By Kate AmosIn French it’s called “La Grande Boucle,” in English, “The Big Show,” and the Tour de France definitely lives up to its nicknames. Ninety-nine of the world’s top professional riders take to a sinuous and hilly route through France, cheered on by over 12 million fans along the road and 3.5 billion more following along at home. Complete with carnivals and caravans, cycling’s big show is the largest sporting event on the planet, a celebration of life on two wheels.For those of us who grew up in the United States with baseball and football dominating our sports culture, the Tour can be a tough event to follow. While the gorgeous shots of the breathtaking scenery alone make viewing the stages worthwhile, this guide will help you keep up with all the action, and provide you with some suggestions for how to build on the excitement around the biggest cycling event of the year to spice up your summer Spinning® classes.
The RouteThe Tour consists of 21 days of racing, or stages, covering over 2,000 miles. Each day is unique with 9 flat stages, 3 hilly stages, 7 mountain stages, 2 time trials and 2 rest days. This year, the first three stages will be held in the cycling-mad country of the Netherlands, with the remainder of the stages to be contested in France.
The JerseysBike racing is similar to golf in that the person with the lowest score wins, only in cycling that “score” is time. Complete all 2,000+ miles faster than everybody else and you get to take home the highly coveted yellow jersey. The overall standings are called the General Classification, or “GC,” and only a few of the best of the best riders will make it a target. The rest of the riders will either be helping their team leader to come out on top, or will be hoping for stage wins via sprints or breakaways. Expect the yellow jersey to change hands frequently as the main contenders will likely try to stay out of trouble for the first part of the race before lighting it up in the big mountains.One of the fascinating things about the tour is following along with all of the races within the race, each of which is rewarded with a special jersey. In addition to the yellow jersey, riders will fight for the polka dot jersey of the best climber, the green jersey of the best sprinter, and the white jersey of the best young rider.
The ContendersThis year’s edition of the tour promises to be an exciting one, with cycling’s four top stage racers toeing the start line in the Netherlands. While the only certainty in bike racing is uncertainty, here are a few of the GC contenders to watch out for:
- Chris Froome: Riding for Team Sky, 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome is the favorite to win this year’s edition. The Briton has a reputation for crashing frequently, but as long as he can keep the rubber side down expect him to be a force.
- Nairo Quintana: A Columbian riding for the Spanish Movistar team, Quintana is widely considered one of the best climbers in the world. He hasn’t raced much this year so his form is something of a mystery, but given his dominating performance at the Giro d’Italia last year he’s proven that he has what it takes to win over three weeks.
- Alberto Contador: Perhaps the greatest stage racer of his generation, Spaniard Alberto Contador, riding for team Tinkoff-Saxo, recently won Italy’s three-week grand tour, the Giro d’Italia. Winning two “grand tours” is a feat not often attempted and even more infrequently accomplished, but if anyone can do it it’s Contador. Look for him to use his experience and racecraft to attempt to overcome his fresher rivals.
- Vincenzo Nibali: The defending champion, Italian Vincenzo Nibali is a consistent rider who can gain time on his rivals on both the climbs and the descents. Nicknamed “The Shark of Messina,” Nibali brings a strong Astana team to help him in his bid for glory.