The 96th Tour de France will be held in 2009 from July 4th to July 26th. The Tour de France features 21 stages and covers 3,500 kilometers (2200 miles). The stages are day long events and the racer’s times from each stage are totaled to determine the overall winner. The 21 stages are broken down into profiles which include 10 flat stages, 7 mountain stages, 1 medium mountain stage, 2 individual time trial stages and one team time trial stage.
Winners of each day’s stage are given the coveted yellow jersey to wear the next year so it is clear to other competitors and viewers who is the current threat to beat. Competitors race in teams with an average of 20 teams of nine competitors in the race each year. Each year the race follows a different path but since 1975 the finish like has been on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. In 2009 the race will begin in Monaco and head southwest to Barcelone, then will continue northwest to Tarbes where contestants will be flown to Limoges. From Limoges they will continue on a northeast route until Colmar where then will then head south to Bourg Saint-Maurice, the route then winds around to Mont Ventoux and from there proceed northward to the finish in Paris.
The first Tour de France was created as a rivalry between a group that supported accused spy Alfred Dreyfus and those who opposed him. Le Velo, a local sports newspaper publicly supported Dreyfus and the editor of that paper had already organized a cycling event. The advertisers who disagreed with Le Velo’s political views started their own newspaper, L’Auto, and one of their young journalists conceived of a bike race that would trump the one sponsored by Le Velo. Originally the race was to cover five weeks in 1903 but this was just too much and not many people were interested. The race was cut down to 19 days and a daily stipend was offered to racers and 60 competitors showed up. The grueling race that could last into the night quickly captivated people and L’Auto’s circulation jumped.
The history of the yellow jersey wasn’t established in the first races, rather the first winner wore a green armband. Officially Eugene Christophe wore the first yellow jersey in 1919 but Belgian biker Philippe Thys claimed that he was asked to wear a yellow jersey in 1913 but refused as he felt it made him a target. There is no way to verify Thys’s story and it seems a little peculiar that the yellow jersey didn’t crop up again until 1919. By 1924 Italian rider Ottavio Bottecchia rode so well that he was able to wear the jersey from start to finish. In 1929 three bikers came in with equal times and all three were allowed to wear a yellow jersey the next day.
In addition to the oft seen yellow jersey is the green jersey which is given to the rider who earned the most points for sprints. There is a while jersey with red polka dots which is given to the King of he Mountains who is the first to crest designated mountains. The white jersey is for the best rider who’s age was under 25 years by January 1st of that year. And a prix de la combativite is awarded to the most aggressive rider of the day, instead of their normal race number printed in black on white they get a number that is white on red. Teams add the top three riders times and the winning team is awarded a new number that is black on yellow.
Lance Armstrong’s name has become synonymous with the race in recent years as he has one the most Tour de France races of any biker ever. His seven consecutive wins from 1999 to 2005 have ensured that he will go down in race history as one of the best, if not the best, ever to race the Tour de France.
Since Lance Armstrong has retired from the Tour de France Spain has held the title with the 2006 overall championship going to Oscar Pereiro, 2007 going to Alberto Contador and 2008 being taken by Carlos Sastre Candil. Sastre joined the new Cervelo TestTeam in the 2009 season and is doing quite well in races so far and may prove to be the man to beat.
One “new” aspect of the 2009 Tour de France is the team trail. This stage has been run before but not for years. It’s a 38 kilometer circuit around Montpellier and will serve as stage four. This is a very athletically demanding stage which typically puts up the biggest average speeds. It’s a pure flat stage so riders working together in the team will enjoy it the most but some people don’t believe this to be the case and dislike this stage greatly. Keeping a lead and keeping the team together in a pack is difficult and requires more than physical prowess. Which can be exciting for some team members but for those riders who are not really in it as a team sport but are looking to take one of the top rankings for themselves, this event and their team can hold them back and hamper their chances of winning.
The bike race itself isn’t the only thing to draw crowds, in fact a survey determined that 39% of the spectators that come out to watch the race in person actually are there to see the publicity caravan which happens before each stage of the race. The caravan was a marketing idea by Henri Desgrange, the race director in 1930. Major brands and companies could sponsor a vehicle to draw crowd attention to their marketing cause. Originally the proceeds from these sponsors were necessary so that a national team formula could be imposed and teams were provided with bicycles for each rider. Caravan participants woo the crowd by giving them samples of their products and boosting the fun and shock appeal of their presentation to garner the most attention. This 45 minute parade is a true highlight and shouldn’t be missed by any spectators of the live event.
photo credit: Celso Flores