Cyclists from around the world gather in France to participate in the Tour de France race each June, which dates back to 1903. The cyclists race toward both individual and team goals through 21 different stages over terrain that changes from flat to mountainous. Racers also participate in time trials, which allow riders to showcase their individual and team riding skills.
The teams of cyclists in the Tour de France typically consist of at least 20 riders, nine of whom participate in each stage of the race. One of those nine is the team leader, and the other eight work as the support system to push the leader to win the stage. One of the strategies often used by teams is for the eight riders to ride in front of the lead to reduce his wind resistance and thus help him preserve energy required to finish the stage strongly. The eight support cyclists take turns in the lead to set a good pace for the entire stage, allowing the lead rider to come in first at the end. Break aways in which one or more riders leave the pack to spring to the finish are common at the end of each stage. If a bicyclist breaks from a specific team breaks away, his teammates can help by blocking other teams from catching up.
Points for Stages
The individual racers in the Tour de France compete to earn the most points. Each of the 21 stages of the race is ranked based on the grade of the race terrain for that particular stage. The number of points racers earn increases as the grade gets steeper. For instance, a fairly flat grade only gives points to the top three finishers, and the top finisher receives only three points. In contrast, the top 10 finishers earn points during the nongraded, or steepest, portions of the race. The top finisher for the steepest grades receives 20 points. The finish time for each cyclist is also recorded.
Each cyclist's final time is recorded at the end of each stage of the race. The racers are then organized by team so officials can see the results for each rider on a team. When calculating the team standings, officials add the times for the top three riders for each team. At the completion of each stage, the times for the three fastest riders on each team is added to the overall team score.
Importance of Team Rankings
While there is no jersey prize for the top team in the Tour de France, there is a monetary prize. This prize encourages teams to work together to earn the best time to contribute toward the team's standing. It also helps that individual winners have money and jerseys at stake to serve as additional motivation. As of the 2011 race, the prize for the best cyclist in the Tour de France is 50,000 Euros, which equals about $71,000. This money is often shared with the other team members.
Time trials are not a big factor in the overall standings for the Tour de France, but they are important. Not all time trials are held every year. The prologue, or pre-race time trial, is a short race that mainly serves to showcase the riders for the year, giving spectators a preview. However, the winner earns the right to wear the yellow jersey for the first stage. Over the course of the 21-day race, riders participate in individual time trials to showcase their skills. During team time trials, which are held only every few years, the teams utilize the same drafting strategies they use in the race in hopes of finishing with the best time. To achieve a finishing time, the team must finish with at least five of their riders. None of the time trials have any bearing on the final team standings.
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