Competitors race to the finish line in the final stage of the Tour de France.

The Tour de France is as popular a sporting event as ever, but it hasn’t become much easier to understand. If you are tuning in to the Tour de France this year, or if you are travelling to any of the different stages to feel the wind as the cyclists whiz by you, you probably have a few questions. Here is our guide to answer many of the questions you have about the race, its contestants and more.

How long is the race?

The Tour goes on for three weeks, during which the cyclists peddle their ways through approximately 3,500km. This route takes them on a rough circuit of the country and is divided into 21 days of racing where each day can last up to five and a half hours and can cover up to 225km. The stages are further broken out and defined based on the kind terrain they will be biking through. Some stages are relatively flat and others are impressively and consistently mountainous—a literal uphill battle.

How can you win, if you don’t win any of the stages?

Each stage has its own winner and offers points to the first 15 riders to cross the finish line as well as the intermediate line halfway through the stage. That way, even if they don’t win every stage, if they cross in the first group of 15 riders they still have a shot at racking up points and winning the overall race.

Who is competing?

This year there are a grand total of 198 riders that will start the Tour in 22 teams of nine cyclists. Each team is granted a support car that will follow them around the course, giving the team instructions, coaching, cold water and more.

Each team of nine riders has a leader, and the rest of the riders support the leader in reaching his goal, no matter what it is. This means they are responsible for helping him get points, getting stage wins or shooting for the overall win for the Tour. They set paces for the leader, chase down attacks from other contenders and generally protect him from harm.

What’s going on with all the coloured jerseys? Are they important?

The yellow jersey is the most important jersey by far because it is worn by the rider at the top of the 'general classification', or they have completed the stages the quickest of the competition. Wearing the yellow jersey for just a day or two in the Tour can be the highlight of a cyclist’s career. Then, when all of the stages are completed, the yellow jersey goes to the winner.

The green jersey goes to the rider with the most overall points, or the leader of the 'points classification'. As mentioned above, points are given to the first 15 riders who cross an intermediate line halfway through the race and then again at the finish line. Sprinters for cycling often aim to get the green jersey.

The polka-dot jersey is a prestigious garment and is often referred to as the King of the Mountains jersey. The red polka-dot jersey is awarded to the person who earned the most points in the mountainous sections of the stages by getting to the peaks first. In this case, like the green jersey, specialty riders who are good climbers, aim for the red polka-dot jersey.

The white jersey is essentially a junior yellow jersey. This is given to the rider who is under 26 years old who also has the lowest overall time.

How do riders eat, drink and use the toilet on a bike?

As you watch these bikers fight to the finish, you may eventually get to wondering, what happens when a rider who’s on their bike for 5.5hrs a day has to use the loo? Or needs a quick snack to refuel? During each stage there is a feeding station that’s set up along the way, where riders can grab a bag from someone working for their team on the side of the road. These bags are chockfull of things like energy bars, drinks and gels as well as sandwiches and more.

As for going to the toilet, riders will sometimes just take care of their 'business' while riding, while other riders will generally agree to stop up by the side of the road somewhere that’s discrete with very few spectators. This is usually the point in the televised programming where cameras and news stations will tell you a recap about where the riders are and what amazing geographical sites you should see if you ever visit.

Hopefully this answers your most pressing questions about the 2014 Tour de France. If you are lucky enough to be attending any stage of the race, consider how important travel insurance could be for your holiday in France and beyond and compare travel insurance plans to find the cover that is the most appropriate for your holiday and your budget.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Gideon