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Around the Academy:

Mario Cipollini mixes it up on the flats
Mario Cipollini mixes it up on the flats

For most of the day, especially on long flat stages, the race rides in one big bunch known as the peloton, from the French word for 'herd'.

Small groups or individuals may break away from the peloton in the hope of gaining enough of a lead to stay away for the rest of the day and take the glory of a stage win.

Even though the riders in a breakaway are often from rival teams they may agree to work together, sharing the pacemaking.

But normally the opening few hours of a stage are just a wearing-down process building up to a climax in the last hour.

Then one of two things will happen.

Dutchman Erik Dekker won three stages in the 2000 race in breakaways
Dekker is a kamikaze breakaway whizz

Either a breakaway will succeed or the peloton will near the finish line all bunched together and the stage will be decided in a mass sprint.

Most teams have riders specifically employed for their explosive sprint finish.

The last half-hour of the race can get extremely fast as each team tries to make it impossible for rival teams to get any of their sprinters ahead.

And so no one can leap away from the bunch late on.

Each team wants to get their man to the front of the bunch with 200 metres to go so that he has a better chance of winning.

This is another job for the domestiques.

Things can get pretty hairy in the high-speed sprints
Someone comes a cropper in the sprint

One by one they sacrifice their own chance for victory by leading out the sprint and then swinging aside.

This goes on until just one man lies ahead of the team's main sprinter.

He will then barge his way through the remaining riders with the aim of getting his star man to the front.

Then he too will pull aside 200 metres from the line and let his team's sprinter battle it out with the other team's big sprinters for the line.


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Introduction
Domestiques
Flat stages
Time trials
Mountain stages

Did you know?
In the last 200 metres of the race the sprinters often reach speeds close to 60km/h.


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