How Cycling Works, Part 2: The Jerseys

Jersey wearers from the 2010 Tour- Young rider, Overall, Points, KOM

Now that we’ve covered how teams work, let’s look at how exactly one wins a stage race. In most stage races, it’s not just the guy who comes in first at the end of the stage who gets honors. The fastest guy, the best climber, the best young rider, the best team, etc, all get prizes as well.

The highest honor of the race, of course, goes to the one who finishes first. But what does it mean to finish “first” when a race lasts multiple days? In the end, the guy on the top step of the podium is the one with the lowest cumulative race time- the one who rides the course the fastest. It’s not the guy who wins the most stages. In fact, often the race winner wins no stages! The rider with the lowest cumulative time wears the leader’s jersey. In the Tour, this jersey is yellow, and the color most often associated with a leader’s jersey, but it can be any color. For the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy), it is pink, and for the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain), it is red.

 

It is a lot of work to keep and defend the leader’s jersey. There are many tactics employed to make sure the yellow jersey stays in the team, but the bottom line is that the rider in leader’s jersey must keep a close eye on those finishing the the stage ahead of him. If there is a someone who is only 30 seconds behind him, the leader must not let that rider finish 31 seconds in front of him or else he will lose the leader’s jersey. This is why it is hard to be in the leader’s jersey- that team must constantly be monitoring who’s attacking, who’s in the break, who’s at the head of the peloton, etc, and often the pressure is on them to chase back any escapees.

In the stage races, there are more jerseys to be won than just the leader’s jersey. Most stage races will have a points jersey, a climbing jersey, and a best young rider jersey.

The points jersey is worn by the rider with the most points. To accumulate points, a rider must one of the first, usually, 15-20 riders through certain lines on the course, with one of those lines being the finish line. Points are awarded in descending value, based on when the rider crosses the line- so the first rider gets the most points and the 20th rider gets the least. This jersey is most commonly known as the sprinter’s jersey, as traditionally the majority of the points are given out at the finish line and the flatter stages (which favors sprinters) have more points available to win at the finish. So, the rider who can win the most flat stages often has the best chance at wearing the sprinter’s jersey. This isn’t always the case, as points awarded at the intermediate sprints in the middle of the route can play an important role in deciding who wears the jersey. But in the end, the sprinter’s jersey (the green jersey at the Tour) is meant to go to the fastest rider.

The climbing jersey is commonly called the King of the Mountains jersey, or KOM. It’s awarded the same way the sprinter’s jersey is, with points awarded to those crossing the summit of different climbs. Climbs are ranked from 4 (easiest) to 1 (hardest), but some are SO HARD that they receive a Hors Categorie (HC, or outside category) distinction. Obviously, the highest ranked climbs will have the most points available for the taking.

The young rider’s jersey is pretty self-explanatory- it goes to the rider under 26 with the lowest cumulative race time, signified by a white jersey.

There are also a couple of prizes awarded that don’t have a special jersey. Each stage a rider is awarded the most aggressive rider prize- this could be someone who worked hard in the break, made a last ditch attack, powered through the worst crash, etc. They get a special red race number for the day. At the end of the race, one rider is awarded the overall  most aggressive rider prize.

Juan Antonia Flecha and his most aggressive rider special number. Photo: Team Sky

The other prize awarded is the team classification. This award goes to the team with the overall lowest cumulative time. There is no special jersey, but they get yellow race numbers.

Team RadioShack received the team classification award at the 2010 Tour

So there you have it- the collection of jerseys and prizes up for grabs at the Tour! Check out parts 1 and 3 for more information on The Team and Living on the Bike.

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How Cycling Works, Part 1: The Teams

A team is more than just its riders

The Tour de France is an exciting time in the cycling world, but for someone who is just discovering cycling, it can be a bit overwhelming. While cycling seems simple enough (they’re just riding their bikes down the road, for crying out loud!), it’s actually quite a complex sport. While the Tour can be enjoyed at any level, it helps to understand the basics of cycling and how racing works. For the next few days, I’ll be posting some “primers” to help those new to the Tour understand what’s going on!

First up, the essence of cycling: the teams. Cycling is a strange mix of team and individual sport. Only one racer wins the stage/race, but that one racer cannot win without the support of a team. Teams are usually built around a few “stars,” who usually gets the most attention/stage wins/press. But those “stars” wouldn’t be able to win any races if they didn’t have a team around them. A team usually has 20-30 some riders (at least the ones with a nice budget do!), so a team will have various riders at various races at any time. The B teams often to the “lesser” races, while the A teams are usually sent to the higher profile races. This was something I definitely did not understand when I started watching. When I watched the Eneco Tour after the Tour, I couldn’t understand why Andy et al., who I just watched ride the Tour, weren’t riding for Saxo Bank at this race!

At each race, within a squad of 6-9 riders (depending on the size of the race), a team leader is usually designated who the other riders support. These domestiques (French for servants) do things like shepherd things back and forth to the team car (including water, cold/warm weather gear, instructions, etc.), take pulls on the front of the peloton to chase down breaks, draft the leaders back to the peloton if they get dropped for some reason, or even give up a bike or wheel if the situation calls for it. The domestiques rarely win, often riding hard until they pop, then limping to the finish line. All of this is done to help preserve the strength and legs of team leaders- keeping them out of the wind, towards the front of the peloton to try and avoid the crashes that often happen in the bunch. There are exceptions, such as when Garmin-Cervelo super domestique Johan Van Summeren won Paris-Roubaix in 2011, but they are the exception and not the rule. However, just because you’re domestique doesn’t mean you’re not famous- Jens Voigt being a perfect example. He’s one of the hardest working and best liked domestiques of the peloton. He got a love letter from me.

Of course the teams aren’t just the riders. Other important members include soigneurs, the mechanics, the cooks, the directeur sportifs (DS), etc. Soigneurs (French for “care givers”) do a variety of jobs, from doing laundry, clean up, driving team cars, organizing team cars, restocking supplies, etc- anything and everything that might be required to run a team. Sometimes soigneurs will also be masseurs, an important job in helping riders recover. I’ve heard it compared to being a roadie for a rock band- lots of work, little pay, late nights, etc. Only the passionate need apply!

Mechanics are self explanatory- they’re the guys that keep the bikes running! Often a mechanic will ride in the team cars, to help with wheel and bike changes, and help with any bike repairs that need to happen on the go. Again, late nights, as after each race, they must get the bikes ready for the next day- washing and cleaning the bike, making sure all the parts are working like they should, etc. And that’s not just the bikes the 9 riders use, but all the spare bikes as well.

Most teams have cooks there to make sure the riders are getting the right food in the right amounts. Some of the bigger teams have their own “kitchen” bus, but the smaller teams often cook out of the hotel kitchens.

The DS is probably the most important member of the team, when it comes to racing and tactics. They’re usually sitting in the cars, “coaching” the riders. If the race has radios, they’ll give breakaway updates, crash updates, road updates through the radio, as well as give guidance on when to attack or chase. If the race has no radios, they’ll wait for riders (usually the domestiques) to come back to the car for instructions or updates. Most DSs are former riders.

Hopefully that clears up the complicated dynamics of how teams work! See parts 2 and 3 to learn about The Jerseys and Living on the Bike.

The man, the myth, the domestique

I would like to take a moment to talk about a life-changing event that happened to me yesterday. It happened during the latter part of the first stage of Paris-Nice. It was a mythical moment that I had heard much about, but wasn’t sure if it actually existed. I feared I would never witness this magical event. But yesterday, friends, I was privy to one of cycling’s greatest gifts: an attack by Jens Voigt. Ever since I entered into the realm of cycling I had heard mention of this sacred event: the unrelenting power, the pain dished out to fellow breakaway riders, the famous Jens grimace. And yesterday I got to witness it first hand.

Now, let me let you in on a little secret of pro cycling: if you want to be loved and accepted by your fellow cycling fans, all you have to say is “I love Jens Voigt.” To which everyone will respond with open arms and an exclamation of “Oh I love Jensi! Isn’t he the best?!” The phrase is almost akin to a secret password. And in a way it is. To proclaim your love for Jens is to demonstrate that you truly understand cycling and that it is not just about the stage winners or even the race winners. One of the coolest things about cycling is how the work horses, the diesels, the domestiques get just as much respect in the peloton as the protected team leaders. A Chris Horner, a Michael Berry, a Mark Renshaw are just as much of a cycling celebrity as a Wiggins, a Cavendish, or a Schleck. And in the true cycling world, the domestiques probably get MORE respect than the protected riders! To ride yourself into the ground chasing a breakaway or to put the hurt on the peloton for your team earns you big props in the cycling world, even if you have to limp to the finish line. A perfect example of this appreciation for hard work was seen today, when Geraint Thomas got just as many shout outs on Twitter for Greg Henderson’s win on stage 2 of Paris-Nice as Henderson did.

Not only is Jens a super domestique, but he’s a ridiculously nice guy. He’s got 6 kids, been a pro cyclist since 1997, and is always good for a quote or joke. His “Shut up, Legs!” is probably his most iconic quote and it perfectly illustrates his hard man status: this is what his brain tells his legs when they want to stop pedaling. This quote has inspired t-shirts galore, posters, comparisons, etc. The other iconic Jensism? His pain cave grimace. To wit:

Whenever Jens is taking a pull on the front, he’s going deep into his pain cave, where this face comes out to play. So now not only are the other riders terrified of his pace he’ll set when he goes to the front, but they’re also terrified he’s actually going tear their legs off and eat them. This face was in out in full force during yesterday’s Paris-Nice stage:

Isn’t it a beaut?

Jens has been in some pretty bad accidents, the worst of which happened during the 2009 Tour. A bump on a downhill descent resulted in him literally kissing the pavement. He survived with only a broken cheekbone, a concussion and some serious road rash on his face, which is miraculous when you look at the footage of the crash! He again crashed on a downhill descent during the 2010 Tour, this time because of a blown tire and with much less serious injuries- road rash, broken ribs, 5 stitches in his elbow. His bike was totalled, but he refused to abandon the race and instead took a bike from the neutral support service car, which, as a junior sized bike, was much too small for him! His interview with the Saxo Bank media people reveals his positive attitude and hard man mentality- a little downhill crash isn’t going to stop him!

It’s possible this year will be Jens’ last and the day he leaves will be a sad day. But there will always be domestiques to keep the peloton rolling!

Almost forgot the best part! For some reason, Jens has become the Chuck Norris of cycling. Which means people come up with “facts” about Jens and his mythical, magical powers. So I present you with a list of “Little Known Jens Voigt Facts,” all culled from the Texas Tailwind blog.

  • Jens Voigt doesn’t read books. He simply attacks until the books relent and tell him everything he wants to know.
  • Jens doesn’t spin or mash the pedals… he kicks them into submission.
  • Jens Voigt puts the “laughter” in “Manslaughter.”
  • Jens once had a heart attack on the Tourmalet. Jens counterattacked repeatedly until he kicked its ass.
  • If Jens Voigt was a country, his principle exports would be Pain, Suffering, and Agony.
  • If Jens Voigt was a planet, he’d be the World of Hurt.
  • Jens Voigt doesn’t know where you live, but he knows exactly where you will die.
  • When you open a can of whoop-ass, Jens Voigt jumps out and attacks.
  • Jens Voigt can start a fire by rubbing two mud puddles together.
  • Guns kill a couple dozen people every day. Jens Voigt kills 150.

Got any Jens facts of your own?

 

Unpacking Race Radios

Brad Wiggins via BikeRadar.com

There has been a lot of chatter on the interwebs lately about race radios- more specifically, the banning of race radios by the UCI. But why exactly is this such a big deal? Why are riders spouting off on Twitter, bloggers blogging, and articles being written about this topic? While on the surface, it might seem to be just about riders and teams not wanting to give up their race radios, it’s really about much more than that. It’s also about where exactly the riders and teams fit into the cycling hierarchy, how much say they get in decisions which affect them, and who really wears the pants in the UCI-cyclist relationship. Let’s break it down.

History

For those of us (me) who’ve only just discovered the joys of pro cycling, we’ve only known cycling with race radios. However, they are relatively new addition to the peloton. Radios only became commonplace in the mid-90s, but it didn’t take long for them to become an integral part of racing. Race radios connect riders to their directeur sportifs (DS- essentially race coaches who guide the riders through the race) following in team cars through two way radios. Through these radios, riders can hear about breakaways-who’s in them, their gap on the group-crashes, dangers on the road, riders who’ve blown, riders who’ve attacked, etc, and can also let the team car know when they’ve had a flat, if they need help, or ask questions.

Radios were being used at all levels until the UCI decided it didn’t like the changes radios were bringing to the sport and started making changes to limit their use. They knew they couldn’t get rid of radios outright, so they decided to implement a gradual ban, starting with amateur, Junior and U23 races. In July of 2009, the UCI decided to test a radio ban at the Tour on stages 10 and 13. However, after stage 10, 14 out of the 20 teams lodged a protest against the radio ban and radios were reinstated for stage 13.  In September 2009, the UCI management committee voted to ban radios at all events except *.1 and *.HC (see note).  USA Cycling  soon followed suite and banned radios at their events also. In 2010, it banned radios again at the World Championships in Australia (which they could do, as the UCI owns this race). There was nothing the riders could do about this except complain, as to not race here wasn’t an option- it’s one thing to neutralize a stage of a 3 week race, it’s another to refuse to race in a winner take all competition to possess the rainbow jersey. So the riders complained all the way to the start line and raced without radios. This year, the UCI continued with it’s mission to rid the sport of radios and banned radios at all events which are not part of the World Tour calendar- so if it’s not one of the 26 races which are part of that calendar which include all the Grand Tours, the Historical races (the Classics of early spring), and various other major one day and week long stage races, there are no radios allowed.

Note: Elite racing has several levels: World Tour at the top; 2.HC for stage races, 1.HC for one-day races; and 2.1/1.1 and 2.2/1.2 on the bottom two rungs.

Reasoning

But why is the UCI so determined to get rid of race radios? According to them, it’s to get back to racing’s roots. They feel the sport has become uninspired and predictable and radios are to blame for this. They claim riders have become robots under the command of their DS, unable to race without someone telling them what to do. They long for the days when riders rode on instinct and guts. To ensure the future of the sport, it is important not only keep current fans, but to attract new ones. Banning race radios would make cycling spontaneous and interesting again, and thus more attractive to viewers, as “cycling with ear-pieces is not very spectacular any more”.

Rebuttal

However, riders and teams say none of this is true. Radios do not make a race interesting or not- riders do. Tactics are usually decided before the race even starts and “the radios aren’t here to get riders information that they have to breathe, to pedal, to push the pedals.” I once heard it compared to going into battle- the commander can lay out a strategy and give direction once in battle, but it’s up to the troops to put the plan into motion and often things happen which can’t be predicted, requiring the men to act on their feet. Besides, there’s the matter of security and safety. Radios are an imperative part of keeping the peloton safe- they can help warn of crashes, particularly hazardous road furniture, emergency vehicles which need to pass through the peloton, dangerous road conditions, etc. There are some who question the need to go back to the “dark ages-” we’re in the 21st century, they argue, embrace the technology and how it can improve the sport. As Tyler Farrar said, “Are we going to have a day where we race in wool jerseys, or a day when we race with a single speed? The future of the sport is technology, and radios make the race safer.”

There are some riders who do support the ban. Phillipe Gilbert, for one, agrees with the UCI that racing is more exciting without radios, as does David Miller, Stephen Roche, Steve Cozza etc. Then there are those like Cadel Evans who don’t care one one way or the other.

The real issue

The real issue here is not so much that the UCI wants to ban the radios, but that they did so without really consulting any of the people who a ban really affects- the riders. There was a poll conducted which indicated that 60% of riders were in favor of keeping radios unrestricted, however the ban was voted on without actually consulting riders and teams. A meeting was scheduled between the two groups in January 2010, but the UCI voted on the ban back in 2009- a meeting between the two groups should have happened before the UCI voted on the ban. And when the ban actually went into place at the beginning of this year, riders and teams realized exactly what this vote and ban meant. Now the riders and teams are facing off against the UCI- not just to get the radios back, but to demand for more representation in decisions that affect them. Protests over the race radio decision at this year’s Mallorca Challenge saw riders delay the start for 20 minutes, the UCI withdraw their officials, and Tyler Ferrar’s win be annulled. Riders maintain that these protests are more about the lack of representation and consultation in the governing of cycling than the banning of the radios.

This issue is still ongoing and an important part of this situation is the lack of representation riders and the lack of teeth International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP) have with the UCI. The AIGCP does what it can, but it represents the teams, not the riders. There is a union for cyclists, the CPA (Coureurs Professionnels Associés, French for Associated Pro Riders), but it has virtually no voice the in the cycling world. And even if they did, if the UCI refuses to listen to anyone but themselves, it doesn’t matter.

Update: The gauntlet has been thrown! Jens Voigt has suggested a boycott of the 2011 World Championship if the UCI refuses to negotiate/retract the radio ban. His reasoning? Pain is remembered. If the riders do something to hurt the UCI, they’re more likely to avoid being hurt again in the future! If enough riders would pledge to not ride Worlds if the ban is not retracted, the UCI might rethink not consulting the riders. This would be a bold move indeed, because if the UCI decided the radio ban was more important than the World Championship and go on without them, they would not be able to compete to wear the rainbow jersey. But something like that could just scare the UCI into behaving!

A version of this article appears on US Pro Cycling News. Find me on Twitter!

Races and their Radios

Argh, okay I know I said I wouldn’t write about the race radio ban (at least on Twitter I did!), but having just read this article on VeloNews, I now can’t help myself! (For background, catch up with this, this, and this.)

I genuinely do not care whether or not the peloton uses radios. I’m writing this post because I think both sides are being ridiculous and want to call them out on it.

Firstly, yeesh, has no one ever heard of compromise? Both sides are of the “my way or the highway” mentality, with neither side willing to back down. This doesn’t seem like the best way to solve this situation!

The UCI seems to have decided to implement their decision for no other reason than because they want to. While they say they “analyzed” all the arguments, I’m interested to know what all the arguments were. In addition, they also site “scientific data” which shows the dangers of using two-way radios. I’d also be interested to know what that scientific data is. And I’m not really sure I believe it when they claim to have listened to everyone in the sport, including “riders, organizers, national federations, media, fans and sponsors,” as they chose to vote on the ban before even having a meeting with many of those they claim to have listened to (article here). So really, they just seem like a bunch of grumpy old men whining about “kids these days.”

As for those who want to keep the radios in their current format, let’s not kid ourselves-you want to keep the radios because it gives you tactical advantage. Yes, there is a safety issue and it helps protect riders. But if you were really interested in keeping the radios for the riders’ safety, you’d be open and proposing a limited use radio.

As someone who’s only started to watch racing this year, I’ve never known racing without radios. However, I wouldn’t say radios made those races boring! For me, in the end, racing is about those on the bike- their endurance and strength. The DS can say whatever he wants on the radio, but if the rider doesn’t have the strength or legs, it’s not gonna matter. There is also the matter of the things beyond human control. Sure, people like Jonathan Vaughters want the race to be “fair” and won by the strongest rider or team, and see radios as the way to do that. But when has cycling ever been fair? On stage 2 of the Tour this year, when a moto slide out on an oil slick in Spa, causing a huge pile up, was that fair? Or when Fränk Schleck crashed on the cobbles, could that have been prevented by radios? And we certainly can’t forget (or at least I can’t!) Andy’s dropped chain, Alberto’s attack, and a road too small to allow a close following support car. Those things certainly weren’t prevented by radios, and they certainly all affected the outcome of the race.

And another thing- I don’t feel like the “test” days in the 2009 Tour, or even the 2010 Worlds are a good litmus test as to how it would work without radios. Most of these guys have spent the last 15 years or so using race radios. You can’t just go from radios to no radios in one day and expect everything to be the same! They need to re-learn how to ride without radios. So don’t use a couple of one-off days to judge whether or not going radio-less is a good idea.

I understand the desire to “go back to the way things were”- I’m a historian, I get it! But you can’t make a 180 degree turn back to the past after being in the very technical present for ages. You can maybe make a 90 degree turn, but you can never go back to exactly the way it was. This is why I think, like others, a good compromise would be to have an open channel, one-way radio. This way riders can be made aware of dangers/accidents/obstacles ahead on the road, gives the DS’s a purpose in their cars, and forces the riders to use their heads AND their feet.

Both sides are acting irrational, not offering any sort of feasible solutions to the problem, and are only hurting the riders who get caught in the middle. The fate of cycling is not in the hand of the race radios- let’s spend more time focusing on how to deal with dopers.

I don’t use radios, but I do use Twitter. Follow me here.

Race Watching 101

flickr user loverfishySay there’s a race coming up you’re excited to see- something like Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The day of, you flip on the TV to catch the action, right? Whoa- hold on there, Sparky. Not so fast. This is cycling we’re talking about! We don’t get spoiled with things like instant, easy access to our favorite sporting pastime. We have to prove our dedication. So, how does one experience the excitement of live coverage without the convenience of TV coverage? Take my hand and let me be your guide through the forest of the interwebs.

First…

The Basics

If any races are going to be shown on TV in the US, either live or recaps, Versus or Universal Sports are the channels to go to. However, unless it’s a big time race, it probably won’t get live coverage (Think the Grand Tours or the biggest classics). To watch the other races live, one must turn to the internet. The most basic coverage on the internet is live streaming. The feed usually isn’t great, but it’s good enough. Most coverage with English commentary comes from Eurosport. Otherwise, your best bet for coverage online comes from Belgium with Dutch commentary – usually from the Belgian channel Sporza. While watching a race with Dutch commentary might seem like a futile exercise, it’s actually quite useful! Even if one can not understand what is being said, reading the emotions and reactions of the commentators can be quite informative. This coverage can also be supplemented by Twitter and live blogging.

It is the races with no live coverage at all where the obsessive cycling fans earn their stripes – for these hearty souls, no live video coverage is but a minor speed bump in their quest for compete fandom domination. Aided by their two greatest weapons, Twitter and live blogs, no race is too obscure!

Live Coverage

As mentioned above, any live TV coverage offered in the States will either be on Versus or Universal Sports (I have no idea where you might watch live outside the States, so you’re on your own!).

Paid live coverage

When those TV execs decide we’re not worth the investment (which is most of the time), and it’s a bigger race, those channels will often offer live streaming on their websites for a fee – usually $10-15, but sometimes up to $30. Another site that offers paid coverage of a wider range of small and larger races is cycling.tv. For $80/year or $30/3 months, you have access to live race coverage with English commentary, on-demand highlights, post-race reports, etc. One of the benefits of paying for coverage is reliability and ease of access- you don’t have to search around to find a good feed and you have more flexibility to watch recaps if you miss the race. However, there are lots of free options and I’ve never paid to watch a race. This service has gotten mixed reviews, and TeamSkyFans.com has done a great in depth review of the site and its service to give you an idea if this is something you might want to use.

Free live coverage

While you have to search a little harder and the feed might not be great, there are free live feeds if you’re willing to look for them. If there is live coverage, these sites WILL find it:

  • CyclingFans.com (@cyclingfans): Here you will find links to streams, start lists, the official race website, live tickers, and schedules with start times (the local start time along with the EST start time) and an analog clock with the local time of the race (ridiculously useful, for those of us not adept at time conversions…). This is my go to site for feeds and live tickers. They also post great photos after each stage, along with any recap videos available.

  • SteepHill.tv (@steephill): This site has pretty much the same information as CyclingFans.com, and while I don’t think they do as good a job laying out the start times of live coverage, they have a great chart which lists the media source, links to online streaming, and comments about the stream.
  • ProcyclingLive (@ProcyclingLive): Only has links to live streams, but their live ticker on Twitter is killer. They’ve also started posted race/stage previews and doing a really great podcast.
Following these sites on Twitter is a great way to keep up with when live video has started for each race, as well.

Continue reading “Race Watching 101”