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How Watching the Tour de France Can Make you a Better Cyclist

How Watching the Tour de France Can Make you a Better Cyclist

by: Dru Ryan
Monday, July 18, 2016 - 7:30am

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How Watching the Tour de France Can Make you a Better Cyclist


The Tour de France is the world's largest annual sporting event. Spanning three weeks and covering over 2000 miles, it is a grueling physical challenge. Competing in le Tour is the annual goal of most professional cyclists. Next year, Virginia natives Joe Dombrowski and/or Ben King may ride the Tour. Though few of us will ride a Tour de France stage, most casual cyclists live vicariously through the performances of their favorite riders. In watching the Tour, cyclists learn tidbits about the sport as well as tips on form and technique. Here are a few things you may pick up on by watching the greatest riders in the world:

  1. Being a willing sufferer: Jens Voight, coined one of cycling’s catchiest maxims: “Shut up Legs.” Cycling is about introducing your body to stress and having it respond elegantly. Outdoors, the option to turn down the resistance is doesn’t exist. You either walk or pedal. Pushing your body on climbs is a prerequisite for all, and the suffering often goes unrewarded. One team role, the domestique embraces suffering willingly. They protect the team leader from wind on flats, pace them up an incline, or drop back to the team car and load their jersey with water bottles for teammates. These riders push their bodies to the limit, and rarely get the spotlight. Suffering for others is a truly noble act. Next time you’re on the bike, dedicate the hill climb to someone else.

Alejandro Valverde of Spain. Photo by Pete Van Riper

  1. Gain a Better Understanding of Cadence: Spin classes tend to overemphasize cadence (how fast you turn the pedals) and underemphasize resistance. Unlike running, golf, and swimming where the newbie has some idea of how the professional do it, few people have seen a professional cyclist rotate the pedals. Cadence generally ranges from 85-100 revolutions per minute. And hips don’t bounce. Look for the wide shots where a line of riders are pedaling. It’s a cool contrast study. Cadence when riding out of the saddle is a challenge for many cyclists, Tour riders present a range of styles to emulate.

  2. Cycling Strategy makes Riding More Interesting: Learning individual and team tactics in cycling, changes the way you watch, and ultimately play. The Madden NFL video game franchise undoubtedly improved the football IQ of a generation -- yes, there is a Tour de France video game. Cycling teams may ride in pace lines (where one rider leads and others share the draft), attack on hills, or move to the front and control the race with their collective power. Specialist riders (*climbers or time-trialists) may get a chance to breakaway from the group (called the peloton) and go for individual glory or they may have the job of leading a climber up a hill or a sprinter to the finish line. After a few stages of the Tour, you will find yourself pedaling with more purpose. Knowing more about the sport, you will see yourself as a cyclist and not just a bike rider.

  3. Find motivation in the jersey: There are four jerseys in the Tour. The yellow Jersey is the overall leader, the strongest overall rider. The green jersey is for the best sprinter. The red, polka-dot jersey is for the best climber. And for some of us, we can dream of wearing the white jersey, best rider under 25. When riding, pursue your jersey of choice, find some extra climbs and wear the polka dots. Or maybe the yellow jersey and forgo any recovery periods. Everyone loves the sprints, no motivation needed there. Soon, you’ll be emulating your favorite rider and perhaps challenging for a virtual jersey.

  4. Perfect your Form: Steve Jobs called the computer a bicycle for your mind. Jobs mentions an efficiency of motion study where humans placed in the lower third of species when it comes to running. However, we blow EVERY other species away when the medium changes to a bike. Few of us have the core strength to pull the handlebars down as low as a professional or seat as high. However, relaxed shoulders, correct saddle position, and pedal intensity can all be gleaned from watching the Tour.

Ashley Gruber --

You can watch the Tour de France on NBC SportsNetwork. For those who’ve cut the cord, here’s the app. The final stage of the Tour includes a women’s race, look out for Coryn Rivera from the United States, she has a good chance to win.

Each year, one of my favorite reads is Bicycling Magazine’s article comparing a Tour de France Rider with a casual cyclist. I find great motivation in slowly closing the gap. S L O W L Y. .

About the Author

Dru Ryan is a daily bike commuter, indoor cycling coach (EquinoxCrunch, Mint DC) and road cyclist who averages 200 miles a week. Follow Dru on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook or visit his website