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Decoding the Tour de France commentary

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The Tour de France is here, which means hours and hours of almost uninterrupted commentary. To help you out, we’ve cobbled together a jargon-busting glossary for your reference.

A Glossary of Cycling Commentary


A rider with lots of “fight” who can attack aggressively on mixed terrain. E.g. Steve Cummings or Thomas De Gendt.


Bonk/Hit the wall

A sudden and complete physical disintegration of an individual rider.


Boxed in

When a sprinter finds himself blocked in by rivals or wedged against the fences.



The group of riders who splits off from the front of the peloton at the beginning of each stage.


Burying himself/leaving it all out on the road

When a rider holds nothing back in his quest for a stage win or in service of his team leader.



The noisy parade of publicity and sponsor vehicles that precedes the race, stirring up the spectators and hurling otherwise valueless freebies into their midst.


Tour de France Peloton ClimbingCombativité

The most combative (aggressive) rider on each stage – nearly always the last breakaway rider to be absorbed and nearly always a Frenchman – gets to visit the podium and is awarded with a red dossard (race number). There is also an overall super-combativity prize awarded in Paris.



The race jury hand out fines, relegations or expulsions (*cough* Sagan *cough*) for infractions including badly attached race numbers, sticky bottles or elbowing Mark Cavendish in the ribs…


“Digging deep in his suitcase of courage”

Describes a phenomenal performance of a single rider.


Directeur sportif (DS)

The sports director is a manager, coach and tactician rolled into one. They follow the race from the team car handing out bottles, food and tactical advice.



A rider whose sole role is to ride in support of his team leader(s), which might involve collecting bottles from the team car, leading them back to the group after a call of nature or maintaining a high pace on the front of the peloton.



When a hefty crosswind blows, the peloton splits into a series of diagonal lines across the road, each rider protected by the one just in front of him. Where there are echelons, there are nearly always splits.


Flamme Rouge

literally meaning red flame, the flamme rouge marks one kilometre to go.


Tour de France in Paris
Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/54817657@N00/

Giving it the beans/full gas/putting the hammer down

Riding at absolute maximum effort.


Going long

When a lone rider breaks off the front an improbable distance from the finish, e.g. Steve Cummings, Philippe Gilbert, Sylvain Chavanel.



A climber. Simple.



On mountain stages, the larger riders more accustomed to flat terrain form their own large group and ride together to the finish, making sure to get back within the time cut.


Hurt box

When one team applies such an infernal pace that no one else has a hope of attacking – “putting them in the hurt box”.


Lanterne Rouge

Refers to the red lantern hung on the rear of a passenger train and attributed to the last rider in the general classification.


Chris Froome running in yellow jerseyMaillot

Literally, jersey. Maillot jaune = yellow jersey, worn by the general classification leader.


Patron (with obligatory French accent)

The patrons of the peloton are the most experienced, most French – unless you’re Fabian Cancellara – and oldest riders on the race. This year, look to Sylvain Chavanel.



The race route. E.g. “this year’s parcours are uncharacteristically lumpy”.



The main group of riders on the road.


Pointy end

Towards the end of each stage or the race as a whole, as in “we’re getting to the pointy end of racing now”.



“Punchy” by definition, a puncheur flies up short, sharp climbs with an unmatchable turn of pace. E.g. Julian Alaphilippe.


Road captain

Often the most experienced rider on the team, the road captain is not necessarily the same as the team leader. It is his responsibility to make sure communication is maintained within the team and with the sports directors.



Your typical strong man who excels on the front of the peloton for long stretches.


“Shelled”/out the back

If the speed is really high or the gradient too tough, some riders will find themselves falling off the pace and slipping off the back of the group.


Stamping tickets

In the gruppetto, one rider (“patron”) takes charge – stamping tickets – and ensuring that everyone makes it to the finish.


Stick the knife in

Towards the end of a tough (often mountain) stage, it is typical for the strongest rider(s) to repetitively attack their rivals until they accelerate one last time, sticking the knife in and riding away for good.


Sticky bottle

When a rider gets dragged along illegally by their DS in the team car.


The elastic has snapped

When the gap between groups – peloton and breakaway or attacker – stretches out and the chasers seem to let them go.


And that’s it, you’re now ready to face the hours of chatter between commentators. Have you heard any more wacky terms during a race? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

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