I love the Tour de France. In addition to the race, I love, of course, its complexity. What really makes it interesting and fun to watch are the various elements of the race interacting with one another, as a typical complex system, creating unexpected ebbs and flows.
It starts with the route. It is a lot more than going from one city to another in France (and sometimes outside of France). The layout of the route is a critical element to the race, and this 2013 layout is outstanding. A time trial in the South of France created the opportunity to shake up the general classification (GC), then it was on to the Pyrenees. The conquest of the Alps starts tomorrow.
Of course, the organizers have to worry about securing the route, finding sponsors, selling TV rights, ensuring security, and maintaining a fair environment for the riders.
Team strategy and composition is another element that creates complexity. Each team has a strategy and objectives for winning individual stages, leading in the mountain or team classification, winning the GC, or winning individual mountain climbs. Each team picks riders based on its unique strategy and objectives, and manages the race between its team riders in order to accomplish the team’s objectives.
Each team must support its daily Tour operation with spare bikes, spare parts, a fleet of supporting vehicles, appropriate food for the riders, medical attention, and strategic preparation for each race. Then, each day, a new race begins. The dynamics of each day’s race will depend on the route profile, the weather, and in particular the wind, the physical condition of each rider, strategic moves ordered within each team, and luck of course.
That’s why I love the Tour de France. Watching all these elements at play, and understanding a bit about how they mesh together, gives the race a unique flavor. And watching the beautiful scenery on the TV coverage each day is icing on the cake…