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Beginner’s guide to the Tour de France

If you’ve never watched the Tour de France, you’ve been missing out! Cycling is an underrated sport jam-packed with excitement, strategy and gorgeous scenery. Read on to learn the basics, including cycling terms, key riders and how it all works.

Tour de France

This year marks the 99th Tour de France, a legendary bike race that spans three weeks and several countries. Just watching the race for the views of beautiful countryside can be satisfying enough, but you’ll soon be hooked on the ongoing battle for the yellow jersey. Figuring out exactly what is going on within the race can seem daunting at first, but a quick primer is all you need to be talking like a pro in no time!

The basics

The Tour de France consists of 21 racing stages (or days) over three weeks, where 22 teams of nine riders each compete for several classifications. Ultimately an individual rider takes home the yellow jersey as the winner of the race. Throughout the race there will be flat stages with sprint finishes, mountain stages with hundreds of feet of climbing and the final day of the race concluding along the Champs-Élysées in Paris.


There are several different classifications in the Tour de France, each designated by a distinctive jersey for the leader of each classification. All jerseys can change hands throughout the race based on current standings of points and times.

  • General classification: The rider with the least overall accumulated time at the end of the race wins the general classification and therefore is awarded the yellow jersey.
  • Points classification: This classification is marked by the green jersey and is awarded to the rider with the most accumulated points from winning sprint competitions, both at intermediate points throughout the race and at finishes.
  • Mountains classification: Also referred to as “King of the Mountains,” the polka dot jersey is awarded to the rider with the most points for mountaintop wins at intermediate points and finishes.
  • Best young rider: The white jersey is given to the rider under 26 years of age with the least overall accumulated time.
  • Team classification: To calculate the leader of the team classification, the times of the team’s best three riders are added up. The team with the least overall time wears yellow numbers to designate this.

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Understanding key terms will help keep you in the know as you watch the Tour de France.

  • Autobus: A group of riders off the back of the peloton who ride together for support in mountain stages to try to cross the finish line before the time limit elapses.
  • Breakaway: A rider or small group of riders who ride off the front of the peloton to form a gap between them and the main field.
  • Chase: A rider or group of riders between the breakaway and the peloton who are trying to bridge the gap to the breakaway.
  • Domestique: This is a rider whose only job is to support their team, from getting water bottles for other team riders to working for them in the peloton. Domestique literally translates to “servant” in French.
  • Feed zone: The spot on the race course where riders are handed bags of food as they ride.
  • Peloton: The main field of riders in the race, working together by riding closely to conserve energy and power.
  • Prolouge: A short time trial at the beginning stage of the race.
  • Queen stage: The hardest stage of the race, usually with a high mountaintop finish.
  • Time trial: An individual ride where the winner is determined by the fastest time.


This year’s top two favorites for the Tour de France are Cadel Evans, who won last year’s race, and Bradley Wiggins, who recently won the Criterium du Dauphine. Watch for these riders to put on quite a show as they battle toward Paris.

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