For Tour riders, mountains hold special significance
The Alps don't sneak up on you.
effort as you watch the group leave you behind. But you'd better recover quickly, because your day's not done yet.
When there are several mountain passes to cross in one day, a support rider may take a turn pacing the lead group, then get dropped once his turn is over, and then have to recover and chase back to the lead group on the descent from that mountain so he can repeat the cycle on the next climb.
And while you're behind the lead group and close to the team car, why don't you pack your jersey full of water bottles for the guys up front? Nothing says devotion like climbing the Alps carrying seven pounds of other people's water.
Perhaps the most amazing performance you'll see in the entire Tour de France is a teammate dropping back from the lead group on a major climb to pick up bottles from the team car. Think about that for a second. The lead group is going so fast it's left more than 160 of the world's best cyclists scattered all over the side of a mountain. You now have to slow down, go back to the team car, pick up added weight, and then ride faster than the leaders to catch back up to the group and deliver your precious cargo.
When the domestiques look out their windows at the mountains, they see hardship; yet they'll bury themselves time and again if it means a victory lap in Paris.
If there's one group of riders who dread the mountains, it's the sprinters. The fast-twitch muscle fibers that make them so fast on flat ground don't help them as much when the road tilts up.
Yet, if they want to win the most coveted sprint in cycling on the Champs Elysees in Paris, they have to make it over the mountains. Since they are so much slower in the mountains, the sprinters risk being eliminated from the race based on the time cut. Riders finishing more than 20 percent slower than the stage winner are not allowed to start the next day.
As insurance against the time cut, the riders at the back of the race consolidate into what's sometimes referred to as the ``laughing group.'' By the time they get to the finish, the group can contain 30-70 riders. The race officials can't realistically eliminate a third of the peloton, so by sticking together, the men of the laughing group live to ride another day. When the sprinters look out at the mountains ... actually, they prefer not to look.
Love them or hate them, epic mountain stages are the heart and soul of the Tour de France; and this year the race is most likely going to be won through an extraordinary climbing performance. No one knows where or when it will happen, nor by whom, which is exactly why the Tour de France captivates millions of fans every July.