[Photo: © Radu Razvan ]
With 12 million spectators watching the race live and 3.5 billion following the action on TV, the Tour de France is the world’s biggest annual sporting event, and this Monday it will speed through the heart of London. As 200 riders in brightly coloured Lycra head our way to the accompaniment of cowbells, whistles and horns, Rob Greig gets a handlebar on what’s actually going on.
Twenty-two teams of nine riders from across the world compete in 21 stages, covering 3,664 kilometres (the equivalent of London to Jerusalem, as the crow flies) over 23 days, with the first three stages taking place in the UK. The winner is the rider with the lowest combined time when the teams reach the finish in Paris on July 27. Usually the team leader is looking to win the whole shebang but some teams concentrate on winning individual stages where the terrain suits them better. Helpfully, the rider with the lowest cumulative time for the stages completed so far wears a yellow jersey.
To aid their star rider, each cyclist performs various duties to steer the main man to victory, including protecting team members from the wind and fetching food and liquids. These ‘domestiques’ are the vital worker-bees that can make or break a Tour campaign.
This is the name given to the main pack of cyclists in the race (it comes from the French for small ball). The riders use slipstreaming to save their legs, sheltering behind those in front to protect themselves from headwinds. This means the ones at the back can save up to 40 percent of the energy the fella at the front is using. The caravan of advertising vehicles comes through ahead of the peleton.
Lots of the cyclists have them. Britain’s Mark Cavendish is the Manx Missile. Then there’s the Gorilla (German sprinter Andre Greipel); the Shark (Italian Vincenzo Nibali); El Pistolero (‘The Gunman’ in Spanish: Alberto Contador)’; the Tourminator (Slovak rider Peter Sagan) and many more including Cuddles (Australian Cadel Evans).
THE LONDON FINISH
It promises to be really exciting. The flat roads of the 155km course mean speed merchants like Cavendish will dominate and the finish of Stage 3 is likely to be a mass sprint.
WHAT TO SHOUT
‘Courage’ or ‘Chapeau!’ will make you sound like you know your stuff (French accent optional). Don’t scream for the Wig: at press time Bradley Wiggins looked unlikely to be in Team Sky’s line-up. Instead look out for defending champion Chris Froome. He’s the one with a riding style likened last year to ‘a robot pushing a shopping trolley up a hill’.
[Photo: Laura McGregor]
WHERE TO WATCH
The free Fan Parks at Trafalgar Square and Green Park will be the place to witness the live action on Monday July 7 as the riders dash for the finish. On Saturday July 5 and Sunday July 6 you’ll be able to follow Stage 1 and Stage 2 on big screens from noon onwards as you soak up the brilliant atmosphere. There’ll be live music in Trafalgar Square, including sets from La Maison Tellier, Colt Silvers and Tour de France Grand Depart anthem singer Alistair Griffin. Green Park will host a screening of ‘Rising from the Ashes’, the true story of the first Rwandan national cycling team and their six year journey to the London Olympic Games, at 7pm on Sunday (buy headphones and souvenir cushions on the night). Expect a festival vibe at both locations, with street-food carts and pop-up restaurants. As well as advice from nutritional therapists and physios, displays of archive photos and Tour de France memorabilia and retailers selling all sorts of pedalling paraphernalia, there will be stunt riders to watch plus activities for kids.
Of course, you can also watch along the route (see here for approximate timings), but extensive road closures mean many bus routes will be diverted on Monday so plan to travel by tube. Up to two hours ahead of the first riders, the floats of the advertising caravan will arrive; and bringing up the rear of the whole cavalcade, with the stragglers, will be the many support vehicles carrying spare bikes and Kendal mint cake.
The final stages of the race and the triumphant finish along the Champs-Élysées in Paris on July 27 will be screened at the Canary Wharf Fan Park, which will be open from July 24 to 27. Find out more at tourdefrancefanpark.com
For more Tour de France events take a look at the trio of Tour De France screenings from Look Mum No Hands.