Sports 101

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From its beginnings in 1903, the Tour de France - the Super Bowl of cycling - has grown into the most popular cycling event in the world. It is the third-most-watched sporting event, just after the World Cup soccer tournament and the Olympic Games. It takes incredible endurance and athleticism to complete the 2,400-mile route around France's flat and hilly countryside.

The Tour de France will finish with the traditional sprint down the Champs-lyses in Paris on Aug. 2.

Q: This year's tour started in Ireland. How many other times has the race started outside France?

A: 12.

Q: Who is sponsoring the United States team?

A: The United States Postal Service has paid more than $1 million to back America's team.

Q: How long is the tour, and how is it broken up?

A: The three-week tour runs about 2,400 miles and is separated into 23 stages of different distances.

Q: How many teams are participating?

A: There are 21 teams (consisting of nine members each) worldwide.

Q: What do the different-colored jerseys mean?

A: Yellow - The most prestigious jersey worn by the overall race leader (the rider with the lowest time at the end of each stage).

Green - Second-most-coveted jersey. The first 25 riders to finish each stage score points. The rider with the current highest point tally wears green.

Polka Dot (white with red spots) - "King of the mountain" jersey. Every climb in the tour is classified for its severity, from Category 4 (easiest) to the hors category (so tough it is beyond classification). The top riders (from three to 15) to reach each summit score points.

Q: Why is cycling considered a team sport?

A: Each team is formed around one or two "stars" - men who are capable of winning the big race. The rest of the team members are called domestiques (helpers), because their job is to do the dirty work for the stars. This may consist of chasing down rivals, carrying food and drinks, and sometimes even giving up a bike. The difference between a star and a domestique? A team leader must do everything well (climb, sprint, etc.).

Q: Who gets the team prize, and how much is it?

A: The prize goes to the squad with the lowest aggregate time for their leading three men on each stage. In addition to receiving yellow caps, they are awarded 996,000 francs ($166,332).

* Please e-mail comments to: parneyl@csps.com

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