Chasing potatoes: the jargon of Le Tour

Tour de France race

Get to grips with the lingua franca of l'hexagone's big annual sporting event

Le Tour de France is back for another year (if you call it La Tour it would mean 'tower of France' instead) – and with the great French cycling tournament, nicknamed la Grande Boucle (the big loop), comes some interesting and unique vocabulary.

We will start with le peloton, the main pack of riders, which dates back to the 1600s when it was used to refer to a small body of soldiers. By the 1850s it had developed into a group of sporting competitors and shortly after it became exclusively used for cyclists.

If you are riding between two groups, the breakaway leaders and the peloton, you are on a potato hunt, rouler en chasse-patate, and if you are trying to gain ground while on a steep ascent then the chances are you are doing la danseuse, pedalling standing up.

While team captains might be the stars of the show, their team-mates are described as mere servants, domestiques, support riders whose main aim is to protect their leader from the competition and help him conserve energy for vital moments in the race.

If you are riding all out, as hard and fast as possible, you are going à bloc, presumably to break away from the rest of the group, une échappée (literally an escape).

Then there are the jerseys, the most coveted being the maillot jaune (worn by the overall tour leader). The maillot vert belongs to the best sprinter, the maillot blanc for the best rider under 25 and the stand-out fashion item on any race, the very fetching maillot à pois (polka dots) for best climber.

However there is also recognition for the rider who comes last. He is la lanterne rouge,  followed not too far behind by the, the broom car.

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