Guide to the Tour de France

The 2016 Tour de France route was officially revealed in Paris in October 2015, with its 21 stages between Mont Saint-Michel and Paris including a stage up the legendary climb of Mont Ventoux, as well as two tough looking individual time trials.


The jerseys
Iconic and sought after, the four classification jerseys are just what the riders will be fighting over.

Yellow – This is given to the overall race leader, namely the rider who has completed the stages in the shortest combined time. The jersey is thought to date back to 1919 and takes its colour from l'Auto, the newspaper owned by race founder and sponsor Henri Desgrange. Eddy 'the Cannibal' Merckx wore it for a record 111 days.

Green - The next most prestigious jersey is given to the leader in the points classification which generally rewards sprinters - the burly and aggressive riders who can be seen barrelling to the line in a bunch finish. During stages, points are attributed during intermediate sprints along the route, and at the finish. The jersey was introduced in 1953. Germany's Erik Zabel won it a record six consecutive times between 1996 and 2001.

Polka dot - The King of the Mountains. Like the green jersey, riders claim points for being the first over the top of categorised climbs. The harder the ascent, the more points are on offer. Although the award was launched in 1933, the distinctive jersey was not introduced until 1975. Scotland's Robert Millar was King of the Mountains in 1984.

White – This is given to the best-placed rider who was less than 25 years old on January 1 of the year the Tour is ridden. This is the newest of the jerseys and was introduced in 1975. It was abandoned in 1989 but reintroduced in 1999.

Team Classification
The team classification is a prize given to the ‘best’ team in the Tour de France and is calculated by adding the times of the three highest-placed riders in each team at the end of every stage – and again at the end of the race. Any time bonuses or penalties are ignored, and if a team has fewer than three riders left in the race, they are removed from the competition. Up until 1990 the team classification leaders would be awarded yellow caps, but since 2006 they have donned black race numbers on a yellow background instead.

Most aggressive rider
The most aggressive rider prize – or combativity award - is given to the rider who has made the greatest effort, or demonstrated the best qualities of sportsmanship, during a stage of the Tour de France. The prize is judged by an eight-man jury and is displayed using white numbers on a red background on the rider’s back number. At the end of the Tour de France, a super-combativity award is given to the most combative cyclist in the race.

Glossary of common cycling terms

Arrivée: The French cycling term for finish line.

Attack/jump/kick/take a flyer: When a rider produces a burst of speed to move ahead of his/her competitors.

Bidon: The French term for water bottle.

Breakaway: A rider or group of riders who have a lead over the peloton.

Blowing/bonking/popping: A rider who has completely run out of gas and drops off the pace.

Bridge a gap: To ride out of the peloton and catch a breakaway group which is further up the road.

Broom Wagon: A race vehicle that follows the last group of riders on the road, it will often pick up riders who are forced to abandon when their own support vehicles are not present.

Bunch sprint: A mass dash for the line at the end of a stage when most of the peloton is still intact.

Cadence: The number of revolutions per minute which a rider turns his/her pedals.

Col/ Côte: A Col is the French term for a mountain pass, while other climbs that cannot be characterised as "cols" are called "côtes", which simply means "slope".

Directeur sportif (Sports Director): A member of a team’s management staff who directs the race tactics and strategy from the team car.

Domestique: These are the riders who sacrifice their own chances of success for the team leaders. They ferry food and water, provide spare wheels and even surrender their bikes in the event of a mechanical problem.

Dropped: When one or more riders lose contact off the back of the peloton or breakaway group.

Echelon: A form of slipstreaming which allows riders to gain maximum draft in a crosswind. Riders commonly fan out in echelons right across the road.

False flat: A low-gradient climb, or part of a climb, so-called because although it appears flat, the road is still ascending.

Feed zone (feed station): A designated section of the stage where riders can be handed food and drinks from team support staff at the side of the road.

Flamme rouge: The red banner which the riders pass under when there is only one kilometre left of a stage to go.

General classification: The overall standings in a stage race. Often referred to as ‘GC’, the classification is calculated by adding together each rider's individual times from all subsequent stages.

Grand Départ: The opening stage of the Tour.

Grand Tour: The highest category of stage race recognised by cycling’s governing body, the UCI. Only three Grand Tours exist - the Tour de France, Spain's Vuelta a España and Italy's Giro d'Italia. Each one lasts for 21 stages, with two rest days in-between.

Gruppetto (autobus): This is the group of riders who have dropped off the pace on a mountains stage. The group usually consists of sprinters and non-climbers whose sole aim is to finish within the days’ time limit.

Hors-category: The hardest category of mountain included in the Tour, which is calculated using length and average gradient. Literally translated it means beyond categorisation.

Intermediate sprint: A point midway through a stage where points are awarded in the green jersey/points classification.

Lanterne rouge: The rider who is last on the general classification. The term means 'red lantern’ and refers to the light which was traditionally found at the back of a railway train.

Lead-out man: A rider who specialises in guiding the team’s star sprinter into position during the final stages of a race. The star sprinter waits in the lead-out man’s slipstream for as long as possible before accelerating to the finish line.

Lead-out train (sprint train): A line of riders who are trying to guide their sprinter towards the finish by keeping the pace high and discouraging late attacks. On the flatter stages several teams will use this tactic as they battle for the best position on the road.

Musette: A food bag which is handed to riders as they pass through the feed stations.

Neutral service: If a rider’s team car is unable to reach them, then they can use the support of a neutral service vehicle, usually a car or motorbike. These vehicles can provide spare wheels, bikes and water to the riders.

Palmares: A list of each riders’ results and achievements.

Parcours: The French word for ‘course’, which can be applied to each stage separately, or to the race route as a whole.

Peloton: The main group of riders in a bike race. Cyclists form groups as riding within them helps save energy.

Prologue: A short time trial (commonly less than 8km long) which kicks off a stage race or Grand Tour. It is used mainly to showcase the riders, and as a way to get the yellow jersey on someone's back right away.

Queen stage: The hardest stage of the race. It will usually involve numerous climbs and take place in the high mountains

Race Caravan: The procession of official team, organistaion and support vehicles at a race. The caravan also includes the floats which drive ahead of the race and gives away freebies to fans at the side of the road.

Radio Tour: The radio station that keeps the Tour participants and spectators informed about what's happening in the race.

Rouleur: A domestique who specialises in steady, consistent riding and can take long turns on the front of a group of riders for hours at a time.

Slipstream: The still air behind a rider which is significantly easier for another cyclist to ride in.

Soigneur (carer): A member of a team’s backroom staff whose job is to look after the riders. They perform many duties such as giving massages, handing out feed bags and doing the riders’ laundry.

Sprinter: A rider who is capable of accelerating very quickly and able to battle it out for victory on the flatter stages of races.

Team car: In Grand Tours, two team cars follow the riders and each one commonly contains a directeur sportif and mechanic. It is from these that the DSs dictate strategy and mechanics are able to stock spare parts. Team doctors are also commonly present to treat any wounded riders quickly.