Only A Handful of Cyclists Can Win the Tour de France. Here’s Why…

Jan Poshenko
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Tour de France Contenders in 2018

A handful of cyclists have dominated the Tour de France over the years. Between them, they have won it 108 times. They have also accounted for the past fifteen consecutive Tour de France victories.

The sport has been dominated by only 11 cyclist. These cyclists have won a total of 56 Tours between them. Only two have won more than one Tour de France.

In recent years, the lineup of Tour de France cyclists has been dominated by the same 2-3 people. Between them, they have won the race every year since 2005. These cyclist are: Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, and Vincenzo Nibali.

These cyclists have demonstrated a vast array of talents that have allowed them to win. But, it wasn’t talent alone that made them win. They used their brains too. Their story is fascinating and will help you understand why accidents happen, how to handle pressure better, and how to push your limits.

All 11 of these cyclists have been to the Olympics, all of them have won national titles and some have won world championships. These athletes have demonstrated immense levels of talent.

But, none of these accomplishments would’ve prepared them for the marathon, treacherous, and singular journey of the Tour de France. There is a huge difference between being a great racer and being a great Tour de France racer.

Why so many different cyclists?

Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Chris Froome is the real deal. Born in Kenya to British parents, he moved to South Africa when he was eight years old. It was there that he discovered his passion for cycling, and took part in his first race when he was just 12.

At the age of 16, Froome landed a scholarship at the prestigious Mt. Kenya Academy. It was at the prestigious school that Froome perfected his craft, and under the guidance of renowned coach Heiko Salzwedel, he began to develop into one of the top cyclists in the world.

In 2009, at just 24 years old, Chris Froome signed with Team Barloworld as a stagiaire, and in 2010 his professional career began. This also made him the first black African rider to compete in the Tour de France (an accomplishment witnessed by his father). In 2012, he was named captain of Team Sky, ultimately helping the team achieve a record number of victories in the season.

Tom Dumoulin – Team Sunweb

Choosing his name, I thought of Dumbo, the flying elephant. A small Dutchman, Dumoulin had taken the cycling world by surprise with his powerful performance, his talent, and some sort of transcendence. Bravest of the brave, better than the best, conquering the Tour de France, stage by stage: the first time since 1996, the year of the Festina Affair. This is how a real champion should be. One who has to struggle to realize his dream, one who has to fight to the end, one who, the day after, is already thinking of the next Tour.

Richie Porte – Team BMC

Why are the majority of cyclists unable to complete the Tour de France? From the beginning, you’re in the main frame. From that point on, you need to be on a team that is capable of winning the Tour de France. If not, you’re out. So even if you are capable of finishing the Tour de France, say in the top 10 of a Grand Tour like the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta a Espana, you will have very little chance of winning it.

When you factor in the financial reward structure that a decent rider can earn in another sport such as tennis, golf, or horse racing, it is difficult to see why a top cyclist would race at all.

Roman Bardet – AG2R La Mondiale

Vincenzo Nibali – Bahrain Merida

The winner of the 2015 Tour de France was Vincenzo Nibali from Italy. His exact height is 1.73 m and his weight 72 kg, which is not to much, but you have to weight for cycling shoes and cycling kit.

Nibali in the 2014 Giro D’Italia

Nibali was born on 11th October 1984 in Messina, Sicily, Italy. His father was a weight-lifter and forester. At the age of five he began practising cycling together with his brother, making use of the family's courtyard and stairwell.

Nibali's first bicycle was a second-hand one, but it was very precious to him. He rode it regularly to and from his home, and carefully kept the bike in the courtyard and workshop. Every evening he would bring the bike in and clean and polish it.

Nairo Quintana – Team Movistar

If there is one name that has become synonymous with the Tour de France, it is Carlos Sastre. The Spaniard dominated the 2005 Tour after overcoming testicular cancer and then came back to win a bronze medal in the Olympics the following year.

Since then, though, Spain (and the world for that matter) has not really been able to find another worthy rival for the yellow jersey. Indeed, with the exception of two names (Sastre and Alberto Contador), pretty much since the early 2000s, the Tour de France has been the purview of two nations: France and Colombia.

And of those two South American nations, Mexico has won a total of 20 stages, while Colombia has claimed 19.

No other country can top either of their tallies. And it is rare to see two Mexicans or two Colombians in the same race, let alone in the same race as another Mexican or another Colombian.

However, that has not been the case for the past three years, as Nairo Quintana has raced alongside Alejandro Valverde and his top-end pace. Although Quintana has not yet won a stage, he has finished on the podium in four of the past five seasons.

What exactly is the difference between Quintana and Valverde? What makes the latter the strong rouleur that he is and what can the former do to bridge the gap?

Rigoberto Uran – Team EF Education First-Drapac

At the 2017 Tour de France, Rigoberto Uran won the white jersey for best young rider. After the sixth stage of the race, Uran was sitting in second place, but his dreams of winning the coveted stage race quickly disappeared. In the seventh stage, he suffered a broken wheel, but he managed to chase back on despite the two minute deficit.

He then spent the next two weeks showing off the defensive skills he developed on the track as a teenager, riding tempo on final days of stages to hold off the aggressive sprinters who were ready to crush him if they had got the chance.

Types Competitions within the Tour de France

There are different categories and competitions held within the Tour de France. The ultimate goal is to finish first, but the competitions take place within the competition.

A few of the most popular types of competitions are:

The General Classification:

This competition takes place throughout the entirety of the Tour, and the standings change depending on performance, which involves each of the individual stages and the final result when all stages are completed. The individual that performs better in the final overall placing is the winner.

The Points Classification:

This competition is relevant for the first half of the Tour. The cyclist who gains the most points during the different stages is the winner. This competition is based on the number of points earned during the stage. The cyclists also have to pre-determine their races and set the tone by strategically gaining points.

The Mountains Classification:

This competition runs from the beginning to the end of the Tour. The cyclists who gain the most points for climbing the highest number of mountains are the winners.

The Sprint classification:

This competition can take place at the beginning, middle, or end of the race. The cyclist that outperforms the others in individual sprinting during the stages are the winners. The cyclists earn points by performing well in the sprint competition.

Maillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey) – General Classification

The maillot jaune is earned by the rider on the general classification. This is what you’d expect; the rider who finishes with the lowest total time is the winner of the yellow jersey.

But how does the general classification work? In simple terms, the CCP is the sum of the times of the best three cyclists in the rider’s team. So the rider who is assigned a higher CCP will benefit from having his teammates to take up the rest of the positions. In order to get a top 3 position, riders often look for climbs in which they can drop their opponents and gain a big enough advantage over them.

If you get dropped by your opponents, don’t give up!

A rider who is dropped by his teammates in the caravan has one last chance to get back in the lead. If he can catch up with the caravan during the final 15 kilometers, then his overall time will be re-set. Meaning that he will once again be in the running for the yellow jersey.

Maillot Blanc (White Jersey) – Young Rider’s Classification

For the first time, the Tour de France will offer the Arnaud Maillot Blanc, which gives young riders the opportunity to win a jersey.

Given that top cyclists can earn ‘millions, the young riders no longer have to choose between a career and studying for a degree. Yet being young does not guarantee success.

The current champions, Andy and Frank Schleck, are able to do this job because they were fortunate enough to ride for teams that could support them for a minimum of five years. doping consumption

This certificate of honor, designed by French fashion designer Arnaud Tamisier, was created for the Société du Tour de France. Tamisier has been goldsmith since the age of 14. He previously designed the Vuelta a España leader’s jersey.

What is the Arnaud Maillot Blanc?

The Maillot Blanc is given to the best young rider. The ranking takes place after the individual time trials during the Tour de France.

For now, the winner only earns a certificate of honor designed by Arnaud Tamisier and a replica of the jersey. The prize money is still missing. The amount of this award is expected to be determined by the value of the current leader’s jersey.

Maillot Vert (Green Jersey) – Points Classification

The Maillot Vert is a green jersey that is worn by the rider who gains the most points at the finish of each stage. The points classification is a points race, although the points are awarded differently than in races like the Tour de France. While the Tour de France awards points to the top 20 riders, in the Tour de France, the green jersey is awarded to the rider who finishes the stage in the top 15.

The Tour de France (although a single race) is actually two different races in one … the overall race and the points classification.

The overall race is for the rider who completes the 3,404.4 km course (about 2,113 miles) in the shortest amount of time. The overall winner of the Tour de France gets to wear the coveted yellow jersey.

The Maillot Vert is awarded to the rider who collects the most points throughout the three week race. While the points ranking doesn’t win you the Tour de France, finishing in the Maillot Vert will get you a lot of attention as you move through the finish.

The Maillot Vert is among the oldest of all cycling jerseys, dating back to 1911.

How Points Are Awarded in the Tour de France Green Jersey

There are 55 points up for grabs in each stage.

The first point goes to the rider who finishes fastest in the stage.

Maillot à pois rouges (Polka Dot Jersey) – Mountain Classification

The maillot êpois rouges (Polka-Dot Jersey) is worn by the rider who is currently in the lead in the mountains classification.

Points are awarded on the basis of the uphill finishes throughout the race in the categories as follows:

4, 3, 2, 1

For 1st, 2nd and 3rd places respectively.

As you can see, 1st place also nets you 3 points. Only the first four riders in each stage get any points.

1st Place: 6pts

2nd Place: 4pts

3rd Place: 2pts

The rider with the most points at the end of the race will be awarded the maillot êpois rouges (the polka-dot jersey).

Participating Teams

In the Tour de France, there are 21 participating teams with 8 riders per team, and with the exception of Team Sky, they are all national teams. Some of the best riders in the world ride for them. Every year, about 260 cyclists compete in the Tour de France, but only a handful finish the race and get to the Epilogue to take the podium. Why is this the case?

Because the Tour de France is such a difficult race to compete in. The amount of effort and endurance that it requires is not something that everyone is able to do.

This year in the Tour de France, about 80% of the cyclists do not finish the race.

Those who are able to finish typically do so because of their remarkable physical and mental strength. In fact, cyclists usually come from a family of cyclists. They train since the youngest age and are very competitive.

Those who are not born with extreme qualities have to work hard to succeed.

In fact, professional cyclists say that the effort needed to win the Tour de France is 3 times more than they put in any other races.

Here, we will talk about some of the reasons why participating in the Tour de France is a challenge, and why only a handful of cyclists can take the win.

Team Hierarchy

The Collapse of Lance Armstrong

At the heart of the professional sport-The Tour de France, is a hierarchy that ensures that an “every man" won’t take home the cream of the year’s crop.

Top in the hierarchy are the team captains. Referred to as leaders or “primes”, they are the star cyclists backed by different organizations. For example, Team Sky is backed by their sponsors, Sky.

Second are the domestiques, called domestiques because they support the leaders. They’re the assistants, the most coveted roles in the world of cycling.

Third are the climbers, also called breakers. These bike racers are skilled at solo ventures up the mountains. They break away from the pack and go for the win during the grueling process up the mountains.

Then there are the sprinters, who are fast off the line. They end the race by speeding to the finish line.

Right under all these roles are the team members, who would be lost without the support of the leaders, domestiques and climbers.

The Dangerous First Week

After the rider’s flag off, the Tour’s first week is always difficult. The peloton (pronounced pea-yo-tuhn) sits at a high tempo the first few days as riders inch their way to the time trial the first week.

Cyclists must eat and drink a lot to make it through stage one of the Tour. The first week is one of the most challenging time periods in their race. They can lose up to eight pounds during the first week alone. Most cyclists can only lose about four pounds per week starting at stage 12.

During this period, the cyclists sometimes have to consume up to 10,000 calories per day. This is equivalent to eating and drinking five times more than what a normal individual eats and drinks. In one day, a cyclist can eat three meals and drink seven to eight liters of fluids.

Due to the tough conditions, cyclists have a mental game to prepare themselves in order to stay focused and positive.

An interesting fact is that cyclists are only allowed to wear one pair of sunglasses during the race. The cost of these sunglasses is often subsidized by one of the bike company’s donors. They might wear this pair for the entire race.

It’s too expensive and time consuming to change them. They have to focus on the constant need for eye protection.

Staying Healthy

Like other professional sports, cycling requires athletes to take a number of precautions to ensure that they are properly nourished and fit for the task. This is necessary because the average Tour de France has over 30,000 meters [32,808 feet] of elevation climbing. Cyclists must utilize every possible advantage available to them to make it to the finish line of the Tour.

Alberto Contador, the 2009 and 2010 Tour de France winner, helps illustrate the importance of nutrition to cyclists. He is one of the first riders to go to sleep as soon as he arrives at his hotel room on the evening before a stage.

He usually spends his pre-race day with a light breakfast, and then the afternoon resting while sipping on caffeinated drinks, such as Red Bull. Athletes take this approach because they know that they need to save their energy for the race day rather than have it be consumed by unnecessary digestion.

In terms of nutrition, cyclists focus on eating foods with carbohydrates and healthy fats to give them energy. Vegetables, fruits, and grains do a great job of fulfilling this prescription.

They also eat foods that promote muscle growth. Some examples of these foods include protein, vitamins, and minerals. To top it all off, some cyclists actually consume protein on the course to give them some extra energy to fight off muscle fatigue.

Types of Riders

Theoretical physics informs us that "Energy is neither created nor destroyed" meaning that if more energy is put in, it will always come out one way or another. One of the reasons that some cyclists are better than others is that some will have better forms of energy available to them to perform better; we will get into that more later. There are a few types of riders for the TdF, however, and the types can come out in any or all of the stages of the TdF:

The Sprinter: Sprinters have muscles that allow them maximum power in bursts of a few seconds. Since the finishes of a tour generally take place on a flat, it makes sense that the sprinters would be the ones to win.

The Climber: Climbers are great at optimally using their energy to climb a hill as fast as they can because they have lesser oxygen transporting ability and can only take in very small amounts of oxygen relative to other cyclists.

The Time Trail Specialist: These guys are good at minimizing their losses on descents and flats, and they aren’t so bad at climbing hills. They generally win stages that are flat or have medium grade hills, and they lose more in hilly stages and those with mountain cols than other riders do.

The All-Arounder: The all-arounder is good at everything, but nothing really great.

Exceptional climber + Strong Time Trialist

Yellow Jersey: The best form of defense is attack.

Yellow jersey winners such as Cavendish, Sagan, and Cancellara are good time trialists. Thus when they race against other climbers (Denis Menchov, Bjarne Riis), they can take the lead by inserting long, hard accelerations on the flat. Their opponents are forced to save energy for a chance of a win in the time trial. Then they have no energy left for a fight to get back the yellow jersey.

Green Jersey: The best form of offense is defense.

Green jersey winners such as Hincapie, Zabel, and Matthews are good climbers. They can use their climbing skill to make significant breaks and defend their position during mountain stages.

Best Climbers: The best form of offense is offense.

When the best climbers are competing, they are usually able to get on the top just by their climbing skills.

Best sprinters: You can brake but you cannot hide.

Best sprinters have a much better chance of being on the top of the ranking sheet: they can accelerate across flat roads without having to care about attacks and breakaways initiated by more aggressive riders.

Best Time Troaists: You can break the rules but you cannot break a rule.

Exceptional Time Trialist + Strong Climber

One of the hallmarks of a Tour de France champion has to be an ability beyond comparison in a time trial. It’s the race that is far from a sprint but still requires brute speed. It takes a great deal of technical skill to master the art of climbing and descending, and if you can do both well, you’re a force to be reckoned with.

However, the current crop of pros in the peloton is full of exceptional time trialists and exceptional climbers. This means that the race is fiercely contested between two different types of cyclists.

There is always a bit used about the “pure climber” that shies away from the flats and the time trials. The pure climber is a beast on the steepest ramps in the mountains, but he may struggle a bit on the boom and bust rides across the flats for stage races. For example, “pure climber” Robert Gesink made a name for himself on the steep climbs but showed his truest potential in the Vuelta last year by finishing a close second in all of the race’s time trials.

Getting to the Finish Line

So you want to be a professional cyclist? Good luck with that. And good luck to you if you want to ride for more than 10 or so years as a professional. Even if they have dreamed of riding a bike for years, less than one in 60,000 will ever reach the pinnacle of professional cycling: The Tour de France.

From the age of 6 the Brits, Steve Cummings and a school friend usually wrote to each other in the form of a rider son paper. Its a rider based on the Tour de France.

Steve Cummings, Defending British Men’s Road Race Champion and Team Sky rider, has always dreamed of riding the Tour. It’s the GC winner who gets to wear the Yellow Jersey and shoulders the weight of the entire peloton.

The first stage of the 2015 race sprinters miss out on the Yellow Jersey, they look enviously at the winner with the shiny new maillot jaune. And they have a new celebrity.

The Green Jersey is awarded to whoever wins the points competition. It’s pretty much the same, except you don’t have a yellow stripe. The Green Jersey is what you’re going to win, unless you’ve hypothetically come second. Again.