Tour de France Primer for Americans
The 104th Tour de France began in Dusseldorf, Germany on Saturday, with the opening individual time trial. If you missed the opening of the tour, don’t fret, 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 2,200 mile race. July is a slow month for Sports, so we’re here to encourage you to try something different this year.
To get you a bit amped up for the television experience, allow us to present a brief NBC promo for this year’s race, featuring footage from 2016. 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 jerseys.
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 104th 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 15 years 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.
Largely considered America’s top cyclist, Tejay Van Garderen, has opted not to compete in this year’s Tour de France, and instead focused on the Giro d’Italia, where he won his first career grand tour stage. So Andrew Talansky becomes the American favorite, and he is accompanied on his Cannondale-Drapac team by two riders making their Tour de France debut. The American riders are arranged below in order of how much we expect them to impact this year’s Tour:
Andrew Talansky – Cannondale-Drapac
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 in 2014 (Critérium du Dauphiné), Talansky was poised to take the next step, but he has yet to break through. He missed last year’s Tour de France and instead placed an impressive 5th at the Vuelta a Espana. Previous Paris finishes in 10th (2013) and 11th (2015) place suggest that a Top 10 result is possible, and if he has the tour of his life, he could end up on the Podium.
Taylor Phinney – Cannondale-Drapac
Taylor Phinney is a name that American cycling fans have heard for a decade now, as a potential future star. He was born in 1990 to a pair of Olympic medal winning cyclists, Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney. Despite the pedigree, Phinney is making his first Tour de France appearance and will ride in support of Talansky. He is a time trial specialist, so he could compete for individual glory on Stage 1 and Stage 20. He won the Inaugural Dubai Tour in 2014, and a Giro d’Italia stage in 2012.
Nathan Brown – Cannondale-Drapac
At 25, Nathan Brown is the youngest American in the race, and is also making his Tour de France debut. He has previously competed in the Giro d’Italia twice, and the Vuelta a Espana once. “Nasty Nate” isn’t likely to get noticed much by the television cameras, as he’ll be riding primarily in a support role of Andrew Talansky on Team Cannondale-Drapac. “I can’t explain the feeling when I found out the selection,” Brown said. “This is the call I have been waiting for my whole life.”
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. Chris Froome has dominated the Tour de France in recent year, partially due to his strong team as well. Below we will feature three teams registered in the United States that are of interest to Americans.
Cannondale-Drapac was founded in 2007 as Team Slipstream and has gone through numerous name changes since. American GM Jonathan Vaughters formed the team with a commitment to anti-doping, and the team has been a proud American representative in the Tour de France for almost ten years now. The current team is the only to feature American riders this year, and is co-led by Andrew Talansky. Cannondale-Drapac is who Gunaxin will be rooting for at this year’s Tour de France.
BMC Racing Team (BMC)
BMC Racing Team was also established in 2007, and rode its first grand tours in 2010. Previously led by Tejay van Garderen, this year Tejay is skipping the Tour de France and BMC will race for Australian, Richie Porte. 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 famous 7-Eleven Team.
Trek Segafredo (TFS)
Trek Segafredo is the current iteration of a team that began in Luxembourg back in 2011. Previously associated with RadioShack, it was purchased in 2014 by Trek Bicycles of Wisconsin, and ownership was moved to the United States. Alberto Contador of Spain is the leader of this team. He has previously won the Tour de France, but has also been suspended for doping and crashed out of last year’s Tour.
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 in recent years.
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 Steve Schlanger, 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 our gallery from the 2016 Tour de France.
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 you’ll want to focus on the flat stages. If you’d rather watch an epic battle up the slopes of mountains, then the stages in the Alps and Pyrenees are more your speed.
Five stages this year are defined as mountainous, three of which have summit finishes. That is definitely fewer than previous years, so climbing won’t be as important in this iteration of the Tour. This year their will also be two individual time trials, and no team time trial. If you really forced us to choose, here are five stages we would recommend :
- Stage 5 – July 5th (Vittel to La Plance des Belles Filles) : Stage 5 marks the first mountain stage of the 2017 Tour, with a summit finish atop La Planche des Belles Filles. The winner will likely emerge with the Yellow Jersey, and this will be the first chance to see which of the contenders are on form and up for the challenge that awaits them.
- Stage 13 – July 14th (Saint-Girons to Foix) : Bastille Day never fails to motivate the French riders, and this year they’ll have the shortest road stage in recent memory to launch their fireworks. The stage contains three categorized climbs, but a short distance means riders will have plenty of energy to launch attacks and we expect this to be an aggressive battle for an exciting stage.
- Stage 18 – July 20th (Briancon to Izoard) : Stage 18 marks the last summit finish, and the last chance for mountain climbers to make their mark on this year’s tour. If they can gain enough time here, they may be able to survive the time trial to come in two days. This is the first time the TdF has finished atop the famous Col d’Izoard, despite being part of the Tour 33 previous times.
- Stage 20 – July 22nd (Marseille) : Very possibly the Tour de France could be decided on this day, with a 14 mile Time Trial on the penultimate day of the Tour. We’re not normally very fond of time trials, but this will be one of the most critical stages of the 2017 Tour.
- Stage 21 – July 23rd (Montgren 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 in 2014 :