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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

What’s a Peloton? Ramping Up for the 2022 Tour de France’s Conclusion

The 109th Tour de France wraps up Sunday on Paris’ iconic Champs-Élysées. While watching the race, viewers will notice the many different and unusual terms used in the broadcast, so we thought we would help break it down a bit. [Evansville Living] sat down with our distribution and circulation manager — and longtime cycling enthusiast — Gregg Martin to learn more about the famous race.

One of the first things you may notice when watching the annual cycling event is a dense pack of riders that naturally forms on the course. While frontrunners and those who fall behind tend to be spread out, this pack — called a peloton — is the main group of riders.

Made a household name by the popular brand of fitness equipment, the French term originally meant platoon. The peloton’s grouping helps reduce drag for riders in the middle of a well-developed group.

“You get aerodynamics from riding behind a rider,” says Martin, who has raced locally with his brother since 1975. “You want to be about six inches behind the wheel of the other rider. You use about 30 percent less energy behind another rider.”

The “France” in the event’s name accounts for its course that winds mostly through the beautiful countryside of the French nation and its finish line on the Champs-Élysées. But the course changes every year. In fact, this year’s 3,349.8-kilometer trek started July 1 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has taken the 176 riders into Belgium and Switzerland.

While it may be hard to tell from an untrained eye watching on a TV screen, the race actually is not all individual: Riders are grouped into teams. Martin says the Tour’s 22 teams each are made up of eight members, although some withdraw as the race goes on. The eight cyclists race each of the 21 stages at the same time, and each must cross the finish line. The goal is to get their leader of the general classification into first place and the iconic yellow jersey.

This contender is supported by domestiques (French for “servant”) who ride alongside the leader and sacrifice their own individual chances to assist with the likes of exchanging water bottles and handling mechanical issues. The top sprinter wears a green jersey and is the rider who earns the most points from stage wins and intermediate sprints, while the top climber sports a white jersey with red dots and collects for mountain routes. Martin says there are many other roles on the team, and it can be confusing for those who have the impression that cycling is an individual sport.

“It really is a team sport,” he says. “There is one winner, but the team puts him where he needs to be. If he was at the front of the peloton the whole time, he’d just wear out.”

Race watchers are drawn in for different reasons. Some are attracted to the stunning natural and historic sceneries, but some, like Martin, love the technicalities.

“The tactical maneuvers that they use are one of my favorite parts,” he says. “This event is a great sport to watch. My favorite stage is the team time trial.”

As of press time at the conclusion of Stage 17 between Saint-Gaudens and Peyragudes, Jonas Vingegaard of Denmark held the top ranking, followed closely by Tadej Pogacar of the United Arab Emirates. The 2022 Tour de France concludes Sunday. Tri-State viewers can watch the finale on their local NBC or USA Network channel.

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