The Tour de France is one of the most (many would argue it is the most) grueling sporting events in the world. In the 2011 race, 22 teams each with nine cyclists will attempt to ride 3,430.5 kilometers (2132 miles) in just 21 days. Not all of the riders on all teams will finish.
There are rest days, but only two. These days are inserted within the 23 total days of the Tour. Running the first three weeks in July, this year the Tour begins July 2 and ends July 24, with rest days on July 11 and 18.
Though a single winner of the Tour will stand on top of the podium and don the coveted yellow jersey on July 24, there are other categories of outstanding individual performance that will be recognized as well. Best sprinter, climber, most aggressive rider and the best rider under the age of 25 will be honored.
In the early days of the Tour riders entered as individuals, that is no longer the case. The strongest team is also recognized—and make no mistake, it takes a strong team to help any of the individuals achieve success.
For fans, the Tour is exciting to watch because there are many ways to root for a favorite rider, a team or a mix of riders. Of course the finish line results are only part of the action. Riders descend high mountain roads in excess of 60 miles per hour. There are pack sprints, tactics to help—and punish—other riders. There are dramatic crashes, money rewards, team strategy, scheming, on-the-road tactics and drama that affect the outcome every single day.
It's no wonder the Tour de France inspires so many people to get on a bike or step up their current cycling program.
Let's take a closer look at how you can watch the Tour de France unfold.
At the end of the Tour, the rider with the lowest cumulative time for the entire 2,132 miles wins the yellow jersey. At the end of each stage the rider with the lowest cumulative time through that day is awarded the yellow jersey. That rider will wear the highly sought-after yellow jersey during the next day's stage. The goal, of course, is to be awarded the yellow jersey on the last day. Riders will work for years and risk many things in order to achieve this overall high general classification (GC).
Expect the yellow jersey to change ownership several times during the Tour. Only the riders with the strongest team, solid race strategy, tactical moves and good team management have a chance at the jersey.
The yellow jersey represents a great deal more than the excellent fitness of a single rider. The final rider wearing the yellow jersey is awarded ?450,000 Euros (EUR) or roughly $650,160 United States Dollars (USD). This USD figure is approximate because it's based on the current currency conversion rate, but the Euro amount remains set as advertised to the riders.
Three of the riders favored to wear the yellow jersey at the end of the Tour include Alberto Contatdor (riding for Saxo Bank-Sungard), Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).
Similar to the yellow jersey, a green jersey is awarded at the end of each stage. This jersey recognizes the best sprinter in the form of points rather than ride time.