Friday, 1 July 2011

Tour De France Preview- Riders and Route

   First up, big congratulations to Marina Erakovic for making the semi-finals of the Women’s Doubles comp at Wimbledon. This is a huge achievement, and, somewhat sadly, far and away the biggest in NZ tennis for many many years. She gets the honour of playing on Centre Court tonight which, win or lose, will be an unforgettable experience for her. Best of luck.
   Also best of luck to the Kiwis in the World Cup tonight as they take on England. It’ll be a tough ask, and after their opening loss to Japan they definitely need to get at least a draw out of this match, but stranger things have happened. In fact, someone tried to claim to us today that Ma’a Nonu had gone and signed for the Auckland Blues and Mark Hammet hadn’t being sacked from coaching the Hurricanes as a result. Of course nothing as nonsensical and bizarre as this could ever really occur, but that doesn’t mean our women can’t cause an upset tonight. Go the kiwis.

   But now onto the main order of business. An event that we wait for with bated breath all year, while our collective missus’s get ready to roll their eyes for five hours a night for the next three weeks. Only the 24 Hours of Le Mans (which we saw about 14 hours of this year), has elicited a stronger reaction from our significant others, being summarily and succinctly derided as ‘fucking stupid’. But Le Tour… ah, Le Tour is here. And here’s some of what you need to know.

Some Basic Terms

   Yellow Jersey (Maillot Jaune): For the overall leader of the race
   Green Jersey: For the leader of the sprint competition, with points accumulated at intermediate sprints during most stages, and double points awarded for the sprint at the finish line
   Polka dot Jersey: White with red spots, this is the jersey for the leader in the mountain climbing competition. Similar to the Green Jersey, riders collect points by being first over the various summits.
   Categorised Climbs: Different grades of difficulty, and therefore different amounts of points in the race for the Polka dot Jersey, are assigned to different mountains, depending on the length, height, and gradient of a climb. Category 4 is the easiest, Category 3 a little tougher, and so on. However, certain mountains are classified as ‘Hors Categorie’, which roughly translates as ‘beyond categorising’. These are the highest difficulty climbs, one level above Category 1.
   White Jersey: The jersey for the rider who leads (we think) the Under-23 rankings. There is also a prize for the fastest overall team, measured on the performance of the fastest three riders from each team on each stage, and the ‘Lantern Rouge’, a largely symbolic honour for the slowest rider in the Tour.
The Peloton: This is the name given to the largest group of riders during any stage.
   The Autobus/ The bus: This is the name given to the group of riders, generally the sprinters, who group together at the back of the field during the mountainous stages. If a rider finishes outside a certain percentage of the winner of a stage’s time, he is eliminated from the race. Therefore the worst climbers group together in order to help each other finish within the elimination time.

The Route

   It’s obviously pretty hard to summarise over 3400 kilometers of racing, suffice to say that there is never ever a second that goes by during a Tour when we don’t think to ourselves, “Wow, that looks beautiful, I’d love to visit there.” This year’s course is pretty tough, with less in it for the sprinters than normal. The race will most likely be decided in the Alps during the third week. As usual, the first week is fairly calm, the second cranks up the climbs, and the third will be pure hell, featuring not one but two fearsome climbs up the Col du Galibier, one of which is combined in a stage with the  legendary Alpe d’Huez.
   Other items of interest: unlike most recent Tours, this year’s first stage is a real one, not just a short criterium around a town or city. Instead, wonderfully, tomorrow night the riders will follow the coast for around 100kms before cutting inland for the remaining 90kms, with the finale being a short, sharp Category 4 climb. This means just about anybody could claim the Yellow Jersey and the run to the finish line will be tremendously exciting. It is followed the next day by the return of the Team Time Trial, a tricky 23km circuit that could see some of the leading contenders drop precious seconds if their team has even a slightly off day. Fantastic.
   The remainder of the first week is more sprinter friendly, and it is likely that the Green Jersey will be decided within the first eight days. We’ll have more information on the various stages closer to the time, but there are some excellent online resources. The Guardian has a wonderful interactive guide to the route, and of course the official website of the race is also very user-friendly.

The Teams

   It’s an awesomely strong lineup this year, although, sadly, Greg Henderson’s strong early season form wasn’t enough to see him make the squad for Team Sky, and Hayden Roulston hasn’t sufficiently recovered from injuries received when one of those w@nkers who drive 4-wheeled combustion-engine powered vehicles knocked him off his bike whilst training in Spain. This leaves NZ’s greatest sportsmen, Julian Dean, to once more fly the flag for Kiwis everywhere. More about his legendary accomplishments as the race unfolds.
   You can see a full list of the riders here, but we’ll take a quick look at some of the strongest contenders. Obviously Alberto Contador starts out as the hot favourite- although not with fans, having been booed at the rider’s parade yesterday. His Saxo Bank team is strong, but honestly we’re a little surprised that it isn’t more stacked with renowned riders. His three Spanish compatriots in the team will provide solid assistance on the climbs, but all in all this most definitely is not the strongest squad out there. It looks like it may come down to his individual brilliance versus the stronger teams around him this year.
   And the toughest competition is likely to come from Team Leopard-Trek. They will be riding for last year’s runner-up to Contador, Andy Schleck, and he will get tremendous support from his brother Frank and work horses like Gerdeman, O’Grady, Posthuma and Monfort, and our favourite rider, the veteran Jens Voight. Also in the team is Time Trial Champion and fantastic team rider Fabian Cancellara. In short, this is an amazingly strong group of riders, and Contador will be very wary of the threats that they pose.
    The all-Spanish Euskatel team will be riding for their team leader Samuel Sanchez. He is an awesome climber, as are most of his teammates, and they will be doing everything they can to secure him a podium position. The Euskatel squad always performs well in the Polka dot Jersey stakes, especially as they ride through their ‘home’ turf, the Pyrenees.
   Omega Pharma Lotto will also have hopes of getting their Belgian rider Jurgen Van Den Broek onto the podium, and while they have some strong support for him, they may not have the depth. Two huge names who have been suspended in the past for doping, Alexander Vinokourov and Ivan Basso, are back, and it will be fascinating to see how they go. Cadel Evans returns in what may be his final chance as age catches up with him, and Andreas Kloden will ride again for RadioShack. Julian Dean’s Garmin Cervelo squad will be mainly focused on the Green Jersey for Thor Hushovd, but if Christian Vande Velde can rediscover his form, a top 10 finish is not out of the question. There are a host of others with outside shots, but due to time constraints we’ll leave them, and an in-depth analysis of the sprinters, until next week.

   We’ll leave you today with a link here to many great Tour vids, and we’ll be back full of vim and vigour on Monday with a review of the opening two stages and a preview of the remainder of the first week. Needless to say we are very very very very very excited. It’s a tough event to follow for the casual fan, so we’ll do our best for you, but if you have the time, we recommend you jump into fully immersive coverage right from Stage 1, because it can be very difficult to comprehend the goings on if you miss too much of the early action.

   So strap on the lycra, stock up on energy supplements, get some Vas in for your saddle sores, and enjoy your weekend.


  1. O.MY.GOD.
    I can't wait for the sweaty shaved thighs pumping, pumping hard as they mount their hard saddles, in and out of their saddles as they climb higher and higher, pushing towards the climatic finish. This has to be the most exhilarating sport in the world.

  2. Great preview man. I've never followed it, seems like a huge investment in many ways, and I've always been confused as to how it all works. You expose some of the mystery, and also your tip not to miss too much of the beginning is a good one. I look forward to following it courtesy of your blog!