The beginner's guide to cycling.
As some of you will probably know, there is the equivalent of the world cup in football (or "soccer" in yank-ish) going on in the world of cycling. Le Tour de France has now progressed for a fortnight, and I thought it would be a good idea if I put down exactly how cycling works, and maybe why I find it so exciting.
Cycling is very team orientated. In 'le tour' you are allowed 9 people in a team. To simplify this, each team gets a number that is a factor of ten, so you will never have a number 10, 20, 30 etc etc. The team all get paid according to one person in your team winning the prize money, so you have to be unselfish and back up the selected winner.
In your team you might have a few main riders. The team leader is normally the main challenger, which is the person that might wear the Yellow Jersey. In other races this overall leader might have a different colour, but in the tour it is yellow because of the main sponsor. You will also maybe have a good climber (good in the mountains, wears the polka dot jersey), a good sprinter (good on the flat, wears the green jersey) and maybe even a good time trialler (good on his own). The rest of the team will be workhorses called domestiques, and these riders have the sole purpose of backing up the main riders. Nearly all team leaders have one strong discipline, but in more recent times it's become two or even three disciplines. The Texan favourite Lance Armstrong is supremely strong in the mountains, but also has good time trialling ability.
A big race like the tour has many many prizes throughout the race. These can be simple sprints through major towns to make the race more entertaining to spectators with prizes as low as $500 for first place, down to as little as $20 for a lesser place. This then is changed slightly for the mountains, with the line for the sprint being placed at the top of a mountain. These carry bigger prizes, as mush as $2000 for a first place. Each winner of a sprint or a mountain climb also gathers up points, and the person with the most points overall gets a prize for each day he is in the lead. This is only small, normally about $200 a day but can be prosperous over 3 or 4 weeks. Of course the overall leader wearing the yellow jersey is focused on, so he carries a lot more. Each day he stays out in front, he can get $5000. Quite a purse for the team but bearing in mind it is split amongst the team. A stage win (a race win on one day) can earn as much as $50,000 (in Paris) and these are fiercely contested. Obviously there is the big win. The overall winner at the end of the Tour in Paris will get a huge $750,000, and is it any wonder this is contested.
If your team win regularly, you can earn big bucks. Lance Armstrong is estimated to earn as much as $16 million, whilst a lowly domestique in a lesser team can earn a huge $23,000 (the minimum wage!)
It's a passionate sport. The different countries really don't have any patriotism, but more to their team mates. The main language spoken is French in the world championship races, and there is a huge set of unwritten rules. These rules mean real racing takes place and no dirty tricks take place.
It's no wonder it's religious almost for me every July.
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