Tour de France: Attacks, packs, teams, bathroom breaks?

The International Herald Tribune has a good article answering a lot of the questions viewers may have after watching a few stages of the Tour de France:
Question: Is bicycle racing a team or an individual sport?

Answer: It is often referred to as an individual sport practiced by teams. This means that a team, usually nine men in a race, will work for a leader by shielding him from the wind, allowing him to save about 20 percent of his energy by riding in a teammate's slipstream, and by chasing down opponents who have attacked. Most riders are hampered psychologically, and thus physically, when a rival suddenly shows up in a counterattack.

Occasionally, a teammate will give the wheel off his bicycle, or even the bicycle itself, to his leader if he has a flat tire and the team car is not there to change it. If the leader has fallen behind the pack for mechanical or physical reasons, teammates will wait for him and pace him back in their slipstream.

A strong team like U.S. Postal Service, which surrounds Lance Armstrong at the front of the pack, often demoralizes his opponents with its show of support since the opponents tend not to have similar support. In addition, a strong team will keep the race's speed so high that opponents are unable to launch an attack. Riding at this high speed is called "riding tempo.''

If a team has a strong sprinter, it will chase down breakaways near the finish and ride "a train,'' which is a line of riders who carry their sprinter in a slipstream, peeling off one after another until the sprinter launches himself toward the finish line.

A few teams have neither leaders nor sprinters and then it is truly an individual sport: Every man for himself. These teams are not often successful.

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