The Tour De France Part IV: Understanding The Jargon

Keeping on track

Throughout this blog series our aim has been to equip the average urban cyclist with sufficient understanding to fully appreciate the wonders of the Tour De France. So far we’ve looked at the history of the Tour as well as unpacking the meaning behind the different jersey’s worn by leading riders during any given stage. 

Throughout these posts we’ve done our best to resist any technical jargon, keeping things as accessible as possible. Today is the day for a gear change! We're going to do our best to outline some of the key terms you are likely to hear in the Tour’s commentary and discussion. Terminology you need to know seporates into two camps ‘French’ and ‘technical’ (with significant overlap). So here goes: 

French Terminology

'Alpe d’Heuz'

The most famous of all the Tour's climbs and the most prestigous stage for any Tour rider to win; the Alpe d'Heuz describes the most formidable of clmbs and is to be experienced by any ordinary rider as hellish! NB: It was Lance Armstrong's absolute obliteration of the Alpe d'Heuz in 2001 which first led many Tour enthusiasts, commentators and critics to question whether this super human was riding beoynd the realms of nomral physical attainment.  

'Contre-la-montre'

Commonly translated to denote a race ‘time trial’ and literaly translating as ‘race of truth’ describing a race measured purely on individual time over a given stage. 

'Parcours'

The race route

'Peloton'

French word meaning group ‘little ball’ describes the main ‘group of riders’ identified as riding in close proximity to one another. 

 

'Hors Categorie'

Now here’s a term you really need to listen out for. ‘Hors category’ meaning 'beyond categorisation' and describes a section of climb in the mountains judged to be of unbelievable difficulty. It is on the ‘hors category’ that the Tour is often won or lost. 

'Flamme Rouge'

What used to be a sole red flag is now hung from a Vittel sponsored inflatable arch marking 1km to the end of the stage. 

'Chapeau'

A term used to denote respect between riders following either incredible achievements or moments of profound humility. ‘Chappeau’ derives from the French word for ‘hat’ ie: “I take my hat off to him”

Un Autobus (or bus):

Describes a sometimes large group of riders at the very back of the race motivated only by finishing within the time limit. The autobus and is most noticeable in the mountain stages where it will consist of strong sprinters who are physiologically unable to challenge in the mountains. 

Technical

Break-away:

Smaller group of riders breaking away and often building very considerable gaps between themselves and the main Peloton. 

'Blocking'

When riders tactically and legally block the route of other riders allowing riders within their own team a tactical advantage 

'Bonking': 

No not that sort! ‘Bonking’ in cycling terms means that a rider no longer has the physical resource of glycogen required to keep riding and thus enters into a state of hypogleucemia.  

On the Alp d'Heuz stage of the 2013 Tour De France Chris Froome famously 'bonked' only to be rescued by team mate Ritchie Porte who broke race rules to bring Froome much needed energy gel enabling Froome to maintain his lead even after penalties had been incurred. 

On the Alp d'Heuz stage of the 2013 Tour De France Chris Froome famously 'bonked' only to be rescued by team mate Ritchie Porte who broke race rules to bring Froome much needed energy gel enabling Froome to maintain his lead even after penalties had been incurred. 

'Cadence': 

The term used by cyclists when referring to what might otherwise be observed as ‘pedal rate’ ie: the number of crank revolutions per minute. Low cadence places significant pressure on the muscles while higher cadence places significant pressure on the heart. Developing and sustaining good 'cadence' is therefore part of a professional riders skill. On flat stages of the Tour riders will average between 80 - 90rpm this will drop to between 60-80rpm on the hills.  

'Lactic Acid'

Is a by product of anaerobic exercise which accumulates in the muscles causing riders to suffer from real pain and a fast onset of fatigue. 

'Lead Out Man'

The rider with responsibility for providing a wheel (slip stream) for the sprinter to follow until the point at which said sprint chooses to sprint for a win. To be a ‘lead out man’ is a task of huge honour and incredible importance but very little glory. 

'Time Trial (TT)'

A stage of the race in which individual participants depart at set intervals and race against the clock. During the TT stage riders are able to use aero dynamic parts such as TT specific helmets and bars not allowed in the remainder of the race. It is in the individual TT that Bradley Wiggins comes into a league of his own. 

In the next post in our Tour series we'll take a fresh look at some of the Tour's most iconic moments. For now, get out there, enjoy your bike and consider yourself a little further along the road of becoming a Tour geek (always a geek, never a bore!) 

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If you're looking for a little musical inspiration for your Tour De France BBQ look no further:

Tour De France
By Kraftwerk