After reading yesterday’s item on the Tour de France, Crikey reader Doug Clark wrote in with a simple request: Please publish an idiot’s guide to scoring in Le Tour — buggered if I can work it out.

Suspecting that Doug is not alone, Crikey today publishes the first in a two part series on how the Tour de France works. Part one focusses on strategy, the role of the riders within a team and how the teams work to make or break an individual competitor’s chances of overall victory. Tomorrow, we look at how the general classification is timed, what each jersey means and how you win it.

Freelance journalist and cycling enthusiast Nahum Ayliffe writes:

In recent years, the strongest rider from the strongest team has had the best chance of winning the Tour de France. This was demonstrated early this morning, in the last of the Alpine stages of the Tour de France, when Spaniard Carlos Sastre rode away from his challengers on the epic Alpe D’Huez to win the stage and the yellow jersey, taking an advantage of 1 minute 34 seconds over Cadel Evans.

With only three days of racing remaining, Sastre is well placed to win the overall classification, if he can hold off Evans in the 53km individual time trial on the penultimate day. There are no time bonuses for winning stages this year, so Sastre’s time advantage equates to real time lost by all riders since the Tour began.

Sastre owes his victory to his team mates including Australian veteran Stuart O’Grady, who tapped out a frenetic pace on the first two climbs of the day, controlling the race until the bottom of the final climb, where Sastre shot out of their slipstream to make his own break up the mountain. Sitting in a line of four or five riders, Sastre’s team CSC could chase down any attacks before they could get away.

Australian rider Stuart O’Grady, who wore the yellow jersey in 1998 and 2001, is now a Super-Domestique, working for his team leader, or the best placed rider from his team on each day of the race. He and his teammates wear themselves out at the front of the peleton, taking the full brunt of the wind and setting the pace, while their leader sits on their wheel, drafting off their slipstream. Domestiques will also hand over their bikes in the event of a mechanical failure or some other misfortune disabling the leader’s bike.

Cadel Evans does not have a strong team, and has lost time to the better teams when he has been isolated in the mountain stages. If Cadel Evans is to win the Tour de France this year, he must ride his specialty, the 53 km individual time trial, faster than his rivals, to overtake his time deficit to the three riders in front of him in the overall classification and no slower than those behind him. In other stages, groups of riders will be awarded the same time as the first in their group to cross the line, but the individual time trial is timed precisely, with each rider posting the equivalent of a (very long) qualifying lap. It’s also about aerodynamics, because riders are prohibited from drafting off other riders.

Most riders are not in the Tour de France to win the overall classification, but the next best prize is a Stage win.

On Stage 15, Australian Simon Gerrans demonstrated this showboating strategy, which involves breaking away from the peleton at the start of the race and trying to build a time gap between yourself and the main field. The longer you stay away, the more likely you can hold off the chasing peleton and win the stage. But in most cases you can settle for plenty of time on TV, which makes for good product placement for your sponsors, not to mention building own reputation as a pro cyclist. Gerrans did this and won the stage.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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