Arguably the most gruelling and prestigious sporting events in the cycling world, the Tour de France 3-week bicycle race can best be described in three words: Men in Lycra. Really hot men, and really tight colourful lycra, pedalling wildly as they chase each other up and down hills. As you can tell, I'm not exactly a sporting aficionado, (there's only one triathlete in the family), but even I can appreciate the insanely fit and dedicated athletes who will be cycling over 3,600 kilometres in the competition.This year the race kicks off on Saturday 2nd July from Passage du Gois, (a tidal causeway from Isle of Noirmoutier to the mainland) finishing on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday, July 24. Each day of the race is called a stage, and individual times to complete each stage will determine the overall winner of the race. Look out for the one in yellow (maillot jaune), he's the guy in front.
Apart from winning overall, there are additional competitions for points, mountains and best young rider. The maillot vert (green jersey) is worn by the rider with the most sprint points at the end of each stage, these are high for flat stages and lower for mountains stages, where it's harder to sprint. The King of the Mountains wears a white jersey with red dots (maillot à pois rouges), and the remainder of the peloton (main pack of riders) pass by in a blur of kaleidoscopic colours.
People travel from around the world to line the route and cheer on the riders, who endure steep mountains and all kinds of weather, the cyclists working in teams to outwit and outrace each other.
Henri Desgrange, editor of French sports newspaper L'Auto announced the first Tour de France race on 1 July 1903, starting in Paris and stopping in Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and Nantes before returning to Paris: “L'Auto, a journal of ideas and action, is about to send out over France those tough and uncomplicated sowers of strength, the great professional roadsters” quoting Émile Zola: “From Paris to the blue waves of the Mediterranean, from Marseille to Bordeaux, passing along the roseate and dreaming roads sleeping under the sun, across the calm of the fields of the Vendée, following the Loire, which flows on still and silent, our men are going to race madly, unflaggingly.”