The Tour de France is well-known around the world for its doping scandals and painfully long stages, but despite its inherent flaws, the Tour de France has garnered the support of millions of fans across the globe, cycling enthusiasts and couch potatoes alike. But why the appeal?
To understand the appeal of the Tour de France, you must be well versed in it’s essential background knowledge. The Tour de France is comprised of 21 stages in mainland France, Germany, Belgium, and Corsica testing various skills of a rider such as endurance, hill climbing, sprinting, and time-trialing. Riders compete with teams of around 8 to 20 riders; the most successful teams are built around a single rider whose teammates will slipstream the rider to save their energy as they challenge for the yellow jersey, the jersey worn by the leader, the one with the lowest cumulative time across stages. For the past 3 years, the Tour de France has been dominated by Team Sky and their star, four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome.
After the end of Lance Armstrong’s 7-straight fraudulent Tour de France victories, Team Sky entered in 2009, changing the entire strategic dynamics of the sport. The team, instead of letting members ride on their own throughout the peloton (the main group of riders who slipstream each other to save energy), crowd around Froome to give him stage podiums when needed. Stage podiums result in time bonuses, so strategizing whether or not a stage win is worth the energy is crucial.
While the yellow jersey fight is eventually dominated by Chris Froome in the later stages, the excitement is still existent due to the unpredictable nature of the racing. Crashes are common, especially in the tightly packed peloton, and riders in the running for the yellow jersey have crashed out of the tour on steep descents, as Richie Porte found out last year when he broke his collarbone in stage 9. As the battle for the yellow jersey eventually swings towards Froome, the excitement shifts towards the fight for other various jerseys such as the polka-dots for the fastest mountain climber, the green jersey for fastest sprinter (both awarded on a points scale), and the white jersey for the highest classified rider age 26 or younger.
Even if this year’s Tour de France turns out to be a boring Chris Froome party, the televised tour of the French cities and countryside are still worth watching. Helicopters constantly catch views of cities like Marseilles, Dusseldorf Germany, and Paris, while local farmers along the course show their support through hay bale messages and painted sheep as the cyclists traverse the countryside to scenic locations such as Courchevel and La Planche de Belles Filles.
Ultimately, whether you’re watching the tour in polka-dot pajamas or showing your support in a yellow jersey, the Tour de France is full of month-long fun for everyone. To join the action, watch Stage 1 in Île de Noirmoutier on July 7th on NBCSN.