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2014 Tour de France Lexicon

There is a lot of jargon associated with the Tour de France and cycling in general. This page should offer some help to newcomers looking to understand some of the more commonly used terms and phrases.


3 km Rule: If a rider has a fall, puncture or mechanical incident in the last three kilometres of a stage, they are given the same finishing time as the riders in whose company they were riding at the moment of the accident. The rule does not apply on mountain stages or time trials.

All-Rounder: Riders with all-round abilities are ones who can handle a wide variety of terrain. They are often perceived as adhering to the phrase 'Jack of all trades, master of none', though some excel and become known as 'stage racers' and a select few rise to the level where they are considered 'Grand Tour specialists'.

Attack: When a rider accelerates in order to leave others behind. Riders tend to form bunches, as there is an aerodynamic disadvantage when riding alone, meaning that an effort must be made if a gap is to be formed and maintained.

Baroudeur: Baroudeurs are sometimes known as 'fighters'. They may not be the most talented riders in the peloton but they make up for this with a combative approach and are known for making courageous moves.

Bidon: The name given to the water bottles that riders use. Domestiques will often be seen dropping back to their team car in order to collect bidons for their team-mates.

Biological Passport: In the modern age of doping scandals, cyclists have a variety of biological data taken and stored for comparison. Riders showing suspicious discrepancies can face sanctions.

Bonk: When a rider bonks, their performance dramatically suffers as they run out of energy. This can be from sheer exhaustion, due to struggling for oxygen, or as a result of failing to eat enough earlier on the stage.

Breakaway: Stages start with all the riders in one group, with race favourites tending to hold off on making an attack until the peloton gets whittled down. Riders with few prospects of beating the big names may be prone to make an early attack, in the hope that they will gain enough of a time advantage to stay ahead of the peloton. This is seldom a successful tactic but can occasionally succeed, giving 'no-hopers' a chance of glory.

Bridge: When a rider is able to join others who are further up the road, they are said to have 'bridged the gap'.

Broom Wagon: The broom wagon is a van that drives around behind the last rider on each stage. Should exhaustion or injury prove too much, the broom wagon picks up riders who are left behind and they are deemed to have abandoned the race.

Cadence: Cadence represents how fast a rider is pedalling. This is determined by riders' styles and by the gear they are running. A smaller gear will require a higher cadence than a big gear.

Caravan: The Tour's caravan is a parade of vehicles that precedes the cyclists on the road. This is mainly a publicity stunt, giving official sponsors an opportunity to distribute promotional material, though team vehicles, the media, and the organisers also form part of the cavalcade.

Categories: The most notable climbs are categorised according to difficulty, with category 4 representing a small hill and category 1 representing a mountain. The most gruelling obstacles are given an hors catégorie rating, meaning they are beyond categorisation.

Classics: The classic cycle races are one-day events that are often held earlier in the season. They are the hardest single day races and can feature challenges ranging from long distances, hilly terrain, and bone-shaking cobbles. They are often won by specialists who are capable of making powerful efforts, while light-weight climbers rarely prosper.

Climber: Climbers tend to be light-weight riders who have less weight to carry uphill. They struggle to compete in sprint finishes and can lose time when riding against the clock, but they can gain minutes in the mountains and can secure Tour victory when the race reaches high altitudes.

Combativity Award: The combativity award is given to reward attacking intent. A white race number on a red background signifies the previous day's winner. A "super-combativity award" is given to the most attacking cyclist of the race.

Commissaire: A commissaire is a judge, or referee, for the race. It is their duty to ensure that riders stay within the rules and to hand out penalties when infractions occur.

Descending: Usually mountainous, hilly, and cobbled terrain, or racing in a time trial, is required to cause notable time gaps. Sometimes downhill sections can create a difference, though it requires fearless specialists like Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) to leave others behind. Equally, other riders like Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) are known to be over-cautious when descending, which can hamper their overall chances.

Directeur Sportif: A directeur sportif is responsible for managing each team that takes part in the Tour. They often follow behind the riders to transmit tactical instructions via radio and provide mechanical help.

Domestique: Domestiques are workers who must put aside their own hopes in order to assist their team leader. The majority of the peloton are domestiques and it usually requires a number of years of service before a rider can move up the ranks and receive support.

Drafting: Aerodynamics play a massive part in cycling. Riding into the wind uses a lot more energy than drafting behind someone, as staying in a slipstream hugely reduces aerodynamic drag. Team leaders will look to draft as much as possible, only exposing themselves to the wind when they are looking to make an attack.

Echelon: Crosswinds offer less opportunity to draft as the wind hits the side of riders. This causes diagonal lines to form, with riders looking for what shelter they can find. As the diagonal line reaches the far side of the road, sheltered positions cease and a new line inevitably begins again on the wind-struck side of the road. The spacing between the diagonal lines can rapidly grow, and a favourite finding themselves in the wrong group can lose a lot of time.

False Flat: A false flat is a piece of road which may look level but which is actually climbing uphill gradually.

Feed Zone: The feed zone is a designated point where soigneurs will hand out mussettes to the moving cyclists. They can often cause danger as riders look to get into a good position to grab their bags.

Flamme Rouge: When the riders have only 1 km remaining on a stage, they pass under a red banner that is known as the 'flamme rouge'.

Free Role: Teams will allocate a free role to certain riders to relieve them of their duties of care for the team leader. These riders are usually secondary contenders who are hoping to stay in touch and be in a position to inherit the team leader responsibilities should any mishaps happen.

General Classification (GC): The cumulative times of stages are used to calculate the general classification. This is the overall time of each rider in the race.

Giro d'Italia: The Italian equivalent of the Tour de France. The three week race takes place in May.

Gradient: The gradient of a road represents its steepness. Many riders struggle to keep up if the gradient continues above 5% for a few kilometres.

Grand Départ: The departure point of the Tour's first stage. In recent years this has often been in a neighbouring country.

Grand Tour: A Grand Tour is a race made up of 21 stages. There are only three on the annual cycling calendar - one in Italy, one in France, and one in Spain.

Grupetto: Riders who face elimination on mountain stages will often join together into one big group, rather than struggling on their own to get home within the time limit.

Intermediate Sprint: To encourage more action between the fast men, each stage features an intermediate sprint with points awarded to the first 15 riders over the line.

La Grande Boucle: This is the Tour de France's nickname. It translates as 'the big loop'.

Lanterne Rouge: The rider in last position overall is called the 'lanterne rouge', named after the red lantern on the back of a train.

Launchpad: Particularly difficult sections of a stage can provide opportunities for specialists to demonstrate their skills and pull away from the opposition.

Lead-Out: A rider beginning a sprint finish is deemed to 'lead-out' any riders who are slipstreaming behind them. Teams do this strategically amongst their own riders, while opportunists can try to get another team to lead them out.

Magic Spanner: When a rider pretends to have a mechanical problem so that they can drop back and have a break by grabbing hold of the team car, they are said to be receiving the 'magic spanner'.

Maillot À Poi (Polka Dot Jersey): The polka dot jersey is given to whichever rider has the most mountain classification points. The first riders to crest categorised climbs are awarded points, with the final winner being called the 'King of the Mountains'.

Maillot Blanc (White Jersey): The white jersey is given to the young rider who is highest placed in the general classification. Riders aged 25 or under are eligible.

Maillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey): The yellow jersey is worn by the overall leader of the Tour. The yellow jersey takes precedent over other jerseys so, for example, if one rider holds both the yellow and polka dot jerseys, he will wear yellow and the second placed mountain classification contender will wear the polka dot.

Maillot Vert (Green Jersey): The green jersey is awarded to the most consistent finisher. Every stage is allocated points, though more are given for flat stages which generally makes it a competition for sprinters.

Musette: Musettes are the bags, containing food and drink, that are handed to riders as they pass through the feed zone. Riders who fail to grab a musette can also get provisions from the team car, though this requires more effort.

Neo-Pro: A neo-pro is a rider taking part in their first year as a professional.

Palmarès: A rider's palmarès is a list of notable achievements throughout their career.

Parcours: Parcours' can be used to describe the overall nature of the Tour or the profile of a particular stage. It is the course that the riders must take.

Pavé: Pavé, as in 'paving', is the name for cobbled roads. These rutted sections are often best tackled by staying out of the wheel ruts and riding on the crested middle of the road, but it requires power and bike handling skills to excel.

Peloton: Peloton is best translated as 'platoon' and is used to describe the main group of riders. Most will try to stay in the peloton for the majority of the time, as riders sheltering in a bunch use far less energy than riders facing the wind on their own.

Poursuivant: Riders who are in between the peloton and the tête de la course are called poursuivants as they are pursuing the leaders.

Pulling: When a rider does a stint of work at the front of a group, he is said to be pulling the other riders along.

Puncheur: A puncheur is a rider who specialises in making explosive accelerations on steep hills.

Rainbow Jersey: A white jersey with rainbow stripes is worn by the reigning world champion.

Relay: Riders in a breakaway will rotate positions so that they each do a fair share of the work on the front. This is known as relaying.

Road Captain: A team's road captain is not necessarily the team leader. The captain is there to provide a tactical lead, so experience is often a key attribute.

Road Furniture: Road partitions, bollards, traffic lights, and signposts, all pose danger to riders, with such hazards being termed 'road furniture'.

Rouluer: A rouluer is a rider who specialises in making a sustained powerful effort on flatter terrain. They are often quite handy in a time trial and can be dangerous if they get into a breakaway.

Soigneur: Soigneurs are masseurs who help the riders after each stage. They also hand out musettes during the feed zones.

Sprint Finish: When a group of riders approach the end of a stage, they must sprint it out to decide their finishing positions.

Sprint Train: As sprinters approach the finishing line, their team-mates form a slipstreaming 'train' in front of them. The rider at the front of the train fights into the wind while the rest of the train gets wind resistance benefits. Each member of the train will put in an effort before moving aside until eventually, and often with just a few hundred metres remaining, the sprinters are left alone to fight it out.

Sprinter: Sprinters specialise in being the fastest at the end of a stage. The muscles that they need for rapid acceleration hinders them over mountains and they can often struggle to finish the Tour. This means that they can't win overall, but have most opportunities for individual stage glory.

Stage: A stage is a day of racing. A 21-stage Grand Tour represents 21 separate one-day races, with the cumulative result deciding the overall winner.

Summit Finish: Climbers have a chance to gain major time when a stage finishes at the top of a mountain. With no downhill or flat sections to aid regrouping, summit finishes often prove critical to the Tour's overall outcome.

Super Domestique: A worker who would have a chance of being a leader if he were at a different team is known as a 'super domestique'. The Tour's overall contenders will often rely on a super domestique to help them in the toughest mountain sections.

Team Car: Each team has a car that follows behind the riders in order to provide assistance. This can range from medical and mechanical help, to tactical advice from the directeur sportif, or the provision of food and water bottles.

Team Classification: On every stage, the first three riders over the line for each team have their times combined for the team classification. The final title is decided by whichever team ends the Tour with the lowest overall time.

Team Leader: Teams designate certain riders to be leaders, giving them protection by having other riders work for them. Some teams have a GC contender as their leader and others focus their attention on a sprinter, while some will divide their efforts amongst two or more leaders.

Technical: When a part of a stage is described as being 'technical' it means it is potentially dangerous. Narrow roads or sharp bends on a descent or finish can pose a challenge to the riders' bike handling skills.

Tête de la Course: The tête de la course, meaning 'head of the race', is the rider who is furthest up the road with nobody ahead of him.

Time Gaps: Riders who cross the line as one group are given the same time towards the general classification, even if there are many metres between the first rider in the group and the last. In order for there to be time gaps on the general classification, riders must put distance between themselves and others.

Time Limit: Riders must finish within a percentage of the stage winner's time or face elimination. The percentage varies according to terrain and the speed of the race. If a large number of riders fall on the wrong side of the cut-off point, the rule can be overturned.

Time Trial: In a time trial stage, riders set off one at a time rather than in one big group. There is no chance for team tactics and sheltering from the wind in the peloton - it is just every rider on their own against the clock.

Vuelta a España: The Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France. The three week race takes place in August and September.

Wheelsucker: A wheelsucker is a rider who is reluctant to make attacking moves but prefers to stick to the wheels of other riders.

Wind: Wind direction can play a big part in cycling. Tailwinds help breakaway riders to stay away as they encountered reduced air resistance while, in contrast, headwinds favour the peloton as their is a greater advantage to be gained from being sheltered. Crosswinds on open terrain can create excitement as they have the potential to cause echelons.


 

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