We started this idea of using our past posters to describe the present stages of the Tour de France with the worry that favorite posters wouldn’t find a place in the narrative. Today, one of the most important ones gets pulled in.
Today was a great day to watch the Tour for two reasons.
First, you got to really see a great physics demonstration of how drafting works. Drafting is what you see in Nascar racing where one car will pull close to another car’s back bumper to get into the front car’s slipstream and essentially be pulled along. If you can get close enough the amount of work you have to do is much reduced. Then when you want to pass, because you have all of this extra energy in reserve, you can slingshot around and pass the front car within a few seconds.
The same thing is true with cyclists. The cyclist riding in front has to do 100% of the work of riding into the wind. A rider right behind might only have to do 85% as much work to keep up. A 3rd rider tightly tightly tucked in only has to do 70%. After that there isn’t much, if any, gain in effort.
So, the peloton is racing across Southern France at high speed, several times clocked at 40mph. When riding at high speed the line of riders tends to stretch out. So, imagine 100 riders, generally no more than 3 or 4 wide, trying to stay close to the rider in front of them so as to have the physics of drafting working for them, and all of a sudden you are hit with a crosswind that disturbs your speed. All of a sudden a gap of only a couple of meters opens up between you and the rider right in front of you. In only a few seconds you go from doing only 70% as much work as the rider leading the pack in front of you, to 100%. That causes a bit more gap. All of a sudden you cannot catch back up and the gap gets wider and wider.
Below is what the peloton looks like when that happens.
You see the main peloton at the top being pushed to the right by the winds coming in from the left.
Below that you see 3 groups with the riders in each group trying to hide behind the rider in front of them. It takes a very strong rider to bridge the gap to the next group and typically the strongest riders are in that first group. And the rest of the 192 riders still in the race are off the back.
Here is the poster from July 13, 2013, exactly 3 years to the day ago, that is at least in my top 5 of all 115 posters we did related to the Tour. It think it is a poster that comes close to explaining an situation that is quite complicated.
Click on the image to see the original story of that poster.
From there can link to a larger image of the poster.
Collaborating on the poster were 2 former students, Jeannie Marcotte Wagner & Jessica Koman.
The second great part of the day was a demonstration of how team cycling strategy works.
About 12km from the finish, with everyone struggling with the winds, most all of the significant sprinter teams were just starting to position themselves near the front of the peloton in anticipation of their leadout teammates taking them to victory.
Peter Sagan, one of the best and most exciting riders, and one of his teammates took off in a burst of speed. Immediately Chris Froome, who is currently leading the General Classification and wearing the Yellow Jersey, took off behind them. They were quickly followed by his teammate, Geriant Thomas. This all happened over a period of maybe 10 seconds. Wait another couple and you cannot catch them. Everyone else waited too long.
So you have two of the most powerful riders in the Tour and each has a teammate. Those teammates live to support their team leaders and the two leaders each of a serious incentive to get to the finish line in the first couple of positions. The main peloton had paused just long enough for the 4 to get away eventually building up a 23 second lead.
Additionally, the first 3 riders across the finish line get a time bonus. First gets 10 seconds, 2nd gets 6, and 3rd gets 4, in addition to any true time differences. Today’s stage was expected to be one for sprinters and 4 other guys were breaking up in line big time.
Because Froome wants to gain time on his competitors and Sagan wants to gain sprinter points his competitors, and the two other riders are paid to support their teammates, the 4 of them worked together like a well-made Swiss watch. Eventually they only won by 6 seconds, but that that was a big 6 seconds. Sagan won the Lion’s (Tour de France mascot is a lion) share of sprinter points and Froome had a gap of 6 seconds on his nearest rivals and getting 6 seconds time bonus for coming in 2nd, they both won big on a day that the real sprinters were expecting glory.
Bob Roll, one of the announcers for the telecast, said it was the most amazing end to a stage he had ever seen, and he has seen a lot of stages end.
You watch the telecast for 4 hours to seriously watch that final 12 minutes that it takes to cover 12k.