The race is made up of a large quantity of professional cycling teams each boasting nine riders. Individual race times are attributed to each rider at the end of each stage. The rider with the lowest aggregate time at the end of the 21 stages is the overall winner of the race.
The profiles of the stages vary, with the race traditionally made up of a mixture of flat and mountainous stages, as well as two individual time trials and one team time trial. However, for the 2012 edition the team time trial has been replaced with a third individual time trial. The majority of stages are normally in excess of 150km in length. The race’s route changes each year however, it has always traditionally finished on the prestigious Avenue Champs-Elysees in Paris.
This is when all the riders in the race start together, which is the case for most of the stages during the Tour. Mass-start stages are always categorised as flat, medium mountain or high mountain stages.
During a stage if large groups cross the finish line at the same time, they are all attributed the same time. It is not unusual for the entire pack or peloton to be credited with the same finishing time.
Individual Time Trials:
This is when riders compete individually against the clock to achieve the fastest time over a set route, with riders leaving the start at different times. These time trials are significantly shorter than mass-start stages due to its flat-out nature.
Team Time Trials:
This takes up the same format as an individual time trial, however this time all nine riders from their respective teams compete together to achieve the fastest time possible. Throughout the stage they alternate the order of rider formation to help conserve energy, so the rider on the front works the hardest, while the rider at the back works the least due to the effect of slipstreaming.
In every Grand Tour there are four classification jerseys or titles on offer to riders of varied technical ability. It is important to know that not all riders will contest for the overall title, instead they will target a jersey classification that suits their ability and riding strengths. For example, some riders will focus more closely on their overall race time whereas others concentrate on point accumulation for a particular jersey. The wearer of the jerseys can change from day to day depending on the outcome and type of the stage.
General Classification The rider with the current lowest aggregate time overall during the race will wear the yellow jersey. The rider wearing the yellow jersey at the end of the 21 stages is crowned the overall winner. Riders contesting the yellow jersey are normally the strongest all-round rider within their respective team, and are known as the “Team leader.”
Points Classification The green jersey is awarded to the rider with highest points accumulation over the course of the race. At the end of each stage points are attributed to each rider depending on their finishing position, first place earning the most and then so on. The point totals vary on the profile of the stage. Flat stages offer more points, with high mountain stages offering the least. This is mainly because riders competing for the green jersey are sprint specialists and therefore weaker in the mountains. Flat stages also lend themselves to a sprint finish. On each stage there are also check-points located in various places called “intermediate sprints.” These work in the same way to the stage finish, the first rider to cross them will achieve the highest number of classification points.
Polka dot Jersey:
King of the Mountains The King of the Mountains wears a white jersey with red dots. As it sounds, the wearer of the polka dot jersey is awarded to the rider who performs best in the mountains. It works similarly to the green jersey, with points awarded to riders as they cross check-points during climbs as well as at the stage conclusion in the case of a summit finish. More points are awarded depending on the difficulty of the climb. Uncategorised climbs offer the most points, while category four climbs offer the least. Spain’s Samuel Sanchez took home the title last year.
Best Young Rider The white jersey is awarded to rider aged under 26 who is best placed in the general classification. The rules are the same as the yellow jersey, and therefore it is possible for one rider to hold both at the same time, although the rider will always wear the yellow jersey over the white. This has happened to RadioShack Nissan-Trek’s Andy Schleck on a number of occasions.
Watch every stage of the Tour de France LIVE on British Eurosport, the Home of Cycling.