dot jersey for the best climber or king of the mountains; a white jersey for the best young rider (top rider under a certain age in the general classification); those are the most important ones. Think of it like this. Sprinters are usually bigger dudes who can't climb (there are a few exceptions including the guy who has won the green jersey the last two years) and win the green jersey and the polka dot jersey is for tiny climber dudes who can't really time trial that well.

Americans with a shot at the GC: Those of you who are forlorn over the United States Men's National Team loss in the World Cup, there is a place to turn your attention where you can see Americans go against folks from all different countries. Andrew Talansky won one of the biggest pre-race races in the Criterium du Dauphine beating Le Tour yellow jersey favorites like Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. Tejay Van Garderen has won the white jersey at the Tour (best young rider) in the past and he rides for the first time as the protected leader of his team. While these guys aren't five-star favorites, they have a decent shot of winding up on the podium if things go right.

Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll: These are the main commentary guys for NBCSN where the majority of the Tour will be telecast in the United States. Phil and Paul are staples of the sport and are both English by birth but you wouldn't know it by watching them. They tend to cheer hard for American riders and people love them for it (even sometimes to their detriment as they were both big Lance Armstrong defenders). Bob Roll is a former American rider who rode for one of the first American teams to compete at the Tour de France. He's known adoringly as Bobke and is known for his affable personality, gap in his teeth and some crazy Road ID advertising.

Now that you're an expert, head on over to Podium Café to follow along with a bunch of other cycling aficionados.