The Tour de France is broken down into "stages." There is one race held each day but not always one stage. Think of a stage as a sort of distinct race distance. Riders win or lose, rank high or low, depending on their cumulative times from start to finish. Sometimes riders are rewarded time bonuses as well as prizes for finishing first.
The stages can cover all kinds of terrain. Those stages that go through mountains have led to a special distinction, the "King of the Mountain." The physical difficulty of mountain climbs is established in a complex formula that rates a mountain by its steepness, its length, and its position on the course. The easiest climbs are graded 4, most of the hardest as 1 and the exceptional (such as the Tourmalet) as unclassified, or "hors-catégorie". The most famous hors-catégorie peaks include the Col du Tourmalet and Mont Ventoux. Winners of mountain stages often determine the winner of the Tour.
The Tour now has a short beginning stage called the prologue. Riders start the Tour in reverse order– the weakest, slowest riders start first. The prologue decides who will wear the famous yellow jersey on the first day. The race now ends on the Champs-Élysées.
Riders who finish in the same group get the same time. You have finished in the same group as a competitor if you finish the stage with less than a bike length separating each rider. If a rider crashes in the last three kilometers, he is given the same finishing time as the group he would have finished in. It’s actually possible to win the Tour without ever having won a stages. Greg LeMond did this in 1990.
For most stages, all riders begin at the same time, jostling themselves into position. The "real start or départ réel is down the road a few kilometers. There are rules around this jostling. Riders can touch but not push or shove.
Sometimes, during the first week of the Tour, a team time trial (TTT) will be held. Teams ride without interference from other teams. The team time is established by the time of the fifth team rider to cross the finish line of that stage. The team time trial has been criticized by favoring strong teams and penalizing strong riders of weak teams.
The Stages for 2007
The 2007 Tour de France will begin in Britain’s capital, the first time the race will ever start in Britain. The race will stay in Britain for two days. It’s been rumored that London paid nearly six million dollars to host the race’s beginning, an amount Mayor Livingston believes is well spent. Because this race is a world-wide spectacle, it will draw tourists and television viewers to London. The Tour will be the biggest sporting event London has ever promoted.
Riders on the first day will pass London’s great landmarks, Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, and will leave London eventually ending the day in Canterbury – a long ride of 126 miles.
The 2007 Tour de France race director, Christian Prudhomme, has said that all precautions will be taken to prevent terrorist threats or actions.