Tour de France: 10 Wacky Rules of the Greatest Cycling Race in the World
The Tour de France often looks like a hectic free-for-all as the tightly packed peloton flies through the French countryside.
Riders must constantly jockey for position with the athletes around them while trying to gain every advantage possible to win. How the tour works can be a bit tough to understand in its own right.
But in addition to the complicated race format, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), which regulates the race, has precise rules that all riders and team members must follow. Some restrictions, like not cutting the course, seem obvious. Others seem arbitrary, unnecessary, or downright weird.
Here are a few of the strangest rules Tour de France riders must follow.
No Littering in the Tour de France
Bikes are good for the environment, right? So races should be, too. Per UCI guidelines, athletes face hefty fines and point deductions if they toss gel packaging, bottles, clothing, or trash outside designated zones outlined by race officials.
Wout van Aert has already received one such fine during this year’s Tour de France. The UCI levies punishment for littering when an offense meets the following criteria:
“*(A) Rider or team staff disposing of waste or other objects outside of litter zones, or not returned to team or organisation staff, not collected by team staff, thrown at a spectator. Disposing waste or other objects in a careless or dangerous manner (e.g., bottle or other object remaining or bouncing back on the road, thrown directly or with excessive force at spectator, causing dangerous manoeuvre by other rider or vehicle, causing spectator to move onto the road).”
The first infraction amounts to roughly a $500 fine and a 25-point deduction from the UCI rankings. A second infraction comes with a $1,000 fine and a 50-point deduction in UCI rankings. A third offense is a bit nastier. It results in a $1,500 fine, a 75-point deduction in UCI rankings, and elimination or disqualification from the race.
No Pushes From Spectators
The UCI prohibits pushing off of cars, motorcycles, or riders. It also prohibits riders and spectators from pushing other riders.
Fans frequently run next to riders to offer support, particularly during grueling climbs. But a push can have severe consequences for a rider, including a 20% penalty in the points classification for sprints (green jersey) or in King of Mountain (KOM) classifications (polka-dot jersey) and a 10-second penalty per infraction.
No Spraying Liquid From Cars
Sometimes, stages get hot. It’s common to see riders spraying themselves with their bottles to get their core temperature down.
The UCI has no problem with riders giving themselves a refreshing spray, but if someone gives them one from a team car, that is just a bridge too far.
The UCI fines drivers about $200 per infraction for giving riders a spray on the course.
No Public Urination or Undressing
If you’re on a bike for several hours ingesting enough liquid to float Noah’s ark, nature is going to call. It’s normal for riders at the Tour de France and other grand tours to stop to relieve themselves during portions of races where they still have time to catch up with the peloton.
According to UCI rules, however, this is a no-no. If race officials identify a rider urinating, they can levy a fine of anywhere from about $200 to $500.
Riders often stop in large packs to relieve themselves simultaneously, so race officials can’t get them all.
No Assistance From Other Teams
If you wonder whether cyclists competing in grand tours have any honor, sometimes it just isn’t allowed. Per UCI rules, riders cannot receive assistance from other teams during races. This rule comes with a significant punishment as well. Riders can be penalized anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes per infraction, with a roughly $500 fine.
Two minutes is a massive margin in a stage race like the Tour de France. That kind of deficit could be a nail in the coffin of a rider, even if they are at the front of the pack.
Richie Porte learned this lesson the hard way in 2015 when the UCI hit him with a $200 fine and a 2-minute penalty during the Giro d’Italia for accepting a wheel from a racer on another team in the last bit of Stage 10 after he blew a tire. He later abandoned the race.
No Personal Clothing During Podium Obligations in the Tour de France
Most cyclists are ready to strip out of their tight-fitting Lycra as soon as possible when the ride is over. Tour de France cyclists are not so lucky.
The UCI requires riders to wear their complete racing kit during podium obligations, including each day’s sign-in and the team presentation ceremony. That means some riders will stay in their tight racing outfit for long outside the race, before and after.
Wearing the wrong clothing to the podium can result in about a $500 fine for a rider or sports director.
No Feeding Outside of Designated Zones
Riders need to pump their bodies full of nutrition throughout races to remain competitive, but they are not allowed to feed (receive food) whenever they want. Feeds to riders must occur in designated areas.
The UCI penalizes riders who feed in the first 30 km and last 20 km of stage races, including the Tour de France. Those caught feeding in the first stretch face about a $200 fine. Those caught in the last stretch pick up the same fine and a 20-second time penalty.
Any more infractions come with about a $1,000 fine per infraction.
No Forearms on Handlebars, No ‘Super-Tuck’ Aero Position
Until 2021, riders would charge into descents in a “super-tuck” position, dropping down to the top tube of their bike to maximize aerodynamics. To make riding safer, the UCI banned the super tuck last year while also forbidding riders from resting their forearms on their handlebars to achieve a time-trial-like position on a standard road bike.
The new rules called on riders to stay on their bikes as designers intended. Does it make racing safer? Maybe?
Sock Height in the Tour de France
Yep. The UCI will come for your socks. The UCI in 2018 noted that riders’ socks must not extend more than halfway up a rider’s shin.
Here’s how they put it: “Socks and overshoes used in competition may not rise above the height defined by half the distance between the middle of the lateral malleolus and the middle of the fibula head.”
The idea is to limit riders’ aerodynamic advantage from their footwear. But socks are pretty low on the priority list if this year’s helmets indicate how riders try to find the perfect aero system.
No Indecent Behavior Toward Spectators
The UCI wants spectators and riders to get along. So, any form of “assault, intimidation, insults, threats, improper conduct (including pulling the jersey or saddle of another rider, blow with the helmet, knee, elbow, shoulder, foot or hand, etc.), or behaviour is indecent, or that endangers others” is expressly forbidden.
Riders face fines from $200 to $2,000 for any infraction against another rider or spectator.
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