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 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.
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.