I’ve been asked this question so many times this week, and now I just heard it asked by the guest on tonight’s The Daily Show.  Why didn’t you school him Jon, why?  But I have to give the daily show credit for Monday night’s episode about Lance.  It was pretty funny, the epitome of “tongue in cheek” humor.  I’d love to see Lance as a guest on the show.

If you wonder why I care about le tour so much, I was an exchange student in France when Lance won his first tour stage (the year before he found out he had cancer).  I’d collected many newspaper and magazine articles about him while I was over there.  When I got home, I put his first stage win photo up on my wall in my bedroom (I was 16), knowing one day he would be my hero.  So, that’s why I wear the yellow armband – because Lance is my hero.

Questing: “How can Lance not win everyday or most days, but win le Tour overall?”

Answer: Because le Tour is based on overall time.

Wikipedia Answer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tour_de_France

My Long Answer:  There are usually 180 riders participating in the tour each year.  Maybe 150 of them cross the finish line in Paris – I’m too lazy to look up the actual numbers.  But people usually drop out of the race because they get hurt or exhausted and have to abandon the race – you try riding 100 miles at one time, much less 100 miles a day for 20 days.   There may even be a time you have to finish each stage by; otherwise, you get dropped.  But if there is such a rule, you don’t hear about it often because none of the top riders are in this risk – unless there’s a crash and they get hurt.

These athletics are in such top condition that whenever the race is flat, the top 80% (once again I’m making up numbers) finish at the same time.  But introduce the mountains, the different categories (lower numbers mean more difficulty, until it is beyond category, meaning I would have a hard time trying just to walk up that hill), and the day after day battles of trying to get up those hills, the race becomes interesting.  Only your top 5-10% will be able to stay together, and even after a while, they’ll fall away from one another.  This is where Lance excels.  “The Look” picture from Stage 10 of the 2001 tour says it all, where he sees everyone behind him in agony, stares them down for a good several seconds, and then just explodes away.

Just because a cyclist wins a stage one day, or even a mountain stage, by a large amount of time, doesn’t mean that he’ll be able to produce the same amount of energy the next day.  Teams pick their battles very, very well in deciding which day their primary rider will go all out to win a stage.  What causes Lance to always finish in first place day after day is that he always sticks with his rivals on Overall Classification (GC).  And if someone starts winning stage after stage, he’ll most likely become a “threat” to Lance, and he’ll get marked by Discovery as someone Lance needs to stay with.  And if this threat were to breakaway, Lance would chase him down.

For some teams, their entire job is to just win one stage.  Or maybe it is to do an effective breakaway such that their sponsor gets as much air time as possible.

Each team has a primary rider whose job it is to achieve whatever the team’s goal is; whether it is to win the stage or win the tour.  All other team members (7 or 8 – I’m so lazy not looking up numbers) do whatever it takes to help the primary rider achieve the goal.  These guys will go back to the team car to get food, water, etc.  They will also draft in front of the primary rider for as long as they can and provide whatever assistance.  Consider what happened to Lance in 2004 tour.  He’s handlebar got caught on a spectator’s bag and he crashed.  His teammate immediately jumped off of his bike and ran over to help Lance get back up and going.

Drafting – another concept people don’t realize has a major role in cycling.  Drafting is when you get so close behind the person in front of you that you get pulled along in their air.  We’re talking about being an inch away from the person’s rear wheel.  You can feel the same effect in a car drafting behind an 18-wheeler, although I do not recommend you practice this.  But using this scenario, you would experience better gas mileage.  Drafting in cycling: good.  Drafting in sailing: bad (you don’t want to get bad air, or you won’t have enough air in your sails, and you’ll slow down).  The role of the team member is to allow their primary rider to draft behind them, so they can conserve their energy for the very end.

You’ll notice on time trials how the race car and motorcycles have to stay very far in front of the cyclist; otherwise, drafting may occur, providing an unfair advantage to that cyclist.  Each rider must face the wind; no drafting allowed on time trials.

And lastly, what the jerseys mean:

White – this is a new jersey introduced in the past several years.  It is awarded to the fastest overall rider under the age of 25.

Green – best sprinter.  Throughout the tour, there are different “checkpoints” that the first person to get past wins a certain number of points.  The person with the most points throughout the tour wears the green jersey.

Polka Dot – King of the Mountain – best climber.  Usually based on a points system like the Green jersey.

Yellow Jersey – see Lance.  Overall leader in the tour.  If the overall leader is a young rider, he’s awarded both jerseys, but he wears the yellow on the road