The Tour de France begins tomorrow. Watching the race every morning for three weeks is one of the things I look forward to every summer. I also find that it provides some neat opportunities for science, health, and physical education lessons. Here are some of my go-to resources for teaching and learning about the Tour de France.
What do the Tour de France jerseys mean?
The yellow jersey is worn by the overall leader of the race. The goal is to be wearing it at end of the race in Paris. Riders competing for this jersey are often referred to as competing for the general classification. The odds-on favorites this year include Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič, and Ben O’Connor. My hope is that Geraint Thomas makes a good run at the GC this year (he won in 2018 and he has a great podcast).
The green jersey, also known as the points jersey, is typically won by riders who aren’t built for uphill speed, but are faster than everyone else on flat ground. Mark Cavendish won this jersey last year, but this year’s favorite is Wout Van Aert. Peter Sagan has won the jersey seven times and is back to try again.
The polka dot jersey is known as the King of the Mountains jersey. This won by having the most points for ascending the hills and mountains the fastest. Riders who win this are typically those who are great at riding up hill, but for one reason or another aren’t competitive enough to win the general classification. There are lots of riders who have the potential to win this depending on team and individual goals. Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet, and Nairo Quintana are names to watch for this competition.
The white jersey is a prize for the best young rider (under 25). The last three white jerseys were won by riders who also won the yellow jersey.
How Fast is the Slowest Tour de France Rider?
Last year I evaluated the Strava
data of the rider who finished last in the Tour de France. It shows that even the last-place finisher is incredibly fast! You can read my breakdown of the data here
The Science of Bicycles and Bicycling
There is a lot of physics involved in casual bike riding and in racing. Here’s a selection of videos that explain the physics of bicycling.
The first time that you ride in a pack of experienced cyclists you’ll feel the power of drafting. Besides their incredible fitness and bike handling skills, drafting helps cyclists in the Tour de France move quickly. The following video explains how drafting works.
Minute Physics offers two videos about the physics of bicycles. In How Do Bikes Stay Up? we learn how bikes stay upright, how design and weight influences balance, and why bicycles are difficult to balance in reverse. The Counterintuitive Physics of Turning a Bike explains how we turn bicycles.
The Diet of a Tour de France Racer
I’ve done some long days on my bike over the years including a double-century ride and at the end I’ve always felt like I could eat anything in sight. That’s because I burned thousands of calories. But even then I didn’t burn the 6,000-8,000+ calories that a typical Tour de France racer burns every day of the race.
What does it look like and feel like to eat like a professional cyclist? That’s what the Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Robinson set out to discover in his 6,000 calorie challenge. Take a look at the video below to see how he did it. Pay attention to the professional cyclist at the 2:40 mark in the video for commentary about energy gels because it surprise you and make you rethink the whether or not the average weekend warrior needs the expensive “sports energy” products for a simple hour workout.
If you want to get into a bit more of the science of nutrition of cyclists, take a look at this video featuring the team nutritionist for EF Education First’s professional cycling team.
How Much Do Professional Cyclists Make?
In his book Draft Animals
, Phil Gaimon, a retired professional cyclist, detailed his struggles to makes end meet while racing. The take-away from reading that book is that unlike professional Major League Baseball or National Basketball Association teams in which even the last person on the bench is paid ten times what a teacher makes in a year, professional cycling teams have one or two highly-paid ($1 million+) athletes and most of the rest make salaries in the range of teachers and school district administrators. In this 2019 article Cycling Tips detailed how much riders can earn in the Tour de France
and throughout the professional cycling season.