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Essential French Lessons

Bonjour les enfants. Take a seat, class is in session.

Watching the Tour de France is a lot more fun if you know a little French.

Pay attention, you never know when we will spring a surprise test on you. This is a rewrite of something we did a few years back that people seemed to enjoy.

(Many Thanks for input from Podium Cafe Frenchies: FrenchKheldar, MathieuG, and Lyne - as well as andrewp)

So, here is a quick and dirty French lesson of key phrases that you need to know to follow the Tour. Please feel free to add any favourite phrases in the comments section or to ask how to say something in French.

First, and most importantly, cows say Meuh! in France.



  • Col = Mountain Pass. Above: Pass of the Dead Man.

  • Côte = Hill or slope of a hill. Often minor classified climbs use this designation. Note, usually the Tour just puts the word Côte in front of the name of a town or landmark (Like the category 4 Côte de Sotta - a village - in "Etape" 1). The designation would NOT be used locally/normally (unlike Cols).

  • Lacets = Hairpins (think shoe laces).

  • L’hexagone = The hexagon. A nickname for France (based on its geographic shape):
  • La Grande Boucle = The Big Loop. Common nickname for the Tour de France.
  • Borne = Milepost



  • Poisson pilote = Pilot fish - lead out man.
  • Rouleur = Big gear rider over flat/rolling terrain.
  • Barouduer = rider always trying to escape the peloton.
  • Puncheur = Rider who can show a burst of acceleration.
  • Equipière(s) = Teammates
  • Les Poursuivants = The chase group (the pursuers).
  • Grimpeurs = Climbers.


  • Lanterne Rouge = Red Lantern. Name given to the racer in last place in the general classification at any given time.
  • Chaudière: (boiler, furnace): A rider who is strongly suspected of not riding clean.


  • l'Autobus = The "Bus" or the "Grupetto." The large group at the very back of the race on mountain stages that group together to help beat the cut-off times. Usually full of sprinters.


  • Contre la Montre = Literally "against the watch" = A Time Trial. But in French it rhymes and is fun to say. I expect everyone to use this instead of TT from now on.

  • Etape = Stage. Each day of racing is a different Etape.
  • Départ fictif = fictional start - the rollout from the village départ (start village)
  • Départ réel = Real start - when Prudhomme drops flag to say race has started.
  • L’échappe = The Breakaway (or escape). For example: L’échappe sera mort tout de suite. The break away is about to die.
  • Vent de Face = headwind
  • Bordure = Echelon.
  • Ecart = time gap
  • en Danseuse = "Cancellara en Danseuse." To climb standing up (dancing) - a favourite of mine.


  • Soigneur = Massage guy.
  • Flamme Rouge = Red Flame. The red flag signifying one kilometre until the finish.
  • Maillot Pois = "The Pea Jersey" = The polka dot jersey = King of the Mountains Jersey.
  • Maillot Jaune/Vert/Blanc = Yellow, green, white jersey
  • Gendarmes - Military Police. usually very friendly, keeping roads closed, crowd in order, etc.


  • Ravito: Ravitaillement = Food stop
  • Chasse-patate = Potato Chaser. Attacking the main bunch while a breakaway is already long gone. You find yourself isolated on the road and not riding very smartly ;) Outcome is generally not good !
  • Cassure = Break in the main bunch.
  • Chute = Fall, crash.
  • La fringale = A hunger knock, to bonk, hitting the wall.
  • Placer une mine = (lay a mine) To place a strong attack that leaves the others behind
  • Un pétard mouillé = (a wet firecracker): The opposite of "Placer une mine". An attack that doesn’t make any difference
  • La Voiture de Balai = The Broom Wagon. A vehicule (usually with a broom attached) that follows the last of the riders (to sweep them off the road if they can’t stay ahead of cut off times).



  • Vélo = Bicycle. Cool kids would never say "bicyclette."
  • Une musette = A feed bag.
  • Une crevaison = A flat tire / puncture.
  • Une casque = A Helmet.
  • Un bidon = A water bottle.
  • Emmener un gros braquet = To crank a big gear.

And the best part of the Tour de France:
  • Caravane Publicitaire = Publicity Caravan. Parade of marketing vehicules an hour before the peloton. Most throw out little gifts (eg. keychains, hats, candy, etc). Always very fun.


    Now that you are fluent in French, remember to practice with your friends: