Tour De France For Dummies
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Tour rules and regulations are detailed in race Articles. Listed in the Technical Guide, they range from participation to disqualification, medical care to prize money. Rules are written and detailed in French and English. Because French is the universal language in cycling (Lance Armstrong, for example, is fluent), French interpretation of rules prevails in instances in which a language barrier may cloud a definition.

Helmets: Mandatory, dude!

To reduce or eliminate deaths from crashes, every rider in the Tour must now wear a helmet for the entire duration of every stage of the race, including time trials.

Oh, no, we're wearing the same outfit

Every rider must wear his team's official outfit — shorts, jersey, socks and shoes, gloves, and helmet. Unless a rider withdraws prior to the event, each of the 21 participating teams has nine riders, attired identically, at the start of the race.

Several exceptions exist, however. Leaders in overall standings and best climber (polka dot), sprinter (green), and young rider (white) competitions wear their respective colored jersey. Each of the sub-competition jerseys includes the appropriate team advertising banners. In individual time trials, competition leaders are provided with appropriately colored skinsuits instead of jerseys and shorts.

If a rider leads more than one race competition, he wears the jersey in accordance to priority of importance: yellow jersey, green jersey, polka-dot jersey, and white jersey. The runners-up or next highest-place riders in the competitions wear leaders' jerseys in the remaining categories.

The reigning world road race titlist wears a white jersey with horizontal adjoining blue, red, black, yellow, and green bands during the Tour. The rainbow jersey also includes the rider's team sponsors' logos. Reigning national road titlists also wear their national champion jerseys with the same allowance for team names and advertising banners.

Riders can wear additional clothes over or under their jerseys, including rain gear, tights or leg warmers, or other overgarments. And they can wear additional clothing at the start or during a stage. A rider seeking additional attire during a stage drops back to receive items from a team vehicle or from motorcycle drivers designated by race organizers.

Riding by numbers

Tour riders are identified by race numbers. The defending race champion wears No. 1, and his teammates follow in order through No. 9. Every rider considered as his team's overall title contender wears the lowest number on his team. He's listed first on all official rider lists; from there, there's an alphabetical order to the numbers.

Every rider must have an official double-sided number plate on each side of his bike frame and in a designated position. Riders must also wear two numbers, one over each hip. During individual time trial stages, cyclists' two small hip numbers are replaced by a larger single number affixed on their lower back. Race organizers provide number plates and race numbers, and they must be worn without alterations.

Sign on the line, or you don't pass start

Prior to every Tour stage, riders must sign in on a pre-race staging area. The procedure is required in part as tradition, in part to appease spectators gathered near the starting line, awaiting the arrival of their favorite riders minutes before a stage start.

During road stages, riders and team managers must arrive at the signature registration area at least ten minutes prior to a start. Riders who don't sign in are fined 100 Swiss Francs, or about $85. If a rider is prevented from signing in because of traffic congestion or another unavoidable circumstance, a fine is not levied.

After the entire field registers, the race manager begins a stage in one of three ways;

  • A standing start begins at the riders' sign-in or signature area.
  • A deferred standing start occurs if a stage begins some distance from the sign-in area because of area restrictions.
  • A rolling start or flying start occurs when a stage begins when the cyclists casually pedal from the sign-in area, and then begin at the stage where the course is designated as Kilometer 0 (Mile 0).

Feed zone and feeding rules

During the Tour, riders must continuously replenish foods and liquids. Before, during, and after stages, cyclists' eating and drinking habits are reminiscent of scenes of stokers shoveling coal into steam engines — they eat and drink that much.

Riders' nutritional needs are the responsibility of individual teams, with some exception. During every Tour road stage, there's a designated area on the course called the feed zone or feeding station. Team representatives carrying musettes, or feeding bags with sandwiches, fruit, and energy bars. They hand off supplies to riders as they advance through the feed zone. It's cycling's version of take-out food. New water bottles are also distributed to riders in the feed zone, but musettes and water bottles must be those supplied by Tour sponsors or otherwise Tour approved.

Outside the feed zone, riders in a breakaway can also receive supplies from their team managers' vehicles or a Tour-supplied motorcycle. Musettes and water bottles can be used in these feeding options, but these resupply situations and the designated feed zone must follow Tour-established regulations.

Team cars: Position and passing

The group of vehicles that travels with the riders in every Tour stage is known as the caravan. Television, radio, and newspaper journalists; race officials; police escorts; and publicity vehicles all follow Tour regulations. Caravan vehicles are identified with various colored stickers placed across front windshields. Priority is given to vehicles based on race responsibility, number of occupants in the vehicle, and how the vehicle is equipped.

The same rules apply for team vehicles, but team cars also have a complicated and vast additional list of rules. Team cars carry riders' spare bikes, wheels, water, food, and medical supplies. During the race, the primary team vehicle must be driven by the directeur sportif on the right-hand side of the road and in the order designated at the stage start. Each teams' additional team car is positioned in a second group of vehicles. Teams' second vehicles are positioned identically as the first group, but the second group of team vehicles must be separated from the first group by at least 200 meters (1/8 mile).

Every team vehicle must be equipped with a radio tuned to the Tour's frequency. Every team's place in the caravan is confirmed prior to every stage, and every team's radio must broadcast Tour radio throughout stages. Team vehicles must ask permission or must receive a request from race officials to overtake a race management vehicle.

Teams must attend to their riders under Tour and Union Cycliste Internationale rules. Fines are levied for infractions according to the sanctions list in race regulations. In addition to race penalties, vehicle infractions are subject to French legal action.

Staying within the time limit

Tour organizers have a pretty good idea how long every stage will take. They've toured the routes numerous times while planning the route during the preceding year. And after more than 90 race editions, race organizers know within a certain time frame how long individual mountain ascents and descents, long and flat sections, and wind-swept open roads will likely take. Most stages are geared toward finishing during the nationally televised broadcast in France, between 5 and 6 p.m.

Every city of every stage is designated on the itinerary according to its kilometer distance into the stage. Stage starting times are listed, as well as the time the peloton is expected to arrive. National and regional French newspapers print the itinerary, so that cities' spectators know when the Tour is likely to come to their town.

Tour stage time estimates are surprisingly accurate, but exceptions occur. On some occasions, riders race particularly fast and arrive in cities and finish sooner than expected. Stage finish times can be underestimated by a few minutes or by more than a half-hour for several reasons — a severe crash, extreme weather, or particularly unmotivated riders.

Beyond city-by-city estimated arrival times, each stage itinerary includes a topographic stage profile. It details all categorized climbs (length and gradient), stage sprints, and feed zones. An alternative course route from the stage start to finish of every stage is also provided.

Race organizers diligently estimate stage times, but circumstances can force cancellation of a stage or stages. In special circumstances, including an accident or natural disaster, race officials may:

  • Change a course route
  • Temporarily halt a stage
  • Consider that the stage has not been held and cancel the results
  • Cancel part of the stage, nullify intermediate stage results, and restart a stage where an incident occurred
  • Restart a stage but keep time gaps recorded to the point where the stage was stopped

Drug testing at every stage

Every rider in the Tour is tested for banned substances prior to the race. Various cyclists are tested after every stage, according to a selection process determined before the race. Under current rules, at least 180 urine drug tests are given, including daily drug tests for the race leader and stage winner and six to eight cyclists selected at random throughout the field.

Tour drug tests are administered in accordance with the rules of the Union Cycliste Internationale and the French Federation of Cycling or Federation Françoise de Cyclisme. TheTour conducts banned substance testing under secure and strictly monitored conditions. A specially equipped caravan is established near the finish line of every stage to transport drug samples to a private location following the race. Drug test samples are then transported by private plane for analysis, and results are quickly reported to Tour officials.

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