New to pro cycling fandom, and want to know what the hell everyone's talking about? Enjoy sexy French mountain views with intermittent crazy-!@# bursts o' speed? Got some friendly nationalistic fervor ahead of Rio, and curious as to what's the deal with the road race? Or perhaps you just gotta know why your partner's suddenly switched over from man- or woman-crushing on Ryan Gosling and can't stop yapping about some shaggy "Peter Sagan" guy. Whatever your motive, we here at racejunkie have got the means--it's Yer Official Holy Crap It's 20 Days to the Tour de France Intro to Cycling Jargon, Part 1: The Race Course!
Tour de France: It's a three week bike race all over France by a 200-pack of pain-suckin' tacky-spandex masochists for the shameful entertainment of thousands of voyeuristic roadside, and millions of television, fans. It's roughly divided up into:
Sprints: Six hours of flat-tarmac "oh god *nothing* is happening," followed by about 5 k of "here they go, the teams are getting organized!", 1 k of "yeah, it's really on *now* baby," 200 meters of "holy !@#$ didja *see* that!," and approximately 16 hours of "that's bull!@@#!/you cut off my line!/I got pushed into the barriers!/what !@#$head caused that stupid crash?!" Ancillary vocab: the "lead-out" is the bunch of teammates who shepherd and protect you til it's time for you to sprint. The "crosswind" is when you're not paying attention, can't stay close enough to the guy ahead of you, fall waaaaaaaaay behind everyone else, and have to do the slumping crawl of shame across the finish line where all the other sprinters will laugh at you. Burn!
Time Trials: Individually or by team, it's when you each head out from a start gate separately at about 2 minute intervals in a race against the clock to see who goes fastest on the course without anyone else to blame but yourself, your teammates, your masseuse, your soigneur*, your team boss, your mechanic, or an obscure you ailment you don't have but it's not like a disease can defend itself from slander so what do you care. You wear a specially aero helmet, skinsuit, and bike, and, if you're really great at this discipline, probably aren't much good at anything else. And why the hell are there eighteen 90% turns on a course for a bike that can't turn for !@#$?
Rollers or Breakaway Stages: you can't really sprint, you can sorta climb, the contenders for the overall race win need a chill day off to recoup some energy, and your team's gonna throw your worthless !@# on the street next season if you don't give your sponsor's logo some primo air time by making the TV cameras focus on either (1) your chest or (2) your butt. Congratulations, one out of the four of you just got some major Tour de France glory while the rest get to spend your lives in endless self-recrimination for blowing it!
Mountain Stages: Yes, just like it sounds. The person who will win the overall big giant prize at the end of the three weeks will probably win or lose it here. If you've got some time to spare, and it's not gonna even really be a close race, you might let one of your teeny-weeny mountain-goat super-climber teammates go ahead and take the win. Selfless move, *and* you still get all the headlines as the race's ultimate champ! Ancillary vocabulary: "Queen Stage." Yeah, a doper just won that. But that's not true if you like the guy!
Climb: what you have to do on a mountain stage. If you generally prefer to sprint, you are praying to god you make it up the freakin' thing before the race organizers decide you're too much a worthless slowpoke wuss and make you leave the race entirely. Dang, couldn't they have at least done that *before* you schlepped your humongous carcass up Mt. Everest?
Switchbacks: it's basic physics, kid: climb straight up a 12,000 foot mountain in a direct line, and you'll croak. Climb up in slightly-less-steep increments by going back and forth, back and forth with bends in the road, and you'll croak a thousand times. Sounds much better, right? Yeah, until you realize you've got 86 left to go, sucker!
Descent: it's still switchbacks, but even more entertaining because you are doing them downhill at 75 miles an hour where some doofus engineer had a moral objection to the concept of "guardrails." Don't look down--no, I'm serious, or you'll end up in the !@#damn ravine!
Cobblestones: Not such a big factor in the Tour de France, but it's where they take a nice smooth tar surface your little skinny wheels can happily, safely spin on, and replace them with uneven wunks of unforgiving lumpy granite death you are sure to (1) get a flat tire on or (2) flat-out crash and break something, like a piece of your bike, or your body. And they're even *more* fun when it rains and you're riding on uneven lumpy granite *slippery* death!
Scenery: it's truly breath-taking, and it's what you *don't* see because, in the words of some famous rider I can't recall, all you're looking at for 3 weeks if you're riding is the wheel of the guy right in front of you. But trust me, it's fabulous--like you care, when you're spelunking in the ol' "pain cave"**!
*yeah, we'll get to that. Honest!
** yeah, we'll cover that too. Just gimme a chance to get my breath, whydontcha?
Well dear newbies--and I say that with love, because even the most unbearably trivia-obsessed anal-retentive smarty-pants among us was once one too--we've got you situated. Next up (I think): Who the !@#$ Are These Guys?