Tour de France 2019

It’s the 106thedition of the Tour de France and riders and teams are battling to claim cycling’s most prestigious victories of the year. From hunting stage wins with breakaway ambitions, going elbow to elbow with the heavyweight sprinters, or combining power and tactical skill to win the overall GC, the Tour offers 21 stages of intense racing. Follow along with Shimano each day as we explore what it takes to race at the top of the sport, look back at Tour history, or take a peek at Tour tech as the peloton makes its way toward Paris. 


A celebration on the Champs-Élysées





The Tour de France has a long tradition of concluding in Paris. At the first Tour, in 1903, the race ended on the outskirts of the city, in Ville d’Avray. For the next 63 editions, the race ended on the Parc des Princes track in the southwest of the city. And from 1968 to 1974, organizers chose the Velodrome de Vincennes as the final destination.


Then, change was in the air. In 1974, Félix Lévitan, co-director of the Tour, and reporter Yves Mourousi suggested the Tour finish on the Champs-Élysées. Mourousi contacted then French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing to obtain permission.


Ever since, starting in 1975, the Tour de France has ended on one of the world’s most famous stretches of road, Paris’s Champs-Élysées. The name means Elysian Fields, a heroes’ paradise in Greek mythology. 




That first year, the stage comprised 25 laps along the boulevard. Now the final stage typically starts outside of the city, with champagne served by the race leader's team. As the riders approach Paris, the racing heats up as the sprint teams seek a final shot at victory on what some call “the unofficial sprinters world championships.” 


Today, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées is 70 meters wide and 1,900 meters long. When the riders reach central Paris, they enter a boulevard filled with history and culture. First, they ride up the Rue de Rivoli, on to the Place de la Concorde with its famed obelisk, and then swing right on to the Champs-Élysées itself. The riders circle around the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, around les Tuileries palace and the Louvre museum and back across the Place de la Concorde to return to the Champs-Élysées. It has become one of the most famous circuits in cycling.




And it has been the sight of some of the most watched (and re-watched) moments in Tour history. None has been greater than the dramatic conclusion of the 1989 Tour, which happens to be the only time the stage hosted a final time trial. That year, American Greg LeMond famously beat Laurent Fignon by 58 seconds over the 24-kilometer distance from the start in Versailles. His determined efforts, not to mention his forward-thinking use of aerodynamic extensions on his bike, helped him close a 50-second gap to win the overall title by eight seconds.



The White and Yellow Jersey Double



Awarded to the best young rider in the Tour de France, the white jersey is the least visually distinct of the four leaders’ jerseys. While the jersey’s color is bland and easily lost amongst the colorful peloton, the dynamic competition between the Tour’s youngest riders is anything but dull. 




Before the young rider classification was established, a white jersey was awarded to the Tour’s best all-around rider. The combination classification as it was called, was determined by adding up points from the three major competitions – sprint points, mountain classification, and best overall time. Then, in 1975, the same year that the polka-dot jersey was introduced, race organizers replaced this combination race with the young rider classification. 


Originally, riders were eligible to race for the white jersey based on their experience level. Riders in their first three years of professional racing or those racing their first Tour de France were included in this competition. It wasn’t until 1987 that Tour organizers decided to switch the requirements to an age limit. Only riders who are 26 years or younger are now eligible for the classification.




This year, 22-year-old Egan Bernal of Team Ineos has not only dominated the white jersey competition but he’s been a dynamic factor at the front of the general classification as well. He’s been a protagonist in each mountain stage, shaking things up with aggressive attacks and calculated moves. He’s been in the hunt for both the young rider’s jersey and more importantly the yellow jersey, and overall victory. 


After an impressive attack on the Col de l’Iseran during Stage 19, Bernal became the virtual leader on the road. And then, when the Tour de France race organizers stopped the race mid-stage due to hail, snow, and mudslides on the final climb, Bernal secured the overall lead and the stage win, which was calculated on the top of the l’Iseran. 




With only two stages remaining in the 2019 Tour de France, Bernal is poised to not only win the white jersey but also become one of the youngest riders to win the Tour - the youngest, 19-yearl old Frenchman Henri Cornet, won the Tour in 1904 by default after the top four riders were disqualified for taking a train during one of the long and grueling stages of the that year’s Tour de France. 


If Bernal holds onto his lead in the overall GC competition, he’ll be joining the ranks of legendary riders like Laurent Fignon, Jan Ullrich, Alberto Contador, and Andy Schleck, all of whom celebrated winning both the white and yellow jersey in Paris.




Rarified Air: Racing at high altitude





Stage 19 of the Tour de France starts in the small mountain town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. It takes riders up and over multiple high mountain peaks and crosses 126 kilometers to finish atop the Montée de Tignes at an altitude of 7,000 feet. With only one decisive day to follow, stage 19’s summit finish will deliver an exciting battle in the GC competition. 


Besides the finishing climb up Tignes, riders will be faced with the Col de l’Iseran that tops out at a staggering elevation of 9,087 feet. While Tour de France riders are used to high mountain climbs, this is only the eighth time in the history that the Tour will climb to this extreme altitude and riders we certainly feel the thin air. But what makes riding at that altitude so hard?




Performing at altitude presents a number of challenges. The first is the obvious one: feeling like you can’t catch your breath. Your respiratory system works on a pressure gradient, and the higher the altitude, the less pressure there is in the air. When you go to take a breath, you’re effectively getting less air in and less oxygen into your lungs and into your blood. In order to meet the demand, your body will increase its breathing rate, and along with that, increase its heart rate. If the muscles are getting less oxygen per beat, your heart simply has to beat more quickly in order to keep up. 


Your cardio respiratory system has limits to how hard it can work, so the maximum output that a rider can sustain will decrease the higher they go. This also decreases a rider’s ability to recover from efforts. Clearing lactate and bringing your heart rate back down is dependent on being able to supply your muscles with the necessary oxygen. With this ability impaired, returning back to a sustainable effort is much more difficult. The last notable change is your body’s increased need for carbohydrates at a higher altitude. Glycogen stores are more likely to be utilized given the increase in demand. 




On the bike, as the riders get higher and their aerobic capacity decreases, the power they can achieve on the bike will go down. The effect of this is also exponential as you get higher, with power decreasing more and more as you climb. This makes pacing even more important than normal. Starting too hard will surely lead to big issues later on. A decreased ability to recover from efforts will affect how many times a rider can make a push. 


One of the most exciting parts of the tour is watching GC contenders launch attacks against one another in the mountains. But, at this altitude, a really hard attack will have a rider breathing as hard as they can and feeling like their heart is in their throat. It’s also going to take much longer to settle back into a steady pace, and when they get really high, they may not be able to settle back in without totally shutting it down. At altitude, it’s much easier to go over the edge and not be able to return to the pace you were holding. 




The increased demand for carbohydrates at higher altitudes can also play a big role. Most cyclists know what bonking feels like, and they know when it happens it’s a struggle all the way home. Glycogen is a limited resource utilized at higher efforts. Using up glycogen faster means a greater chance of hitting that wall. Especially being in the later stages of the Tour, riders who have done a better job with nutrition in the previous days and who have fueled well during a challenging stage like this will have much more success. 


A common saying in cycling is that you’ve only got so many matches to burn. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. If a rider normally has 5 or 6, at altitude they’ve probably only got 3. So, pick and choose where you spend your efforts because any day up in this thin air is going to be a tough day. 


Where are the French?





The Tour de France is a national treasure for the proud European nation. The month of July is now squarely established as the month of La Grande Boucle, the great circumnavigation of the French nation, which takes racers and, just as importantly, fans from around the world, on a tour through as many distinct regions, landscapes, and cultural enclaves as can be squeezed into three weeks each year.


For French fans, however, the Tour has become a waiting game. That’s because a French rider has failed to win his home race for the past 34 years. Not since Bernard Hinault took the last of his five Tour victories in 1985 has a Frenchman stood atop the final podium in Paris. 




It wasn’t always this way. Not surprisingly, French riders have won the most overall victories in history: 36 wins by 23 riders. A French rider won the first six editions of the race, which began in 1903.


After World War II, no one dominated the Tour until Frenchman Louison Bobet, who won three consecutive Tours from 1953 to 1955. He was the first rider to achieve this feat. His countryman Jacques Anquetil soon bettered this, winning four successive Tours from 1961 to 1964. Anquetil, who also won in 1957, thus became the first to win five Tours.




Bernard Hinault was the next Frenchman to stamp his authority on the race. “The Badger,” as he was known, never won more than two consecutive races, but in total he matched Anquetil, becoming one of four riders (alongside Belgian Eddy Merckx and Spaniard Miguel Indurain) to gather five total victories across his career. 


Interspersed with Hinault’s reign was that of another Frenchman, Laurent Fignon, who famously lost to Greg LeMond on the Champs-Élysées by eight seconds in the final time trial. Alas, Fignon took a total of two career Tour wins.




And then the tap ran dry for France. From 1985 until 2013, French riders only made two appearances on the Tour podium. Then in 2014, French riders finished second and third: Jean-Christopher Peraud and Thibaut Pinot, respectively.


And now, in 2019, we are seeing another French return to glory. This year, two French riders, Julian Alaphilippe and Pinot, are vying to change history by ending the home nation’s losing streak. 




Alaphilippe has held the yellow jersey for 15 stages, though he has never been considered a rider for the general classification. And Pinot has returned to his former self, showing the flashes of greatness that had many people believing he would end the French drought years ago.




Only time will tell if France’s national treasure will produce the next French national hero.


Jumbo Visma’s Lazer Helmets



At the Tour de France, as in any bike race, crashes happen. No matter how skilled or careful riders are, crashing is a reality of the pro peloton. If a rider is lucky, the damage will be minor and they can pedal away from an incident with minimal road rash, quickly jumping back into the peloton without losing time. Other times, crashes are more serious.




Helmets are one of the most important pieces of equipment that riders can wear to protect themselves against injury in a crash. But they haven’t always been mandatory in bike races. In decades past, riders opted for bare heads, cloth cycling caps, or soft leather helmets that did little to protect the rider from serious injury. 


It wasn’t until the unfortunate death of Russian professional cyclist Andrei Kivilev in 2003 that spurred the UCI – cycling’s governing body and ruler makers – to mandate the use of helmets in all sanctioned competitions. Since this pivotal decision was made, helmet technology and innovation has exploded with the introduction of lighter, more comfortable, and safer designs. 




Lazer has long been at the forefront of helmet innovation and offers a variety of models that racers can choose from depending on the type of race, type of terrain, and type of rider wearing the helmet. Throughout this year’s Tour de France, team Jumbo Visma has been wearing Lazer’s flagship Z1 all-around road helmet, the aerodynamic Bullet 2.0 aero road helmet, and the Victor time trial helmet.  


The lightweight Z1 delivers impressive ventilation with over 30 vents spaced across the helmet. It’s Lazer’s lightest ever helmet and the go-to choice for Jumbo Visma riders on hot or hilly stages. 




The Bullet 2.0 offers a narrow shape and closed shell design to boost aerodynamics on the fastest road stages. On hot days or when ventilation is important, the Bullet 2.0’s Airslide system on the front of the helmet can open up to create airflow through the exhaust vents in the rear. On sprint stages or when ventilation is less important, the Airslide system can be exchanged for a fully closed cap, creating an even more aerodynamic version of the helmet. 


So far, Lotto Jumbo riders have worn the Bullet 2.0 aero road helmet to three of the team’s four stage wins. The team’s fourth win was captured while wearing the Lazer Victor time trial helmet as the squad dominated Stage 2’s team time trial. 




While protecting riders from injury is the most important aspect of any helmet, Lazer’s lineup of performance all-around, aero-road, and time trial helmets deliver performance benefits as well. Crashes are inevitable in bike racing but the injuries don’t have to be. With the right equipment, riders can boost safety without sacrificing performance.  


Race Across the Pont du Gard



Coming out of the second rest day of the Tour, Stage 16 features a rolling 177-kilomter course both starting and finishing in the town of Nimes in southern France. While the race for GC should simmer down with a flatter stage after the recent dynamic days in the mountains, Stage 16 will instead deliver fireworks with historical lore and scenery. 




Just 23 kilometers into the stage, the peloton will race across the Pont du Gard, a masterpiece of ancient architecture. Built halfway through the first century AD, this stunning Roman aqueduct bridge stands 50 meters high and is constructed out of soft yellow limestone blocks from local quarries.

Designed with three tiers of arches, the Pont du Gard aqueduct bridge crosses the Gardon River as it carries water over 50 kilometers to the town of Nimes. Added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites in 1985, the iconic bridge has gone through a series of renovations after being damaged and looted throughout the centuries. 




Welcoming over 1.5 million pedestrian tourists per year, the Pont du Gard will close the gates to its regular crowds and cheer on Tour de France riders during this historical moment in Tour history. 




The rolling terrain of Stage 16 is prime for breakaway efforts. And with three challenging mountain stages coming up in the final week of racing, teams will be less eager to chase down rogue riders off the front. Whether the break makes it to the finish line or a bunch sprint determines the winner, Stage 16 will be best remembered for its historic trip across the ancient Pont du Gard arched bridge. 


Designing the Tour de France



The Tour de France route is a beast. Featuring roughly 3,500 kilometers of roads, 21 stages, and, many times an international border crossing, it must accommodate nearly 200 riders speeding along in the peloton, as well as millions of roadside fans. And just two lucky men get to design it each year. 




Christian Prudhomme is the figurehead of the Tour, as race director, and he shares the task of crafting each Tour course with Thierry Gouvenou, the technical director. It may seem inconceivable that only two men are responsible for planning each and every route. However, there is no official input from the sport’s governing body (the UCI), the competing teams, or even colleagues at the race’s owner, ASO. The course that Prudhomme and Gouvenou put together is what the peloton rides.


Because of the race’s scope and history, the route comes together in distinct stages. First, Prudhomme paints the big picture, taking into consideration things like prominent anniversaries and celebrated riders and where they grew up. Then he turns that vision over to Gouvenou, who fills in all the details, choosing the specific roads and host cities, designating where the sprint lines will be, and which climbs to use.




In recent years, the Tour has gained a reputation for predictability, and for long, boring stages. The duo have tried to change that, and this year the course features dirt climbs (at the finish of stage 6 to La Planche des Belles Filles), short punchy stages that are little more than 100 kilometers long (stages 14, 19, and 20), and high summits which will create decisive moments in the battle for the overall title.


Gouvenou uses his extensive experience with maps and geography, as well as the many miles he’s logged on his bike, to choose roads, often from memory. That knowledge is supplemented with technology, including Google Earth and Strava.




How long does all this take? The planning process, which includes working with host cities, begins a year or even two years ahead of time. So, what you’re seeing on TV might be spectacular. But these two men are already choosing the roads that they hope will make next year’s Tour even better. 


The Mighty Tourmalet



In January 1910, only months before the start of that year’s Tour de France, Alphones Steinès, the course designer who worked alongside organizer Henri Desgrange, embarked on an exploratory journey to find several high mountain passes to add new flavor to the Tour route. 




Steinès had hounded Desgrange for years with the idea of incorporating great climbs into the course. He believed that placing such difficult obstacles in the path of the riders would offer them the chance to showcase their unbelievable strength, determination, and grit, and, in so doing, encourage great public adulation.


Desgrange feared the racers would fail to scale the climbs, or would succumb to the inhumane conditions on the high passes, and the Tour would be made a farce.  Steinès’s resolve won out. He headed for the Pyrenees on a mission to evaluate roads and conditions and report back to Desgrange. 




In southern France, near the city of Pau, Steinès hired a driver and headed for the Col du Tourmalet, buried under snows so deep that the pair could only drive halfway up the highest road in the range. As legend holds, Steinès abandoned the car—and, it would seem, any sense of safety. With the aid of a shepherd, he reached the summit, only to become disoriented in the darkness and fall into a ravine. At 3 a.m. a search party discovered him. The next morning, he sent a telegram to Desgrange: “No trouble crossing the Tourmalet. Very good road. Perfectly feasible.”




And so it was that the Tourmalet—as well as the Peyresourde, Aspin, and Aubisque—found a place in the 1910 Tour, and Tour history forevermore. Including the 2019 edition of the race, the Col du Tourmalet has featured 86 times, more than any other pass in the Tour’s history. 


Time Trial with the New S-PHYRE RC9T Shoes





Stage 13 of the Tour de France delivers an exciting day filled with pressure and pain as riders take on a rolling 27.2-kilometer individual time trial through the streets of Pau, France. Time trial specialists have been targeting this day from the start with hopes of an elusive Tour stage win. And for the GC contenders, the time trial could prove decisive, establishing who will pedal into Paris wearing yellow.

In a stage where every effort and every second counts, there’s no room for wasted energy. Shimano’s new reinforced S-PHYRE RC9T shoes were designed for races like this. Built off the flagship S-PHYRE RC9 premium race shoe, the new RC9T reinforced model minimizes foot movement and delivers optimal control and power transmission during the most extreme efforts.


The S-PHYRE RC9T shoes are tailored for riders who specialize in high power sprints and those looking to optimize every piece of equipment. Track racers, time trial specialists, and criterium racers will appreciate the shoe’s stretch-resistant microfiber upper, which improves power transfer by securing the foot in place when hammering hard on the pedals


The RC9T shoes also feature a low profile L6 BOA closure system, maintaining a sleek aerodynamic design and easy accessibility for tightening and loosening the shoes on the fly. The new BOA design and power boost wire guide provides added reliability during peak efforts that we’re sure to see during Stage 13’s time trial. 



Power Data at the Tour





As the Tour de France reaches the steep slopes of the Pyrenees mountains, riders will be tested with a succession of long climbs and grueling paces. Top GC contenders will emerge from the peloton on these mountain stages and begin their game of tactics as they shoot for the yellow jersey. As the climbs get steeper and longer, it becomes even more important for riders to check their efforts and stick to a game plan so as not to waste any unnecessary energy. And no other piece of equipment helps riders stay on target during these dynamic mountain stages than the power meter. 


Since its introduction in 2016, Shimano’s Dura-Ace power meter has been the choice meter for top Tour climbers, sprinters, time trial specialists, and all-around GC contenders. Seamlessly integrated into the Dura-Ace Hollowtech II crankset, the power meter features dual-sided strain gauges for accurate and reliable data collection.


Defending Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas and Team Ineos rely on the Dura-Ace power meter to maximize their efficiency on key climbs and ensure they’re conserving energy whenever possible. Known for their methodical approach to racing mountain stages, Team Ineos’ pace often remains steady and controlled while other riders surge ahead and then fall back into the group after using up valuable energy. 




Using power to monitor effort has been a key to Ineos’ Grand Tour success. The Dura-Ace power meter makes collecting and using power data easier than ever. Riders can swap between different chainring configurations without affecting the meter’s power reading. This is important for stage races like the Tour where riders often adjust their chainring combinations to suite the stage profile ahead.

The Dura-Ace power meter also uses a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, making it easy to maintain and charge throughout the Tour. While the battery will last up to 300 hours – more than enough time for the Tour’s typical 90 hours of racing - a diligent mechanic will top off the charge regularly to ensure full power. And to check the charge, riders only need to push a button on the meter that will flash green if more than 20% charge is left or flash red if there is less. 




In a race where every second and every effort counts, the true contenders can’t leave anything up to chance. They’ll plan, prepare, and image every possible situation unfolding on the slopes of the highest mountaintop finishes. And with the help of their power meters, they’ll dial in the exact effort needed to secure victory or minimize deficits. Then it’s just up to the riders and their teams to make it happen.  


Where Did the Polka-dot Jersey Come From?



Arguably the most distinctive of the awarded jerseys at the Tour, the famed polka dots are worn by the leader of the mountains classification. Today, this competition and the jersey are simple to understand: the leader of the so-called King of the Mountains competition is the rider who collects the most points over the various categorized climbs on the Tour’s route. The harder the climb, the higher the points. However, the story of how we got here is a bit more winding.




Starting in 1905, the Tour’s organizing newspaper, L’Auto-Vélo, chose a meilleur grimpeur, or best climber. The first to be awarded this honor was René Pottier, who was the first rider to summit that Tour’s first major climb, Ballon d’Alsace.


It wasn’t until 1933 that Tour organizers introduced an official classification. Vicente Trueba of Spain won that first year. But it would be another 42 years before the polka-dot jersey was introduced, in 1975. 




Why such a distinctive pattern? The oft-cited reason is that, just as with the other jerseys, it came down to the original sponsor of the competition. In the case of the polka-dot jersey, that company was Chocolat Poulain, and some claim that the wrappers of their chocolate bars were polka-dotted. However, there are others who dispute that claim.


In any case, since 1975, the polka-dot jersey has grown to be one of the four most coveted prizes in the Tour, along with the yellow, green, and white jersey, awarded to the best young rider. As for the design, it has changed very little over its lifetime: there have been a few different sponsors, and the number and size of the spots has occasionally changed.     




Several men have built careers on capturing the best climber competition year after year. The swashbuckling Richard Virenque was nearly automatic at winning the jersey in the late 1990s into the early 2000s, securing seven titles in total. Before him, Spaniard Federico Bahamontes, known at the “Eagle of Toledo,” dominated the late ’50s and early ’60s. In the 1970s, it was the turn of Belgian Lucien Van Impe, the first to win the polka dot jersey in 1975. Each man garnered six wins, respectively. Both also won the Tour de France overall once in their career. 




A Brief History of the Green Jersey





If it weren’t for Fausto Coppi, the great Italian champion of the 1940s and early 1950s, there might not be a green jersey. According to Tour historian Barry Boyce, because Coppi was winning the 1952 Tour so handily, many riders simply quit the race. That’s when race organizers decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tour, in 1953, by introducing the green jersey, awarded to the leader of the points competition. It was thought that by awarding points for a higher stage placing, and establishing a prize for an overall points leader, that would prevent riders from dropping out of the race. The jersey and the competition were born.




Why green? The color was chosen simply because of the competition’s first sponsor, La Belle Jardinière, which produced lawn mowers. Fritz Schär of Switzerland won the first maillot vert. At the time, a cyclist received penalty points for not finishing with a high place, so the cyclist with the fewest points was awarded the jersey.


In 1959, the system changed: riders were awarded more points for a higher placing. Thus, the rider with the most points wore the jersey. Since then, the competition has changed little, though in 1968 the jersey was not green: for that single edition of the race, the jersey was red to match a new sponsor.




Two men have separated themselves as the most dominant forces in points competition history. Erik Zabel of Germany won six consecutive green jerseys, from 1996 to 2001. He co-holds the record number of titles with the current king of green, Peter Sagan. In 2019, the Slovakian is hoping to break that record. On four occasions, the winner of the points classification was also the winner of the general classification: Eddy Merckx did it three times, and Bernard Hinault once. 


The Highest Tour in History





When the 2019 Tour de France route was introduced, race director Christian Prudhomme described it as “the highest Tour de France in history.” Why? The course contains a total of 30 categorized climbs, including five mountain summit finishes—three of which top out above 2,000 meters.


In modern Tour history, a route has never before contained so many high-summit finishes while also featuring so few kilometers—54 to be exact—of time trials. Here’s a look at this year’s punishing climbs. 




Stage 14 finishes atop the daunting Col du Tourmalet (2,115 meters), in the heart of the Pyrenees. 


Stage 19 takes riders to the highest point of the Tour—and to the highest paved pass in the French Alps—atop the Col de l’Iseran (2,770 meters), before concluding on the Montée de Tignes (2,113 meters). 


Finally, stage 20, a short 117-kilometer stage, finishes after the intimidating slog to the top of Val Thorens. The 33.4-kilometer climb reaches 2,365 meters, and concludes the climbing in a Tour that features more summit finishes above the 2,000-meter mark than any in history. Stage 20 alone contains over 4,450 meters of elevation gain.




Though it doesn’t include a summit finish, it’s worth mentioning that stage 18 crests three climbs above 2,000 meters: the punishing Col de Vars (9.3km at 7.5%, reaching 2,109 meters); the moonscape of the Col d’Izoard (14.1km at 7.3%, reaching 2,360 meters); and finally the much-feared Col du Galibier (23km at 5.1%, reaching 2,642 meters). What these climbs lack in steepness, they make up for in length. 


Almost all of these climbs are considered hors catégorieclimbs (beyond categorization). HC climbs are the hardest in the Tour, based on their length, steepness, and where they’re placed on a stage’s route. It wasn’t always that way.


When the Tour’s mountains classification, or King of the Mountains competition, began in 1933, there was just one type of mountain. Points were given to the first cyclists to cross the mountains, starting with 10 points for the first rider, down to one point for the tenth cyclist. That changed in the 1947 Tour, when a second mountain category was added. 


PRO Stealth Superlight at the Tour



Each year, the Tour de France is a hotbed for spotting new technologies and bicycle innovations from some of the top bike companies in the world. Fans with keen eyes will spot new bike frames, updated components, or radically different accessories tucked within the peloton. Sometimes these innovations are announced to the world with excitement while others are hidden away, not quite ready to make their public debut. 



This year, just before the Tour kicked off in Brussels, PRO introduced its new Stealth Superlight saddle. It features an innovative one-piece, full carbon design that reduces the weight of the saddle to an impressive 145 grams – a 15% weight reduction over the original Stealth. Designed for aggressive, all-out performance in both road racing and time trials, the Stealth has been a favorite saddle of the pro peloton and amateur racers alike. Now, with an even lighter design, the Stealth Superlight is making its way into the Tour under Team Sunweb riders Michael Matthews and Søren Kragh Andersen. 




From its first introduction, the Stealth saddle featured a unique shape with a wider nose to help dissipate pressure. It allows riders to use more of the front of the saddle and remain comfortable when riding in the drops for extended periods of time.

This year PRO has refined the signature Stealth design, improving the manufacturing technique to create a one-piece carbon saddle and rail construction. The new process uses a carbon weave pattern (rather than injection molding) with a precision fiber layup to bring both increased saddle stiffness and improved compliance. 



In addition to the new base, the padding and cover materials have also been tweaked to increase comfort in the three main riding positions – on the hoods, in the drops and in aerobars. The polyurethane (PU) cover of the saddle, which sits over a lightweight EVA foam, was tested with a variety of bib short materials to find the lowest friction rates between the saddle and the shorts. With less friction comes less rubbing and irritation which equals greater comfort.

With an optimal balance of weight savings, comfort, and stiffness, the PRO Stealth Superlight saddle delivers a competitive advantage at the most competitive bike race in the world.  


The Longest Tours Were Long Ago





The Tour de France is often called the greatest endurance event in the world. And while this year’s Tour de France covers a staggering 3,480 kilometers over its 21 stages — befitting of that description — it pales in comparison to Tours of old. 


The longest Tour took place in 1926. It was an astounding 2,265 kilometers longerthan this year’s, or 5,745 kilometers in total. It traveled this distance in just 17 stages, averaging 338 kilometers per stage. The winning rider, Lucien Buysse of Belgium, covered this distance in an average speed of 24.064 kph, a bit slower than today’s speeds. But if you consider the relatively primitive and heavy bicycles the riders rode in those days, the feat seems superhuman. 




To put an exclamation point on what these riders achieved, Buysse’s winning time was 238 hours, 44 minutes, and 25 seconds. (He won by over an hour and 20 minutes.) For comparison, Geraint Thomas’s winning time in 2018 was a measly 83 hours, 17 minutes, and 13 seconds. 


As far as individual stages are concerned, modern stages are also considerably shorter when compared to those from the earliest Tours. This year, the 230-kilometer stage 7 from Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saône is the race’s longest. However, in 1919, the longest Tour stage in history was more than double that length, a mind-boggling 482 kilometers. There were three other stages that year which surpassed 400 kilometers in length, making the 1919 Tour the second longest in history at 5,560 kilometers.




The 1919 Tour was also notable for taking place just seven months after the fighting of World War I had come to a close. The war had ravaged the French road system, and cycling was made extremely difficult. As a result, the winner’s average speed (24.056 kph) and the number of cyclists who finished the race (10) were the lowest in history.



The Short but Significant History of La Planche des Belles Filles



What’s the best way to predict who will win the Tour de France? Should you look at a rider’s previous results leading into the Tour? Or should you consider the strength of his team? Can you tell just by looking at how lean his legs are? 




You could do all of these things but there’d be some element of guesswork in taking that information and making any prognostication stick. For guaranteed success, however, you needn’t look any further than the steep finishing climb of La Planche des Belles Filles, which features on stage 6. Though it’s only been used on three previous occasions, this single climb is flawless, at least so far, at predicting the outcome of the overall race weeks later.

Initially, the name might elicit a smile — it literally translates as “the board of the beautiful girls.” First introduced to the Tour in 2012 by race director Christian Prudhomme, the ascent in the Vosges Haut-Saônoises region has become one of those climbs that, by its very presence, plays a vital role in how the race unfolds.




The first time it was featured, Team Sky’s control of the race on the approach to the summit produced a selection. Chris Froome handily beat Cadel Evans and Vincenzo Nibali, as well as team leader Bradley Wiggins, who took the race lead on that same stage. Wiggins went on the win the overall.


During stage 10 of the 2014 Tour, race leader Vincenzo Nibali scored his second of four stage wins on his way to the overall victory. And in 2017, Fabio Aru beat pursuers Dan Martin and Chris Froome to win stage 5. Froome, however, took the yellow jersey that day and then won the overall title two weeks later. 

Can you spot the pattern? On every occasion since the climb was introduced in 2012, the yellow jersey wearer atop La Planche des Belles Filles has gone on to win the overall title at the Tour.




Will this pattern hold in 2019? On stage 6, we’ll find out, on an even tougher climb than usual. This year, Tour organizers have made the finish even more vicious, adding an extra kilometer on an unpaved forest road averaging almost 10 percent, while a ramp at 24 percent peaks out 100 meters before the line. This section is too steep for gravel, so the final meters are on asphalt. 

The total climb, which comes after several other significant climbs, lasts for seven kilometers at an average 8.7 percent. It’s guaranteed to be a good show.


Breakaway Efforts


By: Grand Holicky // Forever Endurance Coaching




It’s often noted by cycling commentators that riders try their luck with a breakaway because this is likely their only chance to win on a given stage. Most of the riders in the pro peloton lack the sheer speed and power to win a bunch sprint and they don’t have the ability to win on the steepest climbs either. This leaves the breakaway as their best chance for glory. 


The dream of a perfectly timed attack and long, heroic effort to the finish line is a powerful motivator. The problem, however, is that it’s exceptionally difficult both physically and tactically to win from a breakaway. Simply establishing a break requires a tremendous level of tact, power, and tenacity. Certain riders have developed a knack for this and are seen in the front split with regularity, but it is never done without cunning and effort. 




Once a breakaway is established, riders need to work together to stay ahead of the chasing peloton. In a well-organized break, each rider will take a turn on the front, working hard to maintain a strong pace and then rotating to the back of the group to recover before moving up the line for another turn at the front. 


In a larger group like the peloton, only some riders need to take a turn at the front while the rest can sit comfortably in the slipstream conserving their energy for the final sprint finish or for the last big climb of the day. Most teams will use their domestiques or worker riders to take turns pulling at the front of the peloton while their key riders stay tucked away only emerging at the opportune time for their final attack. Climbers will fly up the steepest section of road, dropping the rest of the peloton behind as they race to a mountaintop finish. Sprinters will emerge in the last few kilometers with their lead-out train and then finally launch into an explosive sprint to the finish. 




No matter how a rider wins a stage at the Tour de France, the level of skill and effort is impressive. But it’s the breakaway that is often the most compelling, the fan-favorite of stage wins. Maybe it’s because the chances of success are so slim or because riders have to work so much harder for so much longer, that the win feels more deserved. 


A full day in the break takes its toll on riders for days to come. These huge efforts often start from inside the first 20 kilometers of a 200+ kilometer stage. If the break gets caught, riders are often spit out the back of the peloton, left depleted and spent and forced to finish the stage on their own. If they do make it to the end, the breakaway riders then have a full gas sprint on exhausted legs. Either way, the damage is done and the riders will need several stages to recover. 


Life in the break is hard. However, for most riders, this opportunity for a stage win or simply for time in front of the television cameras is worth it. 




The Yellow Jersey Changes Lives



Can a piece of clothing change a life? In professional cycling it can, especially if it’s the yellow jersey.




The maillot jaunehas a long and colorful history. Among stage racers, wearing the final yellow jersey, awarded to the overall winner of the Tour de France, is the most coveted prize in all of cycling. Very few men have earned the right to wear yellow at the conclusion of the Tour. Of the thousands of professional cyclists who have competed in Le Grande Boucle, only 63 can call themselves Tour champions.


Yet, for any rider who wears yellow, even for a single day, the jersey can change his life. The oldest surviving wearer of the Tour de France leader's yellow jersey, 93-year-old Jacques Marinelli, says he is still dining out on the achievement 70 years later.


Marinelli led the Tour for six days in 1949, as France rebuilt after World War II. The Frenchman was given the nickname “the budgie” for his fierce battle with cycling legend Fausto Coppi. Marinelli’s valiant stint in yellow, when he was just 23, catapulted him to another level as a cyclist. It helped him fight all the way to the end of that Tour, in which he eventually finished third overall. The French public gave him a rapturous reception when he arrived in Paris.


The exploit changed Marinelli’s life forever, and led not only to athletic fame but success in business and politics. He become a major retailer in the Paris region and later mayor of the wealthy town of Melun. To this day, Marinelli claims that he can’t leave his home without someone recognizing him as a former yellow jersey winner.




In modern times, a similar tale has played out for Thomas Voeckler, whose dogged fight to retain the yellow jersey at the 2004 Tour forever changed his fortunes. He followed that exploit with a second run in yellow in 2011. That year, on stage 9, Voeckler led a breakaway, survived a collision caused by a media car that injured two other riders, and crossed the line second, taking the overall lead and donning the golden tunic. Despite not being known as an overall contender, he squeezed every ounce of determination from his body to cling to yellow, carrying it through the Pyrenean mountain stages and into the Alps, before he lost his grip on stage 19, which finished atop Alpe d’Huez. He held on to finish fourth overall.


Because of the grit Voeckler displayed in his Tour rides, the pugnacious rider was dubbed a national hero. Now, two years removed from his pro career, Voeckler has been named as the new coach of the French national team, and will take the helm at the world championships in September.




The Origin of the Yellow Jersey



Undoubtedly, the most iconic emblem of the Tour de France is the yellow jersey. But that wasn’t always the case. While the Tour began in 1903, the famed leader’s jersey didn’t arrive until 1919. 




That year, after a four-year interruption from World War I, the Tour returned with a colossal 3,500-mile route around France. Before the 202-mile stage 11 from Grenoble to Geneva, race director Henri Desgrange decided the leader of the race needed to be more clearly identifiable. And so, before the 2 a.m. stage start, on July 18, 1919, race leader Eugène Christophe of France donned the first yellow jersey of the Tour de France.


Why did it take 16 editions of the Tour to create such an icon? Initially, the Tour peloton was small, and a green armband was sufficient to distinguish the leader. As the popularity of the Tour grew, however, journalists and riders had a difficult time identifying the race leader on the road.  


And why yellow? Desgrange chose the golden color for the jersey to match the color of the paper used to print L’Auto-Vélo, the race’s newspaper sponsor and predecessor to the modern L’Équipe. (Similarly, the leader of the Giro d’Italia, the three-week grand tour in Italy, wears the pink jersey, chosen because the founding newspaper of that race, LaGazzetta dello Sport,is printed on pink paper.) Legend has it that Christophe, the first to wear the yellow jersey, wasn’t particularly excited to don the tunic, claiming that spectators jeered at him, and called him “the canary.” This led to him being given the nickname Cri-cri, a French colloquialism for bird.




Alas, despite Christophe’s woes, the yellow jersey has steadily grown into arguably the most recognizable symbol in all of cycling. And one that every rider now dreams of wearing. As of 2018, a total of 2,145 yellow jerseys have been awarded in the Tour de France to 286 different riders. Cycling’s greatest rider, Eddy Merckx, holds the record for the most, with 96. Of active riders, Chris Froome tops the list, with 59. (Froome, who has won the Tour four times, will not start this year’s race, having crashed and suffered severe injuries at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June.)


This year, the maillot jauneturns 100 years old. 




Team Time Trial



What is more difficult? An individual time trial (ITT) or a team time trial (TTT)? Both require tremendous amounts of effort and laser focus. The individual time trial is often called the “race of truth” because riders rely solely on their own efforts and tactics. However, the team time trial can often be harder to plan, orchestrate, and execute with up to eight riders rotating through in a complex dance of speed and skill. 




This year, Stage 2 of the Tour de France offers a challenging 27.6-kilometer TTT through the streets of Brussels, Belgium. Teams start with eight riders but they only need to finish with five because the whole team receives the same time, which is decided when the fifth rider crosses the finish line. Some teams will try and keep as many of the eight riders together until the finish while others will sacrifice certain riders, using their efforts early on and then dropping them out of formation while the others carry on the effort. 


Deciding how to use each rider, how hard to pull, and how long to stay on the front of the team’s streamlined formation is where the increased planning and orchestration comes in for team time trials. Before the start of the race, a team’s director will assign different tasks to each rider with the goal of getting the team to the finish as quickly as possible. 


During the race, a successful TTT team will move smoothly without surges as this can open gaps between riders and slow the overall pace. If gaps do start to open, they need to be closed quickly, which costs valuable energy. As more energy is expended, weaker riders will start missing turns in the rotation and eventually drop out of the team formation. One way to delay this situation is to have the weaker riders take short pulls when on the front of the train while the stronger riders take longer pulls while keeping the speed steady. It’s important to keep the rhythm of the team and the pace consistent. 




On Sunday, fans will be treated to a wild mix of TTT examples. Some teams will ride flawlessly with all riders looking smooth in every movement. Other will be more ragged and will struggle to keep the top five riders together to the end. Crashes are another cruel reality of the TTT. Riding so close together over bumpy roads and when pushing themselves to the absolute physical limit, riders can easily make a minor mistake that leads to monstrous consequences. But it’s not the crashes and mistakes that will make the TTT spectacular, the true fireworks will come between the top teams as they battle for every valuable second by perfecting the pacing, the skill, and the finesse to win the stage and likely take the yellow jersey.



The Grand Départ





Despite its name, the Tour de France doesn’t always stick to French roads across all 21 stages. The route often navigates into nearby countries like Spain and Switzerland as riders twist and turn their way up into the Alps and Pyrenees mountains. These short forays into neighboring countries are a special opportunity for fans outside of France to take part in the festivities. But it’s the Grand Départ, the first stage of the Tour, that offers the most exciting and celebrated opportunity to showcase the race to international communities. 


The first Grand Départ outside of France was in 1954 when the Tour kicked off in Amsterdam. Since that initial taste of international support, the Tour has started outside of France over 20 times. It has featured starts in almost all neighboring countries including Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Monaco, and Spain. On several occasions, the Tour has traveled to more remote locations including the 1998 start in Ireland and the 2007 and 2014 starts in the United Kingdom. 




This year, the Tour de France commences in Brussels, Belgium for the second time after first visiting the capital city in 1958. Stage 1 will take riders through the iconic punchy terrain featured throughout the Spring Classics and will likely end in a bunch sprint in front of the Royal Palace. The Tour remains in Belgium for Stage 2 with the pivotal 27.6-kilometer team time trial. Finally, after starting Stage 3 in Binche, Belgium, the Tour will cross the border back into France as the race heads toward the Pyrenees mountains and eventually makes it way toward Paris.