Tour de France jargon buster: all the cycling terms you need to know to understand the race

Don’t know your bidon from your lanterne rouge? BikeRadar’s glossary of Tour de France terms is here to help

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 20: Slovenian cycling fans watch the final stage of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysees and cheer on their compatriot Tadej Pogacar as he wins this year's Tour on September 20, 2020 in Paris, France. The Tour de France, first organised in 1903, is an annual 23-day, men's bicycle race. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, teams have been kept in isolated bubbles which has managed to secure no riders contracting the virus during the tour. (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)

From cranksets to disc brakes, cycling can be a jargon-filled minefield for newcomers and the Tour de France is no different.

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Cycling’s greatest race rolls out of Brest in Brittany on Saturday 26 June and every one of its 21 stages will be broadcast live. So, to help you follow the action, here’s our guide to commonly-used Tour de France terms and what they mean.

Common cycling phrases and what they mean

Autobus

Every Tour de France stage has a time limit and the autobus forms on the mountainous days when non-climbers from every team work together to finish inside the cut-off. Also known as the grupetto.

Bidon

The French word for a water bottle; many roadside fans will try to collect discarded bidons as souvenirs.

Breakaway

A small group of riders (or sometimes an individual), who accelerate away from the main bunch during a stage.

Bunch sprint

Flatter stages will usually finish with a bunch sprint – a high-octane, hell-for-leather battle for stage honours between the fastest sprinters in the peloton.

Though the peloton arrives at the finish together in a bunch sprint, it is the sprinters and their lead-out riders who contest the stage win.

Combativity award

Awarded each day to the most aggressive rider according to the race commissaires.

The combativity award rewards the rider who animated the stage by initiating a breakaway, repeatedly attacked or spent a long time in front of the bunch. The winner can be easily spotted the next day thanks to their red race numbers. An overall combativity award is also given at the end of the race.

Directeur sportif

A team’s race-day director; the master strategist; the person gesticulating wildly and conveying tactics out of the team car window.

Domestique

The unsung heroes of the team, selected to look after their team leader. Domestiques keep their lead riders safe, fed and watered and will work to chase down breakaways or try and dictate the pace of the stage.

One job of the domestique is to make sure their team and team leaders stay hydrated
One job of the domestique is to make sure their team and team leaders stay hydrated.
Getty Images / JEFF PACHOUD / Contributor

Feed zone

Lunchtime. Each stage has a dedicated feed zone, where the riders knock the pace off to collect musettes (small bags containing food and drinks) from their team soigneurs.

Flamme rouge

The one-kilometre-to-go marker, denoted by a red air bridge under which hangs a red kite.

General classification

Each rider’s finishing time is collected after the day’s stage. The general classification sorts the riders according to their cumulative time, plus or minus any bonuses or penalties.

The rider who has taken the least time to complete the race so far wears the fabled yellow jersey.

Grand Départ

The ‘Big Start’. This year’s Grand Départ will see riders start in Brest.

Grand Tour

Cycling’s three most prestigious stage races, each lasting three weeks; the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España are known as Grand Tours.

Intermediate sprint

As well as the finish line, each stage features an intermediate sprint where there are points and prize money to be won for the first riders across it.

King of the Mountains

One of the Tour de France’s secondary prizes, the mountains classification ranks the first riders across each classified climb in the race.

The tougher the climb, the more points there are available for that ascent. The leader of the mountains classification is the King of the Mountains and wears the polka-dot jersey.

Lanterne rouge

Named after the red light hung on the back of a train, the lanterne rouge is the rider placed last on the general classification.

Maillot jaune/yellow jersey

The iconic yellow jersey, or maillot jaune, is worn by the general classification leader. Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) won the yellow jersey last year.

Maillot vert/green jersey

The green jersey is the prize awarded to the points classification leader. Usually dubbed the sprinters’ classification, due to more points being available on flatter stages, Peter Sagan has won it a record seven times.

Maillot a pois/polka-dot jersey

A distinctive white jersey with red polka-dots, awarded to the leader of the mountains classification.

Maillot blanc/white jersey

The white jersey is worn by the highest-placed young rider in the general classification. All riders born on or after 1 January 1996 are eligible for this year’s youth classification.

Musette

Soigneurs wait to hand out musettes containing food and more bidons to the team riders
Soigneurs wait to hand out musettes containing food and more bidons to the team riders.
Getty Images / Chris Graythen / Staff

A small cloth shoulder bag handed out in the feed zone, containing a rider’s food and extra bidons.

Parcours

The ‘course’ or route the race is taking.

Peloton

Watch the spelling – the peloton (not peleton) is the main bunch of riders during the race.

Points classification

The top finishers in each stage and at each intermediate sprint are awarded points according to their position. Those points are added together to form the points classification, the leader of which wears the green jersey.

Rouleur

An all-rounder and often one of the hardest riders in the peloton; a rouleur can excel on all different terrains and often makes for an excellent domestique.

Soigneur

The unsung hero of a team’s staff behind the scenes, the soigneur is responsible for looking after riders off the bike and handing out musettes, bidons and extra layers of clothing during the race.

Sprinter

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 20: Sprint / Arrival / Alexander Kristoff of Norway and UAE Team Emirates / Peter Sagan of Slovakia and Team Bora - Hansgrohe / Sam Bennett of Ireland and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step Green Points Jersey Celebration / Elia Viviani of Italy and Team Cofidis Solutions Credits / Mads Pedersen of Denmark and Team Trek - Segafredo World Champion Jersey / during the 107th Tour de France 2020, Stage 21 a 122km stage from Mantes-La-Jolie to Paris Champs-Élysées / #TDF2020 / @LeTour / on September 20, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Stephan Mantey - Pool/Getty Images)
Sam Bennett wins stage 21 of the 2020 Tour de France in a classic bunch sprint.
Stephan Mantey - Pool/Getty Images

Capable of stunning bursts of acceleration over short distances, the sprinters slug it out with their counterparts in the peloton on the flatter stages.

Sprint train

Sprint trains form ahead of a bunch sprint, with team-mates providing a wheel for their sprinter to follow through the chaos that unfolds.

At the back of the train will be the lead-out man with the team’s sprinter on his wheel, ready to burst for the line at the latest possible moment.

Team classification

The team classification ranks each team according to the cumulative time of their top three finishers on every stage. The team classification leaders may – but don’t always – wear yellow helmets to distinguish them in the peloton.

Team time trial

There is no team time trial again this year. A team’s time is calculated at the fifth rider to cross the finish line.

Time trial

Stages five and 20 of this year’s Tour de France will be an individual time trial, totalling 58km between the two – the most kilometres against the clock since 2013.

Riders set off individually, in reverse general classification order, on specialised time trial bikes with the aim of finishing the stage in the quickest time.

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Often dubbed the ‘race of truth’, an individual time trial can result in big changes in the general classification. As with last year, a time trial features on the penultimate stage of the Tour and could once again decide who wears the yellow jersey on the final day to ride into Paris as this year’s winner.