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Tour De France. Twenty-one days of cycling about 3500km (2175mi) through France, with stages on flat terrain, in the hills and in the mountains, often totaling an average race speed of about 40 kph for the entire distance. In this race, everyone has an agenda. Whether it is to win a stage for themselves, or helping someone win either the general classification, or one of the secondary classifications (points classification, mountains classification, youth competition, team classification), and you can easily expect everyone to be at the top of their form when they're in this race. It's currently considered the biggest race in the sport, and is part of the UCI World Tour, and is one of the three grand tours (Vuelta a España and Giro d'Italia are the two others).
The race was started in 1903, and has been held every year since then, except for the World War One and World War II periods, with a total of 101 races being held.
Tour De France is a well known race all over the world, with winners from 13 countries and three continents. Like the sport in general, Tour De France is home to controversies about doping and corruption, to a point where a YMMV can even be placed next to the name of certain winners. The most winning rider in Tour De France history was Lance Armstrong, with seven victories between 1999 and 2005. As of the 22nd October 2012, Armstrong has been stripped of his titles because of doping. Now the most winning riders are Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Induraín.
Aside from controversies, there are also lots of unwritten rules in the race that one would be expected to follow. For example, if a general classification contender, or more of there, are dropped due to an accident, the race is effectively neutralized until said contender is back up. Note that this rule does not apply if there's a GC threat in a breakaway ahead, or on some early sprinter stages where the GC-lead is theoretically up for grabs, or sprinter teams have an interest of winning the stage, as they have their own classification to look out for.
Despite this being a French event, no French rider has actually won the race since Bernard Hinault won in 1985, and since Richard Virenque finished second in 1997, it took 17 years before another French rider was on the podium, as Jean-Christophe Peraud finished second and Thibaut Pinot finished third in 2014. Follwing nations have a winner of Tour De France (in order of first victory): France, Luxemburg, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Netherlands, USA, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Australia, United Kingdom.
There are a few internal competitions in the race, which are following:
General classification: This classification is the one that determines if one wins the race. The fastest rider, using time as a measurement instead of stage placement, wins the general classification. The GC-leader is identified by wearing a yellow jersey.
Points classification: This is sometimes referred to as the sprinter classification. The rider with most points, which are obtained by winning stages and bonus sprints, wins. Stage results are the tiebreaker, should two riders end up with the same amount of points. While sometimes called the sprinter competition, it isn't always won by an actual sprinter. The leader of this competition is identified by a green jersey, unless the same rider leads this as well as the GC, in which case it's given to the man in second place of this competition. In case of a tie, the rider with the most stage wins takes the jersey. If that too is a tie, the rider with most intermediate sprints wins will take the competition. If that is a tie too, general classification is the final tiebreaker.
Mountains classification: Also called "king of the mountains" classification, this competition works like the points classification, except that this one is about coming over tops of mountains. A stage finish on the highest mountains, categorized 1 and HC(Hors Categorié - beyond category) , doubles the usual points for winning such a mountain sprint elsewhere on the stage - a change which was made to keep the top riders able to take this jersey, instead of an unknown breakaway rider who'd fizzle out late on a stage. The leading rider of this competition wears a white jersey with red dots, also called the polka-dot jersey. In case of a tie, the rider who has won the most HC-climbs wins. If that is tied too, the rider with most category 1 wins takes it. If that too is a tie, category two will be decisive, then three and finally four. If all of those are tied, general classification becomes the tiebreaker.
Youth classification: This competition is essentially the general classification for riders who are 25 years old or below. Note that by 25 years, it means turning 25 in the same year as the year of the race. The leader of this classification wears a white jersey. The three competitions above rank higher in the jersey order.
Team classification: This competition functions like the GC, but instead of taking a rider's individual time, the time of the three first riders of a team (of nine) are noted and added together as the team's time on a stage. The leading team in this classification wear fully yellow helmets, while the team that won the competition for the previous stage have their back numbers on a yellow background.
Combativity award: This is an award given by a jury after each stage, as well as by the end of the race. It's given to the best fighter of the race, and the criteria are a bit unclear for how to actually win this. The most combative rider from the previous day has white numbers on a red background, to be easily identified. Essentially the Determinator award.
The order in which the jersey's are worn are: Yellow, green, polka-dot, white. If a rider leads both the general classification and the points classification, the rider will wear the yellow jersey, the second best in the points classification will wear green. In 2013, a rule change was implemented, so that a jersey of a competition a rider actually leads takes priority over a competition a rider doesn't lead. This was relevant for the second stage of the 2014 Tour; the winner of the first stage (Marcel Kittel) led both the general classification and the points classification, while the second rider in the points classification (Peter Sagan) led the youth classification, so third rider in points (Bryan Coquard) actually wore the green jersey. The red number stands ahead of the yellow one, but the number (yellow for leading team, red for combativity) can go with any jersey.
Most winning riders in the different competitions of the race are following:
General classification (5 times): Jacques Anquetil (France) - 1957, 1961-1964
Eddy Merckx (Belgium) - 1969-1972, 1974
Bernard Hinault (France)note Hinault is also the most recent French winner of Tour de France - 1978-1979, 1981-1982, 1985
Miguel Induraín. (Spain) - 1991-1995
Points classification (6 times): Erik Zabel (Germany) - 1996-2001
Youth classification (3 times): Jan Ullrich (Germany) - 1996-1998
Andy Schleck (Luxemburg) - 2008-2010.
Team classification: Belgium (for national teams, back when that was the standard) - 10 times - 1931, 1935-1936, 1938-1939, 1948, 1950, 1956, 1958-1959 (note that in 39, 48 and 50, Belgium had more than one team)...
Mercier (for sponsored teams, which is the standard now) - 5 times - 1972, 1975, 1978, 1980, 1982. note Teams that change names are still the same team (what was Team CSC in 2003 is the same as Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank in 2012), but teams that go to a different license are not (Radioshack-Nissan in 2012 is the same as Leopard Trek 2011, and not the same as Radioshack (2009-2011)). This is the official UCI definition, please keep with that when editing this.
Combativity award (4 times): Eddy Merckx - 1969-1970, 1974-1975
The most recent winners of the different competitions are listed here:
2014 competition winners
General classification: Vincenzo Nibali (Italy, Astana Pro Team)
Points classification: Peter Sagan (Slovakia, Cannondale)
Mountains classification: Rafal Majka (Poland, Tinkoff-Saxo)
Combativity award: Alessandro De Marchi (Italy, Cannondale)
After 100 editions, it does have some tropes in it:
The Ace: Eddy Merckx at the top of his career. In 1969 he was so dominant that he won all the major individual classifications that existed at the time (general, points, mountains, combinationnote A points competition based on the best-placed riders in the general, points, and mountains classifications, and the combativity award). Had the youth classification existed at the time, he would have won that, too.
Anti-Doping Is Useless: Riders being thrown out for doping is commonplace. Action is never taken against people higher up the system than said riders.
Artifact Title: "Hors Categorie" (outside category) for the hardest climbs. It used to be that the hardest climbs were given separate points scales, not only from the other categories but from each other as well; hence, they really didn't fall into any category. Now, "Hors Categorie" is itself a category, with all the "outside category" climbs given the same scale.
Bastard Understudy: While naming an athlete as a villain doesn't quite hold up, the history of the race has several examples of this.
Boring but Practical: US Postal's and Team Sky's strategy, where they keep the race under total control in order to have their captain win. There's a good counter to this strategy though.
Cheaters Never Prosper: Usually subverted with a lot of known dopers having won or been placed highly, but sometimes played straight, when people are thrown out or removed from the records.
Pure climbers usually never win, unless they build up a big enough lead before the time trial(s). Last pure climber to win the race was Andy Schleck in 2010, but he only won after Contador was disqualified.
Rarely averted: Pantani got a win without any prior disqualifications in 1998, but it was in the particular context of the Festina affair.
Rasmussen would probably have won in '07, if it hadn't been for the general corruption in the sport, and even then, he still finished 10th on the time trial. But look Kick the Son of a Bitch below.
This also applies to sprinters. A super-sprinter who can't (or won't) tackle the mountainous or hilly stages will fall squarely under this trope, as to complete the race, one must have some skill at all types of stages.
Case in point, legendary Italian sprinter "Super Mario" Cipollini. While he completed Giro d'Italia six times (winning the points competition thrice), he never completed a single Tour de France. Cipollini used to win several stages in the first week, only to shamelessely abandon the Tour at the first or second stage in the mountain.
This is so prevalent among sprinters that a sprinter who is just a bit more versatile than the others gets a big advantage. While he's able to keep up with—and even beat—the top sprinters of the world consistently, Peter Sagan won the points classification in 2012-2014 mainly because he can do very well on mid-mountain stages that pure sprinters generally only race to complete. His ability to contest sprint points that pure sprinters can't—as well as the sprint points pure sprinters generally do contest—allowed him to win the green jersey in 2014 by 149 pointsnote His lead was so great that he was uncatchable in the competition for the last three stages even though he didn't win any stages.
Sometimes inverted when a time-trialist is really, really above anyone else and has a good enough team to control the race. Miguel Indurain used to win the Tour by winning a time-trial stage with so much margin that he only had to manage it until the last stage to ensure his victory.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Not entirely "battle", but sometimes a rider just tears the entire GC apart, or a sprinter wins every stage possible for them.
Curse: No French rider has won since 1985, and no French rider was in the top 3 between 1997 and 2014. The latter curse was broken by two French riders: Jean-Christophe Péraud (2nd) and Thibaut Pinot (3rd).
This curse has led an achievement in the licensed game for the race (Pro Cycling Manager for PC, Tour de France on consoles), which is to win Tour de France with a French rider. This achievement is borderline Self-Deprecation, as the game studio behind said game is French.
Determinator: There's an award for biggest determinator every year, called the "combativity award". Aside from the award, TdF could have it's own subpage on the matter. An article about it can be found here
Down To The Last Time Trial: Several versions of the race have ended like this, most notably in 1989 where the final stage was a 24,5 km time trial. Laurent Fignon had a 50 second lead on Greg LeMond, but the American beat the Frenchman by 58 seconds, taking home the race by the smallest margin in race history. 1989 was the last year to end the race on a time trial, leading to a format where the last stage will be a sprinter duel, usually without any general classification contenders doing anything.
2011 had Cadel Evans take over the jersey on the final time trial from Andy Schleck.
2003 and 2008 had two riders being very close in the general classification, and while the leader held on to his jersey, it wasn't decided whether he'd win before the time trial. Both these years had the non-leaders (Ullrich and Evans) at a favourable standpoint, compared to the leaders: Ullrich had beaten Armstrong badly on the first time trial in 03 (and wasn't that much behind compared to the American), while Evans was just a plain better time trialist than Sastre.
Epic Fail: While Pereiro's win was impressive, having the pack finish outside the time limit on the stage that helped Pereiro win was an epic fail on behalf of every team that had a GC-contender in 2006, except for CSC who had Voigt placed in said breakaway.
The Orica-GreenEdge bus on the first stage of the 2013 race, which crashed into the finish line, and got stuck, with the riders arriving in 15 minutes. It was extracted with five minutes to spare.
Epic Race: The epic race in cycling. The other two grand tours, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, also count, but TdF is the biggest.
NBC Sports Network lampshades this as part of their "Epic Cycle" coverage that features other prominent cycling events such as the Tour of California and various criterium events.
Every Year They Fizzle Out: Several riders have high expectations following them into the race, which they're never able to live up to.
Follow the Leader: Yellow jerseys are very common when it comes to leader's jerseys in professional cycling races. A list of leader's jerseys in different cycling races can be found here.
Made of Iron: Examples abound. A well-known example is Johnny Hoogerland's painful crash in 2011 after being sideswiped by a car and falling into a barbed-wire fence—and finishing not only the stage, but the entire race. Honorable mention to Juan Antonio Flecha, who was the one actually hit by said car (and got bumped into Hoogerland as a result); he also got back up and finished the stage and, eventually, the race.
Manly Tears: If you see a rider crying, it's almost always this.
Non Indicative Name: The team competition can be this. A team with strong riders and an every-man-for-himself mentality can win this competition. Radioshack-Nissan did in 2012.
Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Doping in Tour de France has its own page The Other Wiki. Note that most cases of doping that can currently be found in the news are either those of the past, accidental (e.g. clenbuterol in China), or biological passport cases (a system criticized by pros, of the kind one would expect to be clean, and experts).
Retcon: Lance Armstrong's victories have been officially wiped from the records after discovery of his doping. No official winners have been appointed in his place.
Some of the other winners, like Floyd Landis in 2006, and Alberto Contador in 2010, have been stripped of their wins due to doping violations; in these cases the victories have defaulted to the highest remaining cyclist (Óscar Pereiro in 2006, Andy Schleck in 2010). The Tour organizers excluded Bjarne Riis' 1996 win from the official records after Riis confessed to doping, but the Union Cycliste Internationale invoked statute of limitationnote 8 years, and the Tour organizers now list him as winner on their official page, with a note that said he has confessed to doping. Only excluding Riis would be a major Double Standard, as he's hardly the only confessed or proven doper on the list of winners.
Scenery Porn: Expect the television coverage to feature a lot of helicopter shots whenever the Tour visits somewhere scenic. The 2014 Tour starts in Yorkshire in England: rumour has it that the Yorkshire tourist board started their pitch to the Tour organisers by giving them a helicopter tour and saying "Look at this!"
During eventless parts of certain stages, some commentators talk about the history of the scenic places the peloton races through.
Timed Mission: All the racers must finish within a certain percentage of time of the leader on any given stage, or they're eliminated from the race. The time limit is defined by the average speed of the lead rider, and the difficulty of the stage. Exceptions are granted if too many riders finish outside the time limit (as happened in 2006 on stage 13, when 97% of the field was outside the time limit), if a rider is judged to have made a suitably heroic effort to stay in, or if the only reason the rider missed out on the time limit is misinformation by race officials.
Trope Co. Trope of the Week: Most teams in the competition are named after their main sponsor(s). The only one exceptions in recent years are Astana and Katusha. Astana is sponsored by the Kazakhstan government and some big Kazakh companies (Astana is the name of the capital city), while Katusha it sponsored by several big Russian companies.
In addition, the various competitions have different sponsors; in 2014, these were LCL for the general classification (yellow jersey), PMU for the points classification (green jersey), Carrefour for the mountains classification (polka-dot jersey), and koda for the young-rider classification (white jersey).
Up to Eleven: The Alpe d'Huez is a famous climb, used in many Tour de France races as a stage finish. How do you top such a stage finish? How about climbing that mountain, descending down the other side, riding around the mountain, and climbing it a second time—all in the same stage? That's exactly what they did in the 2013 race.
Wearing A Flag On Your Shirt: This being the biggest cycling race in the world, expect to see several national champions, especially since most European, as well as the Canadian, championships are held close to this race.