Cycling around France is a great way to explore the countryside. You can do it at your own pace, stop when you like, have a picnic and, if you avoid the busy towns and cities, then you almost have the roads to yourself. A number of our guests bring their own bikes to the Moulin on holiday with them for these reasons and who can blame them. Some, less energetic, bring electric bikes or ride motorbikes for the pure joy of touring the wonderful French countryside. Cycling, and in particular, cycling racing, has always been a very popular pastime in France, Belgium, and Spain and across Europe and, in recent years has grown massively in popularity in England and many other countries around the world.
Never satisfied these French
But, you know the French! They are not satisfied with the sheer pleasure of pedalling or touring around beautiful countryside, enjoying the fresh air and scenery. They just had to turn this gentile, relaxing, pastime into the most physically exhausting arduous test of all time. They call it ‘The Tour de France.’ The name implies some form of interesting sightseeing trip, but no, it is quite the opposite! This is the epitome of human endurance over extreme terrain and includes the most demanding of speed trials. This most thrilling event is held every year in France and in recent years now includes other countries, (in 2016 it includes part of Switzerland). For this year, 2016, it will be held from Saturday July 2nd over 21 stages to Sunday 24th July finishing along the Champs-Elyees in Paris.
Scandals a many
This most exciting sporting event did not start out with the most glorious intentions of all time. A failing newspaper, L’Auto, started it to boost its flagging sales in 1903 and, apart from the two world wars it has being going, and growing ever since. Nor, does the race have the most salubrious back ground with many instances of cheating and scandals throughout its history. The second year it was won it was allegated that the winner hopped on a bus or car in between cycling. He was disqualified. The most notable one in modern times being that of American Lance Armstrong being stripped of his 7 consecutive winning titles for using performance enhancing drugs. Even today, winners go through numerous allegations of cheating and testing, some true and some not true, simply because the stakes and passion the race generates are so high. 14 tours have been marred by proven or admitted doping scandals although many more have been suggested.
What’s it all about Alphonse?
The event is held over 23 days, (with 2 of those days to rest), and it covers around 3,500 kilometres, (2,200 miles). Each day is called, a stage. The winner of a stage with the lowest aggregate time gets to wear the famous yellow jersey until someone else wins a following stage. There are other colour jerseys for instance a green one for the leader of the points classification and, possibly the highest prized of them all, the yellow polka dot jersey worn by the leader, (King), of the mountain stages. There is also a white jersey for the young rider leader. All in all there are a number of different colour jerseys signifying leaders of various segments of the tour but you might need a paint colour chart to spot them all.
Of the 21 stages to be raced this year 9 are flat, 1 is hilly and 9 are in the mountains. A number of them have summit finishes which are considered to be the most extreme and difficult of all.
Want a job, get on your Bike!
Like many big sports the top Cyclists can do very nicely indeed. Last years Tour de France highest placed cyclists won 450,000 euro for first place, 200,000 euro for second and 100,000 for third and then on a sliding scale downward to around the last 90 places which got 400 euro each. Not really worth giving up the paper round! Top cyclists would also have team salaries in the hundreds or even millions of euros plus endorsements, appearance money for attending events and much, much more whilst those on the lower echelons might have to pay their own costs or gain commercial sponsorship just to take part. 2016 has a pot of 2.3 million euro in prize money which is not high compared with other major sports such as football, tennis, golf etc.
Pedal pusher winners
French riders have the most success with 36 tour wins in total. Belgium has the second most tour wins with 18, their most successful competitor being Eddy Merckx with 5 wins. He is famous for being the only person in the tour history to win all major classifications on his first win in 1969. Spanish riders have 12 wins between them and Italy 10. Even Luxembourg has 5 wins to its credit. Ireland gained a win in 1987 with Stephen Roche. The USA would have been up there except for the disgraced Armstrong’s 7 disqualified wins. Sir Bradley Wiggins was the first English winner in 2012. Chris Froome followed him to be the second successive British winner in 2013 but crashed out in the early stages in 2014. He regained the title in 2015 to be the current champion and has won an army of British fans.
A Team game for one
Cycling and particularly cycling racing has been a popular sport since the invention of the bicycle. It is not just about a bunch of riders pedalling hell for leather to pass a winning post first. It is great fun watching from the kerbside cheering on the participants and your heroes and the camaraderie of like minded fans but, what you see on the sidelines are small snapshots of what is happening elsewhere in the race. The Tour de France is really a fast moving game of chess. This is a team sport with a huge difference. Despite the fact that only one person can win the race it is a highly organised and strategic team sport. The team has one purpose in life-to use every available tactic to get its team leader in a position to win. To be pacemakers, to protect him, to shelter him, to feed him, to use any, (fair), means to disrupt other teams efforts. A whole team striving to serve one person and outwit their competitors. One mistake could cost the race, or a career.
The likes of John Logie Baird, and many others, whose technical innovation and foresight brought us the magic of television might have a lot to answer for to their critics but they all contributed to changing life as people knew it across the world. It has revolutionised Sport, opening it up to wider audiences and bringing with it huge financial gains.
In Sports, such as Cycle racing, its widespread coverage with multiple and mobile camera positions and very precise commentary capture all aspects of a race and participant action even when spread over huge areas. It provides up to the minute commentary of all the incidents and sporting battles and helps creates a much greater understanding of the intricacies of, what is, a highly technical sport previously quite difficult to comprehend for all but the dedicated fan.
All this in one extremely thrilling package and, for us, this is the best way to see the event.
Feet up and watch some serious pedal power
Hopefully this will whet your appetite for Bike Racing and with the Tour de France coming soon this is an ideal opportunity to relax in an armchair, turn on the box and see what is happening in this fantastic event. First though, it would be a good idea to catch up with some of bike racing jargon. So, for your interest at the bottom of the article there are some of the terms you may well hear mentioned.
Should you wish to see some of the action first hand the closest point of the Tour de France to us is in Limoges. Just under an hour by car, or alternatively, for a more scenic journey, 1hr 20mins by train from Chasseneuil SNCF station to Limoges-Beneditins station in central Limoges. Riders will arrive on 5th July, (stage 4), and depart Limoges, (stage 5), on the 6th July. If you would like to sample the pleasures of cycling around our beautiful French countryside for yourself we have joined forces with BikeHireDirect.com to provide guest rental of bikes, helmets and equipment. All delivered/collected ready for use at Moulin du Fontcourt. Advance notice is required.
Talk the Bike race talk
Parcours: is the course.
Tempo: is often when a rider is pedalling fast but not at their top speed, i.e. conserving energy.
Attack or Break: When a rider/riders make a sudden acceleration to break free of the pack.
Drafting: Riding close behind another rider in his slipstream to reduce their work rate and energy.
Paceline: Similar to drafting is when team members take turns to lead from the front so other team members can ride in each others slipstream. Pull: A rider’s turn at the front of the Paceline.
Etchelon: In a strong side wind riders have to ride slightly to the left or right of the bike in front to remain in his slipstream instead of tailing him in a straight line. Escape: Breaking away from the pack.
Peloton: Is the main bunch of riders cycling together as a pack.
Pave: Bumpy or cobblestone road.
Domestique: Each one of the Team members used to work, support and pace the Team Leader.
Classic: One of the one day prestige races. Winning one of them can make the career of the winner.
Circle of Death: the hardest high mountain stage of the Tour.
Category: The level of difficulty of a mountain climb. There are 4 categories with the hardest one rated 1.
Bonk: Total exhaustion of a rider, usually the end of his race.
Bell lap: A bell is rung on the last lap or circuit of a race.
Criterium: A bike race with multiple laps around a short circuit or a city course. Riders need to have great handling skills and lots of power to negotiate the corners and diversions.
Field Sprint: A frantic race to get the best placing among the team at the end of the race.
Hook: A cheating move by sticking out an elbow or thigh to impede their progress.
Time Trial: A race over a specific distance against the clock.
Massed Start: When all the riders set off at the same time. Different from a Time Trial when riders go start alone or as a team.
General classification: A cumulative of time and placings providing the rankings or winner of stages or the race.
Bonification: Bonus points awarded to the rider for wins or placing within the stages.
King of the Mountains: Winner of the Grand Prix over the mountains. He gets the Polka-dot yellow jersey.
Glow Time: A rider taking a drug which could trigger a positive test.