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Tour de France 2016: Survival Guide II

Tour de France 2016

In Part Two of our Tour de France 2016 Survival Guide we look at the actual race itself with the sprints, breakaways, attacks and crashes. How does a lead-out train work, can you get a ticket for it? What are the jerseys and why the Polka Dot one is pretty funky but bloody hard to win.

Jerseys: Know what they mean!

Bernard “The Badger” Hinault once said, “When I see pot-bellied cyclists wearing the mail jaune, it appals me,” and you have to admit there is nothing more off-putting than chomping down on your cafe croissant when a fat bloke in lycra walks in to grab a coffee. So why are these jerseys so coveted?

Yellow: Maillot Jaune


It might seem a bit daft that you ride for over 80-odd hours and 3500km just to win a yellow t-shirt, but that’s Le Tour! Nope, no big fancy cup to sit on your mantle-piece, just framed Yellow Jerseys on the wall. Some bloke called Lance once had SEVEN up on his walls, but they’ve been taken down . . .

This is the one they are all gunning for and it’s worn by the cyclists who rides the course in the lowest accumulative time.

Green: Maillot Vert


This is the shirt the speed boys fight for as they put their heads down, elbows out and power through the last few hundred meters of the day’s course. Points, not time, are up for grabs for the sprinters jersey, so it makes the winner the most consistent rider. Mark Cavendish has been the dominant sprinter of the last eight years, notching up 25 individual stage wins, but now Peter Sagan is the sprint King.

It wasn’t too long ago that Cav’s teammate Mark Renshaw would clear the way for the Manx Missile like this . . .

Polka Dot


The only jersey you can wear in Le Tour that earns you the moniker ‘King’. Yep, it’s the King of the Mountains shirt awarded to the best climber in the race. Riders gain points as per their position at the top of climbs and along the route. The climbs are rated 4 (easiest), 3,2,1 and hors (stupid). We’re quiet happy in the gruppetto!

white jersey

Worn by the best young rider aged 25-years-old or less, basically the yellow jersey for the young cyclists. Since its inception, there have been four Yellow jersey winners that once wore white and a King of the Mountains. Jan Ullrich has won the white jersey a record three times in ’96, ’97 and ’98. Keep an eye out for Warren Barguil of Giant-Alpecin.

The basic stuff you need to pepper your conversations

OK, so by now you know the main French words for Le Tour and you are aware of what the colour jerseys mean. But what about the actual race itself. Here is what you need to know.

Time Trials

The individual time trial is the ‘race of truth’ where it’s the rider versus the clock and the cyclists get to ride their supersonic bicycles complete with futuristic helmets. They are sent out at one-minute intervals so it must be pretty demoralising to see the chap behind you, overtake you before you have got anywhere.

Sprints and lead-out trains


Back to the sprinting superstars battling for that green top here. Coming towards the end of the day’s ride the teams will manoeuver themselves towards the front of the peloton, hoping to get their sprint wizard in the right place to attack the finish line. You can see a long line of cyclists, wearing the same clobber, one behind the other as the race hits the last few kilometres. This is called the lead-out train and one-by-one the chaps at the front will work their socks off before dropping off to let their mate have a crack. Ideally, the head-honcho lead-out man and the team’s sprinter should all be that’s left about 500 meters or less from the finishing line. A truly great Le Tour spectacle, that’s if you are still awake at this stage. Watch out for the high-speed wipeouts too.

Breakaways and Attacks

You’ll pretty much notice right from the start of a day’s stage a small group of riders will peg it up the road leaving the peloton behind. No, they are not attempting to do a Might and Power and lead from the front all the way to the finishing line on a 230km stage, they are trying to get their team sponsors some air time on the TV (another reason why the winning stage rider zips his jersey up when he crosses the line so we can see the team’s sponsor). The Peloton will quite happily let them do this and hold between a five and ten-minute time difference before they reel them back in. Sometimes though, the little group work together and somehow manage to evade the big nasty peloton and take honours on the day.

Attacks are a bit different. More often occurring on climbs you will see a cyclist suddenly accelerate away from the group he is in, in the hope that no one follows. This is not usually a good time to be in the yellow jersey with no domestiques to help you pace back the attack. Again, many a Tour has been lost when this has happened.

At the time, this clip below was perhaps the most amazing thing we had seen in Le Tour.


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