Seven key French expressions to help you understand Le Tour de France

The 100-year-old annual bicycle race has long-standing traditions and even its own vocabulary

If you are trying to gain ground while on a steep ascent then the chances are you are doing la danseuse - pedalling standing up.

The Tour de France - la Grande Boucle - has returned! 

The world-famous bicycle race crossed from Italy on July 2, bringing along with it a complex terminology developed across a century of races.  We look at seven French terms to help you understand it.  

Read more: Tour de France 2024: day-by-day route tracker

Le peloton

We will start with le peloton, the main pack of riders. This 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.

Rouler en chasse-patate

If you are riding between two groups, the breakaway leaders and the peloton, you are on a potato hunt, rouler en chasse-patate.

La danseuse

If you are trying to gain ground while on a steep ascent then the chances are you are doing la danseuse - pedalling standing up.

Les domestiques

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.

À bloc / une échappée

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).

Maillot jaune / vert / blanc / à pois

Then there are the jerseys with 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.

La lanterne rouge

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