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With Lance Armstrong shooting for a history-making sixth Tour de France victory, scores of off-and-on Tour watchers will find themselves glued to the 91st running of cycling’s gnarliest race. But it’s not always easy—even for gung-ho weekend roadies—to tell what’s going on. The bluffing stops here, with Outside‘s [guide] to the terminology, mini-dramas, and offscreen hijinks you can expect during the Tour’s 23 days. Still lost? Just keep cheering for the man in yellow—you can expect him to be surrounded by eight guys wearing blue.
A Tour de France Glossary
A Tour de France Glossary
1.) BROOM WAGON
This van trundles along at the back of the peloton, ready to “sweep up” any rider who drops out or fails to finish within the time allotted for the stage. Most dropouts, however, opt for a ride in their team car.
These support riders ferry food and drinks from the team car to their teammates, protect the team leader from the wind, and chase down rivals.
The 3.) PELOTON (French for “platoon”) is the main group of riders, and might number from a couple dozen to every rider in the race.
4.) WHITE JERSEY
The yellow jersey for youngsters. This distinction goes to the highest-placed rider age 25 or under.
A helicopter follows the peloton, feeding overhead shots to broadcast producers in satellite vans parked at the end of the stage. The live feed is then beamed to living rooms around the world.
Cyclists riding off the front of the pack. If they’re far down in the overall standings, they will be left to fight for the stage win. But if a real challenger gets away in a break, rivals will try to chase him down to limit the damage.
A sudden acceleration meant to drop and demoralize other riders. These usually happen in the mountains; particularly strategic attacks can decide the Tour.
8.) FEED ZONE
A section of the course, generally midway through a stage, where team employees hand riders bags of sports gels and food to fuel them for the rest of the ride.
9.) TEAM CAR
Each team has its own command vehicle following the peloton. Inside, the squad’s director, or directeur sportif, listens to and watches live race coverage on a radio receiver and a dash-mounted TV, while radioing vital info and orders—e.g., “Attack! NOW!”—to his earbud-wearing riders. And, oh yeah, while doing all this, he’s driving. Riding shotgun is a team mechanic, at the ready should a driver need a quick fix.
10.) GREEN JERSEY
This shirt designates the points leader. Points are based on a rider’s placing in each stage and in the intermediate sprints along the route.
11.) BRIDGING THE GAP
When riders try to move from the main pack to a group farther ahead, they are “bridging the gap.” It’s a ballsy move, demanding a huge effort, especially if tried solo.
Riders assume this staggered aerodynamic formation to help counter crosswinds.
13.) THE DEVIL
Who’s that guy in the devil costume waving his pitchfork at the riders? It’s German bicycle nut Didi Senft, who’s been threatening Tour racers with eternal damnation since 1993.
14.) PACE LINE
A multi-rider formation designed for aerodynamic efficiency. Each rider takes a brief turn at the front, then falls back into the slipstream, where he will expend 30 percent less energy.
15.) WHEEL SUCKER
An unpopular rider who refuses to take his turn at the front, preferring instead to draft in a rival’s slipstream.
16.) POLKA-DOT JERSEY
Points are also up for grabs on every climb. The rider with the most wears polka dots.
17.) YELLOW JERSEY
Worn by the overall leader—the rider with the lowest cumulative time so far. The French call it the maillot jaune—which is why Lance’s Austin buddies call him “Mellow Johnny.”
18.) MOTO MADNESS
At any given time, five two-man motorcycle teams (a driver and a cameraman) are playing chicken with the peloton to deliver close-up footage of grinding gears and grinding teeth.