Words / Phrases you’ll hear during the Tour de France

With the Tour de France off and running, I have a feeling  we will all be watching a little more television than usual during July. So next time your listening to the commentary during the race have a listen for these phrases, some of which you’ll all know, but for those new to the sport lets explain some of these words/phrases.

  • General Classification. Or G.C. for short, refers to the overall standings of the race, The Tour consists of aprox 20/21 stages each of which are a race within themselves, but the main prize is referred to as the G.C. which is the cumulative time of a rider over every stage. It will take a few days/stages for the main contenders to come through but by the 2nd and 3rd week the time gaps between the top riders are the biggest talking point and judgement on how everyone is performing. 


  • Flamme rouge. This is a small red flag placed 1 km from the finish of each stage to indicate to riders the finish is fast approaching. Nowadays it is incorporated into an overhead banner usually something like an large inflatable promo/sponsorship material.


  • Peleton. This is simply the term used to describe the ‘bunch’ of cyclists in the race. When there is a small group of riders off the front of the race they will be called the ‘break’ or ‘break-away’, while the remaining riders in the main field will be referred to as the peleton.


  • Caravan.  No this is not the thing you go on holidays in…….During the Tour there is a huge fleet of publicity vehicles, race officials, media, marshals, police etc. Many of these vehicles will pass through the route 20-30mins before the race does, either passing out free publicity material or alerting the crowds to the fast approaching race. So the ‘caravan is the term used to describe all race vehicles at the front and back of the race. Nowadays the ‘caravan’ has become so big it is becoming a logistical nightmare for the race organizers to keep the whole show moving, and not interfere with the actual race itself.


  • Echelon. A echelon is formed during very strong cross-winds, where the peleton seeks to gain the most effective shelter from the wind. Instead of riding directly behind the rider infront, the cyclists will stay slightly to one side (ie on the side with the most shelter). This leads to the bunch being strung-out at angles across the road rather than in one long straight line. Some riders are much better than others at this, and often a team will use these crosswinds to their advantage and will try to split the bunch during these hard sections. Often you will see many small groups forming echelons at the front of the race which create time gaps and make it much harder for those riders sitting nearer the back of the peleton. Beware the crosswinds..!


  • Broomwagen. You don’t want to see this if your a rider.! The broomwagen is the last official race vehicle which drives behind all the team cars and is there to ‘sweep up’ any dropped riders. If a rider ends up back here its not a good sign. However the drivers of the broomwagens have become almost legendary figures, as they do anything possible (within and outside the rules) to keep the dropped riders inside the time-limit.


  • Groupetto. Another place a rider doesn’t exactly wan to be for the day. The ‘groupetto’ is mainly formed on the hard mountainous days when a group of riders are dropped by the main field very early into the stage and this small group now have to work together to stay within the time-limit. It tends to contain the heavier riders like the sprinters/time-trialists who are not as good on the steep mountain roads and have little or no interest in the general classification. Often the peleton will hear shouts of  ‘groupetto’ whilst on a difficult climb early into a stage, letting everyone know that  a ‘slow’ group is ready to be formed if they needed it.

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