Tour de France rules - frequently asked questions

Jerseys and other rules explained

What do the different coloured jerseys mean?

Yellow

The fabled maillot jaune is worn by the overall leader on general classification (GC) and is the sum of each day's finish times. The race leader is therefore the rider with the lowest total time for the race. There are no time bonuses on offer at this year's Tour, unlike the Giro d'Italia.

Green

The maillot vert is often referred as the best sprinter or points competition jersey; the latter is more accurate. Points are allocated at two lines each day: an intermediate sprint and at the finish. Points are allocated to the first 15 riders across both lines on a  sliding scale. The rider with the most points at the end of each day's race is awarded the green jersey - unless the leader is also wearing the yellow jersey, in which place it goes to the second rider in the competition

Polka dot

The white jersey with red dots is awarded to the race's best climber, or to be precise, to the winner of a points contest that's conducted at the top of each of the race's climbs. The higher the category of the climb (from an easy fourth category hill to a very hard HC mountain), the more points for being the first across the line at the top. On the Tour's five summit finishes in 2014, the points on offer will be doubled.  

White

Best young rider. 'Young' in the case of a Grand Tour stage race means born after January 1, 1985. In some sports 25-year-old athletes are making retirement plans, but in cycling, and especially in stage racing, riders often don't develop the necessary stamina to succeed until their mid-to-late 20s. Of course there are exceptions. Eddy Merckx was 24 when he won his first Tour in 1969, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was 24 when he won the Giro d'Italia this year.

For more see BikeRadar's Tour de France jerseys and prize money explained.

What's the average speed of the Tour de France?

The average speed of modern editions of the Tour de France is typically in the region of 40km/h (25mph). The fastest ever Tour de France average speed was 41.654 km/h (25.88mph) over the 3608km of the 2005 edition. Note, the winner that year, Lance Armstrong, was subsequently disqualified from all his Tour victories for doping.

The 2010-2012 editions of the Tour averaged between 39.5 and 40km/h. Last year the speed crept up to 40.5km/h. 

The fastest average speed in a mass start road stage of the Tour de France is 50.355 km/h over 194.5km by Mario Cipollini in the Laval-Blois stage in 1999. The fastest ever prologue time trial (under 8km) is 55.152km/h over 7.2km, set by Chris Boardman in the prologue of the 1994 Tour de France in Liege. The fastest mid-length (8-30km) time trial was 54.676km/h over 19km set by David Zabriskie in the first stage of the 2005 Tour. The fastest long time trial is 54.359km/h over 49km, ridden by David Millar in stage 19 of the 2003 Tour.

Average speeds in the Tour are influenced by wind direction and strength, hilliness, aerodynamics, weight, tactics and of course rider power output.

How long is the Tour de France?

The Tour's length has changed greatly since it first started in 1903 with a 2,428km race. The following year was the shortest ever Tour at 2,420km, before the trend towards longer races took hold. This peaked in 1926 with a 5,745km race, which was the longest ever Tour de France. Since 1999, the Tour's length has varied between 3,282km and 3,657km run over 21 stages. The 2014 Tour de France is 3,664km long.

Why do so many riders have the same finish time? They can't all cross the line together surely?

It's impossible for 180 riders to all cross the line simultaneously, of course, so the Tour (and most other stage races) operates the legal fiction that all the riders in the race's main pack cross the line at the same time as the first rider of that group. But if a split forms and the gap is larger than one second, the next group gets the time of the first rider of that group. Overall, it's designed to save a mad rush for the line and in most cases it's too difficult to allocate separate times.

How is the teams classification calculated?

The teams classification is calculated based on the total time of the first three riders across the line from each team each day, rather than the first three riders on general classification from each team. The winner of this classification is the team with the lowest cumulative overall time at the end of 20 stages. If a team is reduced to less than three riders, they are eliminated from the teams competition.

How do you get a negative number of points in the points classification?

A number of readers have commented on a curiosity in the points classification in the fight for the green jersey, where some riders actually have negative points. This arises because the organisers impose penalties for various infractions in a number of ways. The most common is a monetary fine, paid in Swiss francs. A harsher penalty is to add time from the rider's GC time, or deduct points from their points tally. If the rider has been particularly naughty, they will be disqualified from the race.

Riders can be penalised in a lot of ways, e.g. hanging onto a team car, or taking too many "bottles" from the director sportif; answering the call of nature in front of the public (when you gotta go, you gotta go); causing another rider to crash, or otherwise riding dangerously in the bunch; hitching a ride to the finish in the Tour director, Christian Prudhomme's car; giving spectators the evil eye, and so on.

What method is used to decide who wears the green jersey when two riders are tied on points?

When two riders have an equal number of points, the criteria used to decide who should wear the green jersey is the rider with the most number of second places where points have been allocated, then the most number of third places, and so on.

What is the most Combative jersey?

The rider leading the combativité classification is often mentioned, but more so on the flatter stages that allow for opportunists like Jacky Durand, who was famous for his suicide breaks in the Tour, to show their bravery (or in some cases, stupidity). There is no jersey to mark out the leader of the classification, but instead, the rider wears red rider numbers as opposed to the white numbers worn by the rest of the riders. If the leader of the most combative classification wore a easily distinctive jersey, he would become a marked man and not be able to escape - hence the subtle use of red patches that show his rider number.

The honour of the most aggressive rider is decided on the road each day during stages chaired by a panel elected by the Tour director, Christian Prudhomme. The overall winner of the classification is determined by adding the points given by all members of the panel in each of the road stages.

What do the climb categories mean?

Climbs are graded according to their severity, from fourth (easy) to first (hard) category, plus the very hardest climbs which are considered 'hors categorie' or 'beyond category'. The gradings take into account the length and steepness of the climb and the position of the climb in the stage, with the quality of the road surface making up a final, less important factor.

How are the gradients calculated?

A grade of, say, ten percent, simply means that the road ascends ten metres for every 100m it travels horizontally. For those with a mathematical bent, it's a simple tangent ratio. Climb grades are averages for the whole climb, so a straightforward-sounding six percent grade can hide some much steeper pitches that make it a monster.

So how fast are these guys, really?

Average speeds, even across the same race route, can vary markedly depending on the tactics employed by various teams. Generally speaking, on a flat-ish stage of around 200 kilometres in length, the average speed of the peloton would be in excess of 50 km/h on the flatter sections and around 60 km/h in the final kilometres of the stage. Obviously for a break to stay away, they need to be moving faster than the peloton; and by using time checks from the race organisers as well as information from team directors, the riders in the break know what speed they need to be travelling at to stay away and the riders in the bunch know what speed they need to be moving at to catch the break - which is why it almost seems to happen like clockwork when the peloton bridge the gap to the breakaway group, often with less than 10 km to go.

Climbing speeds are particularly difficult to place an arbitrary figure on due to the huge variation in gradients, relative altitude, temperature, wind velocity and direction, and road surfaces. Again, generally speaking, on a climb like Mont Ventoux with an average gradient of around 7.5 percent, the riders in the "laughing group" would be travelling at around 10 km/h on the steeper sections of the climb due to its severity.

Again, the speeds encountered in bunch sprints vary depending on the type of finish; however the winners in previous stages of the Tour de France have reached speeds in excess of 70 kilometres an hour. Now that's movin'.

How much money does the Tour winner get?

The winner from the previous few Tours has hatted €450,000, but becasue it's impossible to win the Tour de France without the assistance of a team, the winner traditionally divides his winnings among the team. Everybody who completed the 2013 race received a payment - everybody from 91st on GC downwards was given €400.

There's a lot of prize money at stake in the Tour de France, then, and not simply for the final winner. Money is awarded in individual stages down to 25th. Daily prizes are also given to the leader of each jersey competition, and each points or mountain sprint carries its own prizes for the first three across the line. Additional prizes are awarded each day to the most aggressive rider (Prix de la Combativité), as well as special primes throughout the race.

Finally, bonuses aren't just available to those who win. A special prize of €1,500 per rider is given to each team that finishes with at least 7 of its 9 riders.

How do the organizers decide the start order for the prologue and following time trials throughout the race?

The start order for the prologue of any Grand Tour is determined by race management, with last year's winner always riding last. The start order for the following time trials is based on a rider's time on general classification from the stage prior to the time trial, with the riders lowest on the overall classification leaving first.

If a rider was first last year and wears number 1, why doesn't last year's second place wear number 2?

The only rider number that indicates the placing of a rider from the previous year's race is the overall winner. There is no particular order for the riders from other teams, though it is customary for the team's protected GC rider to also wear the dossard that ends in a one - 11, 31 181, etc.

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