2015 Tour de France Primer for Americans
The 102nd Tour de France began in the Netherlands on Saturday, with the opening individual time trial. While we didn’t expect many American sports fans to tune in on Independence Day, you do have three weeks left to enjoy this most epic of races. We understand Cycling isn’t very popular in the United States, but the Tour de France is indeed the largest live sporting event in the world, with 12-15 million spectators alongside the roads of France over the 2,087 mile race.
To get you a bit amped up for the television experience, allow us to present a fan-made promo for this year’s race, featuring footage from 2014. This video captures much of what we love about the sport, from the fierce competition and crashes to the stunning scenery and crazy fans.
To help you get oriented for this event, today we provide a primer for Americans who are looking to experience the sport, possibly for the first time.
Lets get this out-of-the-way first. Yes, there is a doping problem in Professional Cycling. In its history, numerous riders have tested positive, and have been expelled from the race and the sport. The good news is that most of the names associated with doping scandals will not be racing in this year’s Tour, although a few of them are indeed back. Cycling has a tarnished reputation for doping, however in our opinion the sport should be applauded for catching the cheats, and getting rid of them. Riders are tested numerous times during the race, and all throughout the season, much more extensively than you will see in any other sport.
Cycling has been relentless in its pursuit of cheaters, and they appear to be out front of the problem. Teams and sponsors have zero tolerance for it now, and the sport has turned a corner on this issue. Cycling has not ignored their doping problem, and have been at the forefront of fighting it.
Cycling certainly has its own language. For the most part, we’ll try to avoid using the French terminology, but below are some terms that you should be aware of as you read this primer, and watch the coverage.
Peloton – The main group of riders.
Break, Breakaway – A group of riders that take off ahead of the Peloton.
Chase – Single rider or group that tries to catch up to the leader or breakaway.
Domestique – A designated rider who sacrifices personal goals to help the team.
Drafting – Riding closely behind another rider, saving energy.
GC, General Classification – Tracks the overall leader based on time.
Time Trial – Simply a race against the clock. Each rider rides individually.
Team Time Trial – A team race against the clock, ultimate test of teamwork.
Prologue – A short time trial that opens the Tour.
Flat stages – Minimal climbs, typically feature a bunched sprint finish.
Mountain stages – Big climbs, dominated by the Climbers and GC men.
There are several competitions going on during the three-week Tour de France. The most prestigious of which is certainly the general classification and its iconic Yellow Jersey. In addition, earning a stage win in the Tour de France is a prestigious event in itself. There is also a team competition which awards the team with the lowest overall time. At the conclusion of each stage there is a podium presentation (with babes) for the stage winner, and the winner of each of the following jersies.
White : Best young rider– Overall time leader under the age of 25
Polka Dot : King of the Mountains – Climbing points leader
Green : Points Classification – Most consistent rider, sprinting points leader
Yellow : General Classification – Overall leader on time
The United States has only three riders entered into the 102nd Tour de France, down from a high of ten just a few years ago. To be honest, many of the big names in American cycling from the past decade have been implicated in doping scandals, largely related to Lance Armstrong. All of those cyclists have now retired, and American cycling has transitioned to new, younger faces. However the halo of publicity that surrounded Armstrong’s dominance is noticeably tarnished and has effected the current generation.
While 3 out of 198 isn’t a very large percentage of the entrants, two American riders do have a decent chance at a Top 10 finish, and a podium finish is certainly not impossible. They’re arranged below in order of how much we expect them to impact this year’s Tour:
Tejay Van Garderen – BMC Racing Team
Tejay Van Garderen was born in Tacoma, WA and began riding at the age of 10. He is now 26 years old, and America’s best chance for a podium finish. He placed 5th at both the 2012 and 2014 Tours, winning Best Young Rider in 2012. He has also won the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado the past two years, and we had the great thrill of seeing him take the title at last year’s race. He has a strong team and should be a lock for the Top Ten, with a reasonable chance for the podium.
Andrew Talansky – Cannondale-Garmin
Andrew Talansky was born in New York City and didn’t take up competitive cycling until the age of 17. After winning a key preparation race last year (Critérium du Dauphiné), Talansky was poised for a good Tour in 2014. Unfortunately he was unable to improve upon his 10th place finish from 2013. After suffering injury from repeated crashes he withdrew from the race. He hasn’t found the same form this season, but the 26 year old Cannondale-Garmin leader still has a chance at a Top Ten finish.
Tyler Farrar – MTN-Qhubeka
Tyler Farrar was born in Wenatchee, WA and began racing at the age of 13. Tyler was one of the fastest Sprinters in the world from 2009-2011, winning 15 stages around the world, but only one at the Tour de France (on July 4th of 2011). Unfortunately his speed has diminished with age, and at 31 his best days appear behind him. He’ll be sprinting for a new team, MTN-Qhubeka and looking for his first result of the season. He’ll compete in the bunch sprints during the first week.
Many people don’t realize what a team sport cycling really is. 22 teams will participate in this year’s Tour de France, each containing 9 members. Each team certainly has their own goals. While some will be riding for one man in the General Classification, others will be looking for stage victories in the sprints, or just to get some television time in France.
A typical team is well-rounded, with climbers, sprinters, and domestiques. As you watch the Tour, you will notice the teams riding in formation, with the leaders of the team drafting behind their teammates, conserving energy until the final climb or sprint. Lance Armstrong was definitely one of the strongest riders ever, but he also benefited greatly from having one of the strongest teams around him, built to help him succeed. Below we will feature two teams registered in the United States that are of interest to Americans.
Cannondale – Garmin (TCG)
Team Cannondale-Garmin was founded in 2007 as Team Slipstream and has gone through numerous name changes since. GM Jonathan Vaughters founded the team with a commitment to anti-doping, and Garmin has been a sponsor for 8 years. The current team is the result of a merger with Team Cannondale and are led by Andrew Talansky, who is the only American starting for TCG.
BMC Racing (BMC)
BMC Racing Team was also established in 2007, and rode its first grand tours in 2010. They are also led by their only American at this year’s Tour, Tejay van Garderen. Cadel Evans won the Tour de France for BMC with the help of Tejay in 2011. BMC is actually a Swiss based bicycle company, but the team makes the U.S. its home as they are co-owned by the founder of the 7-Eleven team.
So now that you know who the major players are for U.S. fans, how do you watch this spectacle? Well first of all, NBC Sports Network has all of the coverage for the Tour de France again, and they do an excellent job. The broadcast team has starred Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwin and Bob Roll for many years, but has changed substantially this season.
Recently retired cyclists Christian Vande Velde and Jens Voigt have joined the team, and provide interesting perspectives on modern cycling. Each day coverage starts at around 8:00 AM ET with a pre-race set show (usually from the finish line). Liggett and Sherwin then proceed to cover that day’s stage in semi live fashion with fabulous British accents. The finish is live, but normally the beginning of the stage is summarized with video clips. Many of the stages are in excess of 5 hours, so you’ll be thankful that they don’t show you the entire thing.
Typically NBCSN will broadcast a highlights version of each stage daily at 8:00 PM ET. For that show the clips of actual racing are reduced to make room for profiles of the riders, teams, history, and locations. While they don’t focus as much on the race as the morning coverage, it’s a very long race, so missing a few minutes here and there isn’t going to hurt you. They also focus more on educating the viewers about the sport, the equipment, the tactics, etc. It’s a more Americanized broadcast featuring Todd Harris, Bob Roll, and Christian Vande Velde and reminds me of how NBC covers the Olympics.
Both shows are presented in glorious high-definition, and we mean glorious. One of our favorite parts of watching cycling is the HD helicopter filmed panoramas of the French countryside and architecture. You’ve seen some of the beauty of this sport already in the photos contained in this article, but even more is contained in the gallery below from 2014 :
What to Watch
As for which stages you should watch, that’s really up to you, as we’re going to watch all of them. If you prefer a heart pounding sprint finish, then the first week of the Tour will contain mostly flat stages. If you’d rather watch an epic battle up the slopes of mountains, then the stages in the Alps and Pyrenees in the later two weeks of the Tour are more your speed. Seven stages this year are defined as mountainous, six of which have summit finishes. This year their will be one individual time trial, and one team time trial. If you really forced us to choose, here are five stages we would recommend :
- Stage 2 – July 5th (Utrecht to Zeeland) : Whiles it’s very early in the race, Stage 2 could be very important due to the possibility of high winds along the coast in the Netherlands. Wind can potentially cause the peloton to split, which has created exciting and tense moments at past Tours.
- Stage 4 – July 7th (Seraing to Cambrai) : Stage 4 features one of the riskiest days for riders, as they must navigate cobbled streets with narrow tires. Last year’s rain made this stage particularly treacherous and caused numerous crashes. You can’t win the Tour de France on Stage 4, but you can certainly lose it.
- Stage 10 – July 14th (Tarbes to La Pierre Saint-Martin) : Stage 10 marks the first day in the Mountains, where the General Classification really starts to take shape. This will be the first test for the climbers, and we’ll get our first chance to see who is on form and ready to compete.
- Stage 20 – July 25th (Modane to Alpe d’Huez) : Alpe d’Huez is by far our favorite stage at the Tour de France, and one we’ll wake up early to watch from start to finish. This is the penultimate stage of this year’s Tour, which means it will be the last chance for a challenge to the General Classification. Alpe d’Huez features 21 famous switchbacks, and the biggest party of the entire race will be found at turn 7, named “Dutch Corner”.
- Stage 21 – July 26th (Sevres to Paris) : While the General Classification will already be decided, we’re suckers for the ceremonial nature of the traditional final ride into Paris. The stage ends with 8 laps around the Champs-Élysées, in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, before a frantic bunch sprint with ultimate glory on the line for the sprinters.
We’ll leave you with this Official Teaser from Tour de France organizers, which features extensive footage from on-board cameras that were new in the peloton last year: