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Tour de France for Dummies
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I'm watching the Tour de France and, for the first time, actually paying attention to the racing and trying to understand what's going on. I understand the very basic rules from Wikipedia, such as the various jersey competitions, and I'm starting to appreciate the team tactics and overall strategy that takes place. But I have a few fundamental questions.

A group of riders, such as the peloton, are given the same finishing time if they cross the finish line together. This makes sense from a safety standpoint, especially for the peloton, but how do they determine what constitutes a group?

What is the typical cruising speed of the peloton, assuming flat ground, no wind, and they aren't chasing down an attack? It seems like the peloton speed is usually in the 25-28 mph range.

What is considered a big lead for the GC competition? After 9 stages, I see that around a dozen riders are within 2 minutes of the leader, Roglic. At this point, is there a time past which you can pretty much write off a GC leader? My rough sense is that with a lot of big mountain stages coming up, you just need to stay within touching distance of the leader, so within a minute perhaps?

I also get the sense that you can't win the GC unless you're a strong climber, as in having the ability to put time into the peloton.

Like I said, basic questions but hopefully this will also help other TdF newbies.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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Comments inserted below. More expert STers are about and may correct anything I've got wrong thought I'd take a shot anyway.
dktxracer wrote:
I'm watching the Tour de France and, for the first time, actually paying attention to the racing and trying to understand what's going on. I understand the very basic rules from Wikipedia, such as the various jersey competitions, and I'm starting to appreciate the team tactics and overall strategy that takes place. But I have a few fundamental questions.
A group of riders, such as the peloton, are given the same finishing time if they cross the finish line together. This makes sense from a safety standpoint, especially for the peloton, but how do they determine what constitutes a group?
Not sure the exact criteria but any significant gap, perhaps a few bike lengths, or a second or two, would constitute a new group.

What is the typical cruising speed of the peloton, assuming flat ground, no wind, and they aren't chasing down an attack? It seems like the peloton speed is usually in the 25-28 mph range.
Really that's pretty irrelevant. Tactics, terrain and weather will dictate the pace. It's not a time trial (except for the time trial!) and the pace can vary dramatically.

What is considered a big lead for the GC competition? After 9 stages, I see that around a dozen riders are within 2 minutes of the leader, Roglic. At this point, is there a time past which you can pretty much write off a GC leader? My rough sense is that with a lot of big mountain stages coming up, you just need to stay within touching distance of the leader, so within a minute perhaps?
As you suggest, the relevance of a lead in GC depends on when in the course of the 3 weeks the rider holds it and what stages are yet to come.
It's reasonably uncommon for potential CG contenders to make comebacks from more than a couple of minutes back, but a successful long range attack on a big mountain stage can make a big difference. Froome has made a dramatic come back in this way before. However, it's more common for a rider at the front to lose a lot of time on a bad stage when they miss a break or blow up, than it is for a GC rider to make a big gain. Without big climbs or crosswinds, the time gaps often don't change quickly among the GC riders. But sometimes....

I also get the sense that you can't win the GC unless you're a strong climber, as in having the ability to put time into the peloton.
Correct. The hills offer the opportunity for big time gaps. Flat stages don't provide an equivalent opportunities for non climbers, especially because drafting and team support mean breaks rarely get away if they contain a rider who in the running for CG. But look out for flat stages with strong crosswinds - those can be fun!
Like I said, basic questions but hopefully this will also help other TdF newbies.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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Groups are given different times if there is a gap of more than 1 second. A group could be 1 rider.

I believe they said they are moving at close to 31mph today and working hard. A flat stage cruising speed I would guess would be 28mph.

“A big lead” varies. If you are 30 seconds down, but 12th overall and everyone else is a gc contender, you are probably out. It is hard to put time into that many people though pogacar did the last 2 days. If you are 2 mins down and in 2nd place, there may be a chance if the leader cracks. It also really depends on if you can time trial or not. Sometimes one of the leaders could lose minutes on a time trial stage.

Strong team, strong climber, good TT, lucky with no flats/mechanicals/accidents.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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dktxracer wrote:
A group of riders, such as the peloton, are given the same finishing time if they cross the finish line together. This makes sense from a safety standpoint, especially for the peloton, but how do they determine what constitutes a group?

Seems like usually it's if there is a visible gap between riders of a bike length or two. There's probably an official rule of some sort but I don't know it.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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the peloton cruises very fast. i'd say on flat ground and no wind, 25 to 29, something like that? tons of them post to strava, have a look at some of their ride files and you can get a sense for the speeds. some even post their power numbers.

i'm not sure the exact rule on time gaps but I thought it was based off a few bike lengths...basically if there is a measureable (>1 second) time gap between two riders, they'll probably split them. but like someone said, many times a "group" can be just one rider.

the TDF is fascinating to watch. kudos to asking the questions because it certainly is an intimidating thing since so many on here are very into it. it's one of those things where if you aren't a cyclist it's difficult to appreciate. But once you know how difficult it is to ride shoulder to shoulder with 100+ people, going 30+ mph, on narrow twisty roads with obstacles and hazards everywhere...i'm just utterly speechless most times I watch, especially on run-ins to sprint finishes. not to mention the 100 km/h mountain descents where one lapse in concentration = death. to me it's like golf - to the uneducated it's like watching paint dry. but if you know personally how difficult it is, and how much skill and strength it takes, you can't take your eyes off it.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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dktxracer wrote:

What is considered a big lead for the GC competition? After 9 stages, I see that around a dozen riders are within 2 minutes of the leader, Roglic. At this point, is there a time past which you can pretty much write off a GC leader? My rough sense is that with a lot of big mountain stages coming up, you just need to stay within touching distance of the leader, so within a minute perhaps?

There are three items to consider: how big the gaps are, how strong the riders and their teams are, and where we are in the race. Even though we have already had four "mountain stages" we have yet to have a true high mountain day with a summit finish. We can try to guess from what we have seen so far that Roglic, Pogacar, and maybe Bernal are a step above the rest, but there is a lot of racing still to come. Even though we are only halfway through the race, we are only about 5-10% done with the GC race IMO. There are days when someone can put over a minute on the other GC guys. So in theory anyone within a few minutes is still in it, but if you continue to see them dropped when the elite selection is made you can count them out. Meanwhile someone who made mistakes our had bad luck on a flat stage like Pogacar or Lands may be more likely to claw their way back into contention.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [Ai_1] [ In reply to ]
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These days being a good climber is a must to win a grand tour. You can barely afford to have a bad moment, let alone day, in the mountains.
30 years ago it was different. There would be hundreds of Kms off time trialing in a Tour. Ironically all of the TT equipment is closer to a level playing field today compared to the 90s (ie Boardman vs Pantani).
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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dktxracer wrote:
What is considered a big lead for the GC competition?
It's contextual. It depends on who has the lead and what stages are left in the race.

Roughly speaking: a big lead is a lead where, if someone doesn't badly crack and nothing bad happens to them, they've got a very good shot at winning the Tour. If a pure sprinter gets away on a huge breakaway on a flat stage near the start of the tour and gets a 10-minute advantage, this isn't really seen as a big lead, because they're expected to blow loads of time in the mountains. On the other hand, with the final stage generally being a flat mass-start stage into Paris with a highly-prestigious sprint at the end, a 30-second GC lead in the final stage is seen as basically invincible (which is a big part of why the racers generally neutralize the final stage).
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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dktxracer wrote:
I also get the sense that you can't win the GC unless you're a strong climber, as in having the ability to put time into the peloton.
Drafting provides vastly less help on climbs than on flat ground because of the low speeds. And when going down the opposite side, being a skilled descender can often allow a lone rider to out-pace a group without really putting in more effort. So it's often possible for small groups and even solo attacks to simply get away from a much bigger group that wants to chase them down and create time gaps.

Furthermore, because uphill riding causes gravitational drag to dominate rather than aerodynamic drag, increasing your effort by a certain amount creates a bigger relative difference in speed. On a flat road, if I double my power output, I might end up going only 30% faster or so; on a 20% uphill gradient, if I double my power output, I'll end up going nearly twice as fast. Compared with flat-ground riding, this amplifies the benefits of an exemplary effort: pedaling 5% harder than a fellow GC contender on a 30-minute climb to a mountaintop finish produces a bigger time gap than pedaling 5% harder than them on a 30-minute flat-ground individual time trial.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [ThisIsIt] [ In reply to ]
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ThisIsIt wrote:
dktxracer wrote:

A group of riders, such as the peloton, are given the same finishing time if they cross the finish line together. This makes sense from a safety standpoint, especially for the peloton, but how do they determine what constitutes a group?


Seems like usually it's if there is a visible gap between riders of a bike length or two. There's probably an official rule of some sort but I don't know it.

The rule is 1 full second between riders
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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My rough sense is that with a lot of big mountain stages coming up, you just need to stay within touching distance of the leader, so within a minute perhaps?


You are right here.

The Top 10 on the GC are all roughly within a minute. I'm not saying the all have a shot at winning, because Roglic looks pretty good right now and has string team support, but let's just say they all have a shot at it. When you crack in the Mountains, you can lose a lot of time really quickly. That's why the main game for all of those in the Top-10 of the GC, is to just ride, close to the others in the Top-10, and try not to lose any time. This can and does lead to a bit of negative racing, or rather conservative racing. Few really go for it and go on the Attack.


The back half of the Tour is brutal, with that final, and only TT, perhaps being the decision maker - and it's steeply uphill for 5km at the finish.


Steve Fleck @stevefleck | Blog
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [Fleck] [ In reply to ]
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Good comments from the forum. One thing you won't believe is how fast those guys are. When I lived in Hawaii we used to get a stray TdF rider passing thru that would ride with our club. We would be just talking and riding with our hands on the hoods and any little short rise like a 2 meter climb they would have gained a half a bike on our best riders and didn't even try to do that.
We had one hill on our no drop ride. I was the last dog up the hill every time. When you got to the top you turned around coasted down to me and started climbing again. We had some what I would call good climbers, but the peloton pros just rode away from them at every turn around. Just like poof ...and they were gone. It is just sick how fast those guys can climb.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [timbasile] [ In reply to ]
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timbasile wrote:


The rule is 1 full second between riders


Remember this is the UCI. It's more complicated than that. In 2018 they added a 3-second time gap for finishes that end in a bunch sprint (like today).

This was so you don't have GC contenders mixing it up with the sprint trains for fear of letting a 1 second gap open. This way they can kind of sit up and not interfere with the sprinters. This is why today you can see riders crossing the line for a full minute or so in smallish groups, and they all get the same time. I think the 3 seconds is loosely enforced too.

Kinda makes senses, despite my swipe at the UCI. No need to have GC guys throwing elbows with the DQS guys.
Last edited by: trail: Sep 8, 20 12:58
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [HTupolev] [ In reply to ]
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HTupolev wrote:
Furthermore, because uphill riding causes gravitational drag to dominate rather than aerodynamic drag, increasing your effort by a certain amount creates a bigger relative difference in speed. On a flat road, if I double my power output, I might end up going only 30% faster or so; on a 20% uphill gradient, if I double my power output, I'll end up going nearly twice as fast. Compared with flat-ground riding, this amplifies the benefits of an exemplary effort: pedaling 5% harder than a fellow GC contender on a 30-minute climb to a mountaintop finish produces a bigger time gap than pedaling 5% harder than them on a 30-minute flat-ground individual time trial.

The example above about adding power on the flats vs inclines makes perfect sense. I was looking at the course profiles for the later stages, and those look BRUTAL.

I noticed that they aren't doing a team time trial this year. I've never watched one, which is disappointing. I was hoping to see what kind of speed these guys can do working together. Also, the lone TT is almost at the very end. That seemed kind of strange to me, but I have no idea where the TT's are placed traditionally.

Thanks, all, for the comments. It's more enjoyable watching the races when you can understand what's going on. Also, I've been watching on the NBC Sports Gold subscription, and it's been great. I cut the cord a long time ago, so I'm perfectly fine with paying for content that I'm actually going to watch.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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There is often a TT the day before Paris. It makes for good TV and guarantees a shakeup in the standings.

Sometimes there is a short TT at the beginning, called a prologue. There can also be an early TT, usually when there isn't a prologue. And sometimes the early TT is a team TT.

It is rare to have only a single TT which is up a categorized climb.

Plenty of good videos of youtube for all sorts of TT action, TTT or otherwise.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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If you're not watching the ad-free broadcast on NBC Gold, I'd suggest giving it a go. Simon Gerrans (former pro rider) gives good insight into race strategy, why riders do what they do and just general cycling knowledge. It's pretty neat.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [bgoldstein] [ In reply to ]
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One thing to add about the route is that this can influence (sometimes) who is in contention. A bigger rider, all else equal, will do better in time trials, while a smaller rider will do better up a mountain. It isn’t a hard and fast rule, but does show that the route changing year to year may have an influence in who can compete and the placement of the TT influences tactics as we go.

For example, of the GC competitors, Roglic is by far the best time trailer. With the uphill TT, it won’t make it that decisive, but if the TT was pan flat he could take minutes off the other guys (save maybe Porte, Uran). As it is, it’s mostly flat with 5k hill at the end. Roglic is climbing with the best of them, so he probably can wait for the others to attack him. For someone like Bernal, he probably needs 2 minutes to feel safe going into the TT.

If we had the 2012 Route, with 100k of TTS, you’d have a slightly different set of competitors. For starters, Dumoulin wouldn’t have been burned as a helper since he’s arguably 2nd in the world at the discipline. We might have seen Thomas sent to the Tour instead of the Giro since that’s a strength. Roglic would be fine either way. It would be tough for a smaller rider like Bernal or Pogacar to win with a route like that - they’d already be down by minutes! (You can see why maybe they don’t have as many TTs anymore this early - it limits the riders who are still in contention, though you’d also see more riders focus on it if necessary)
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [HTupolev] [ In reply to ]
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HTupolev wrote:
dktxracer wrote:
I also get the sense that you can't win the GC unless you're a strong climber, as in having the ability to put time into the peloton.

Drafting provides vastly less help on climbs than on flat ground because of the low speeds. And when going down the opposite side, being a skilled descender can often allow a lone rider to out-pace a group without really putting in more effort. So it's often possible for small groups and even solo attacks to simply get away from a much bigger group that wants to chase them down and create time gaps.

Furthermore, because uphill riding causes gravitational drag to dominate rather than aerodynamic drag, increasing your effort by a certain amount creates a bigger relative difference in speed. On a flat road, if I double my power output, I might end up going only 30% faster or so; on a 20% uphill gradient, if I double my power output, I'll end up going nearly twice as fast. Compared with flat-ground riding, this amplifies the benefits of an exemplary effort: pedaling 5% harder than a fellow GC contender on a 30-minute climb to a mountaintop finish produces a bigger time gap than pedaling 5% harder than them on a 30-minute flat-ground individual time trial.


While I don't disagree with what is actually happening, it is important to emphasize drafting uphill does absolutely help in a non-trivial manner. They climb at quite a rapid speed and in a race won by small margins these things are huge.
Last edited by: turdburgler: Sep 8, 20 14:22
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [turdburgler] [ In reply to ]
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turdburgler wrote:
HTupolev wrote:
dktxracer wrote:
I also get the sense that you can't win the GC unless you're a strong climber, as in having the ability to put time into the peloton.

Drafting provides vastly less help on climbs than on flat ground because of the low speeds. And when going down the opposite side, being a skilled descender can often allow a lone rider to out-pace a group without really putting in more effort. So it's often possible for small groups and even solo attacks to simply get away from a much bigger group that wants to chase them down and create time gaps.

Furthermore, because uphill riding causes gravitational drag to dominate rather than aerodynamic drag, increasing your effort by a certain amount creates a bigger relative difference in speed. On a flat road, if I double my power output, I might end up going only 30% faster or so; on a 20% uphill gradient, if I double my power output, I'll end up going nearly twice as fast. Compared with flat-ground riding, this amplifies the benefits of an exemplary effort: pedaling 5% harder than a fellow GC contender on a 30-minute climb to a mountaintop finish produces a bigger time gap than pedaling 5% harder than them on a 30-minute flat-ground individual time trial.

While I don't disagree with what is actually happen, it is important to emphasize drafting uphill does absolutely help in a non-trivial manner. They climb a quite a rapid speed and in a race one by small margins these things are huge.


Yeah exactly. The average speed of these guys up a mountain still makes drafting relevant. Not sure which stage it was last week by they were going 28-30kph up a cat 1 climb at one point. You want to be in that draft.

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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [G-man] [ In reply to ]
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G-man wrote:
Good comments from the forum. One thing you won't believe is how fast those guys are. When I lived in Hawaii we used to get a stray TdF rider passing thru that would ride with our club. We would be just talking and riding with our hands on the hoods and any little short rise like a 2 meter climb they would have gained a half a bike on our best riders and didn't even try to do that.
We had one hill on our no drop ride. I was the last dog up the hill every time. When you got to the top you turned around coasted down to me and started climbing again. We had some what I would call good climbers, but the peloton pros just rode away from them at every turn around. Just like poof ...and they were gone. It is just sick how fast those guys can climb.


We have a relative that was high up in the Lance Armstrong Foundation, so he would get to ride with Armstrong, Hincapie, etc. on the charity rides. Even fat, old Eddy Merckx who wasn't even riding much at the time could sit on the hoods at the front and just cruise at 25mph or so on the flats.

The club I rode with back in the day mostly had a bunch of hacks like myself. One guy who had been a cat. 1 and didn't even ride anymore because of back issues and loss of interest would show up every once in a while and smoke everybody up the climbs.
Last edited by: ThisIsIt: Sep 9, 20 4:54
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [trail] [ In reply to ]
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trail wrote:
timbasile wrote:


The rule is 1 full second between riders


Remember this is the UCI. It's more complicated than that. In 2018 they added a 3-second time gap for finishes that end in a bunch sprint (like today).

This was so you don't have GC contenders mixing it up with the sprint trains for fear of letting a 1 second gap open. This way they can kind of sit up and not interfere with the sprinters. This is why today you can see riders crossing the line for a full minute or so in smallish groups, and they all get the same time. I think the 3 seconds is loosely enforced too.

Kinda makes senses, despite my swipe at the UCI. No need to have GC guys throwing elbows with the DQS guys.

Yeah I was thinking there are often gaps on sprint stages that don't result in different times.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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Still fairly novice. Year three of really following cycling, watching Grand Tours and all the One Days. Gets better and better the more your understand. Amazing how high my HR can get watching 8 guys go "slow" up a mountain side, attacking each other.

One thing I am still fascinated by, and grasping the intricacies of is the Breakaway.

Anything other then a pure flat stage, and sometimes even then, a small group goes quickly up the road. Often there are several riders from lesser known/competitive teams. They do this just to get their sponsor some air time as the race cameras will focus on them a good deal of those first few hours.

Then you have breakaway specialists, where this is their best chance to win a stage. Go early, and then just mash to try and stay away, outlast everyone else.

Lastly, you have teams that will send someone into the break, and that helps control what goes on in the Peloton. They will work to control the break, and dictate the pace of the stage, and how hard everyone has to work. This is the one that is the most sophisticated strategically. Because teams in the Peloton that don't have a rider in the break will have to be reacting to what 5 guys 6-7KM up the road are doing. Is a chess match to see which teams decide when to make a move.
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [WannaB] [ In reply to ]
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Quote:
Still fairly novice. Year three of really following cycling, watching Grand Tours and all the One Days. Gets better and better the more your understand. Amazing how high my HR can get watching 8 guys go "slow" up a mountain side, attacking each other.

If you want to make things lively, try riding rollers while watching a mountain stage of the Tour with a lot of descending.

clm
Nashville, TN
https://twitter.com/ironclm | http://ironclm.typepad.com
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [dktxracer] [ In reply to ]
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Don't forget that this year's TDF is also uncharacteristically light on TT km's. Usually there might be a prologue, a second TT or a team TT and any of these are the second primary type of stage in which GC contenders can make big time gains/ losses, as it is simply you against the clock, or in the case of the team TT, you and the strength of your whole team against the clock.

Feel the Speed
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Re: Tour de France for Dummies [FtStri] [ In reply to ]
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Next question: What are the common hand and arm signals? I saw a rider today on the right side of the peloton raise his index finger in the air, clearly trying to signal something. I do group rides on the weekends, so I know the basic group hand signals, but I imagine these pros have their own communication system.

And it cracks me up every time the riders fling their used water bottles on the side of the road. I can't imagine doing that on a ride. If I was at the Tour, I'd be picking up those bottles as souvenirs.
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