Today we will see the prologue of Le Tour de France, 2010 - the 97th tour. If you've not watched cycling, I would encourage you to give it a go. I tend to treat it in the same way that I do snooker, tennis etcetera, I have it on, and then really tune into it when something catches my eye. For the uninitiated, a cycling race isn't just about who crosses the line first, there's much more to it. The Tour is a multi-stage race lasting for most of July (with occasional rest days). There are teams of cyclist which enter. The teams usually have one or two stars who are in serious contention for the 'maillot jaune' or the yellow jersey. This is the big one, the whole enchilada, the big winner. The maillot jaune is worn by the rider with the lowest cumulative time on the whole race. Alberto Contador is a man to keep an eye on for this, though by no means the only one, Shleck is another contender, as are several others. The white jersey is essentially the same competition but limited to young riders.
The green jersey is awarded for 'points'. Points are won in sprints, or by winning a stage. If the current leader in the green jersey is also the holder of the maillot jaune, then the green will be worn by the second place guy (the same goes for other jerseys).
The polka dot jersey is worn by the leader of the 'King of the Mountains' contest. Points are awarded for the first up the steeper hills.
The fastest team (determined by the fastest three in that team) bear yellow race numbers, and the rider with red race numbers is the most aggressive (as determined by a panel).
The peloton is the big bunch of riders. This is the most efficient place to be as you can stay out of the wind. In the closing stages of the race, a breakaway usually needs to be at least a minute ahead of the peloton for every km if they're to be able to stay away.
In a team, there are climbers, sprinters, domestiques and so forth. A domestique is the unsung hero of the team. It is their job to act as a windbreak for the team leader (the guy with the best chance of glory) so that he can arrive relatively fresh at the finish and take victory; it is their job to drop back to the team car, collect water and ferry it back to the big names; and in a pinch, it is their job to sacrifice their bike for a team-mate if the team car can't get there quickly enough. A climber aims for the polkadot jersey (doh!) and sprinters tend to be the guys to pop out for the stage wins.
Some riders are specialists on descents (this is spectacular to watch, but it's where they often put the ad-breaks as the racing is really decided on the uphills).
Some riders will sit out on front, away from the peloton with no hope of staying away in the knowledge that it'll give their sponsors lots of screen time!
Sometimes there is a breakaway, and nobody reacts - this is as the breakaway rider is not a threat for any of the jerseys. Sometimes a rider who is a threat will break away only to drop back - breakaways usually have to have a few riders so that they can take turns being wind-breaks, and take turns 'resting'.
It's like high speed chess on the roads of France (and Belgium, and the Netherlands).
Today, we have the prologue stage. This is a short time trial and won't really separate the field, but it will allow the jerseys to be determined for the first stage tomorrow. The prologue will be in Rotterdam.
Personally I'm not that keen on the time trial, I like a good mountain stage, and there are some really good mountain stages in this race - the ride goes over the famous col du Tourmalet in the pyrenees, not once, but twice.
In the UK, you can see the Tour on ITV 4 (from 4pm) and Eurosport (from 3:15pm). Personally, I prefer the Eurosport coverage (but can only see that on cable, I'm not paying twice for the privilege of watching it upstairs, and I've no slingbox!)
More information is on steephill.tv (which I think is a very useful but too busy website - it could do with decluttering)