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Since 1903, the Tour de France has been the most celebrated and distinguished professional cycling race in the world. Famous for its physically challenging stages, the winner of the Tour is the individual rider who finishes all of the stages in the least accumulated time.

The 2006 Tour de France will begin July 1 and the winner will be named July 23.

Each stage of the Tour de France requires an entire day. There are 20 stages throughout the competition spanning a total of 2272 miles (3657 kilometers). The competition is divided into 9 flat stages, 4 medium mountain stages, 5 mountain stages and 2 individual time trial stages. Two days are provided for rest.

When a rider finishes a stage, his time is recorded and added to his accumulated time from previous stages. In the event a group of riders finish within one bike length of one another, they are considered to be in the same group and given the same recorded time. The overall time given to each rider is a participant’s General Classification (GC). The rider with the lowest GC at the end of the final stage is declared the winner. It is possible to win the Tour de France without winning an individual stage.

Throughout the tour, classification jerseys (yellow, green, polka dot and white) are awarded to deserving athletes in ceremonies immediately following each stage. The yellow jersey is given to the rider who is the overall time leader. This jersey is considered the most prized. The rider who has proved himself to be the best sprinter of a particular stage is given the green jersey. Sprinting points are awarded to riders who excel in stages with severe inclines. The rider with the most points at the end of each stage is entitled to the green jersey. The polka dot jersey is given to the rider who has the most points for climbing to the summit of a stage.

Though not considered as highly-esteemed as the yellow, green or polka dot jersey, the white jersey is given to the fastest rider who is less than 25 years old.

American Lance Armstrong holds the current record for most wins in the Tour de France with seven. Four other riders have won the Tour five times: Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. Armstrong announced his retirement from the Tour in 2005, making the 2006 Tour the first in recent years without a clear favorite to win. The winner of the Tour de France is the recipient of $567,500 dollars (450,000 Euros). Total prize money awarded for the event is over $4,000,000 dollars (3.2 million Euros).

For more information about the Tour de France, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tour_de_France.

For more information on this year’s Tour de France, go to http://www.letour.fr/indexus.html.