A Tour, in bicycling terms, is a stage race where several races, or stages, are ridden over consecutive days. While each day will provide a winner, the rider who completes all the combined stages in the least amount of time becomes the overall, or general classification (GC), winner. FYI, a rider doesn’t have to win all – or any! – of the individual stages to become the overall winner. Additional winners are named, daily and overall, for other categories rewarding successes in climbing and capturing points.
While there are many tours in the world – Did you know “giro” is the Spanish word for “tour”? – one has gained such popularity that it is often referred to as “The Tour” or “Le Tour.” Le Tour de France is the oldest and considered the most prestigious of the three European “Grand Tours.” It is an annual 21-stage race that takes place in France and surrounding countries. Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Spain, Andorra and others have been included in past Tours.
The 2012 Tour de France marks the 99th edition of the annual event. (The first Tour de France was held in 1903 but the Tour experienced a hiatus during each of the World Wars.) Buzz for this year’s Tour began well before June 30th’s Prologue Stage. Injuries and legal controversies, mostly surrounding potential use of banned substances, meant that a number of the favored cyclists, key teammates/riders and even a team director were unable to participate this year.
The 2012 Tour began in Liège with the Prologue, an individual time trial to determine who will begin Stage 1 in the leader jersey, the maillot jaune or yellow jersey. In Liège, Fabian Cancellera, nicknamed Spartacus, of team RadioShack-Nissan earned that honor. Cancellera is a time trial specialist as well as the current Olympic time trial gold medalist.
This year’s Tour has three individual time trial stages. (No team trial this year.) The majority of the Tour is made up of a combination of flat and hilly stages. Flatter ones allow for exciting sprints. Hillier stages, especially the mountain stages, can be game changers for the riders. While specialists, like Cancellera and sprinter Mark Cavendish, are allowed a chance to shine by including this variety of stages, it takes a special breed to compete for the title of GC.
On July 22nd, the Tour will finish, according to tradition, on the Champs-Élysées. Only one man will stand on the podium in yellow there, going down in the books as the winner of the 2012 Tour. Who might that man be? The 2012 Tour’s balance of flat and hillier stages, split 50/50 with nine flat, five mountain and four hilly, seems to favor a faster endurance rider. A time trialist who can hold his own in the mountains can have great success here.
The two favorite picks to win this this year’s Tour are Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky and Cadel Evans of BMC. Others include Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale, Frank Schleck of RadioShack-Nissan, and newcomer Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Sharp. While they only have an outside chance of winning, their back luck with injuries make Americans Levi Leipheimer of Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Chris Horner of RadioShack-Nissan crowd favorites.
Who is your favorite to take home the yellow jersey on July 22nd? We invite you to take part in our poll on our Facebook page. (Based on responses we’ve received so far, we may need to clarify: while a rider doesn’t have to win any or all individual stages, he does have to be officially entered in the Tour to win!)
As previous Tours have taught, anything can happen. Watch the excitement as it unfolds daily throughout the month of July, knowing that whoever ultimately leaves Paris in yellow will deserve the title of “Champion.”