Pro riders in the stage race Le Dauphine. Gary, who sent me the photo & wrote today's story, notes: You can't pick him out in the photo, but this year's Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans is in this peloton, along with Alberto Contador, who won the previous three Tour de France races.


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le peloton (peuh lohtohn)

    : a large group of bicycle riders in a road race

Also: Peloton is also a military word referring to a group of soldiers.  Examples would be peloton d’instruction and peloton d’execution. (Thank you, Bill Blank, for this info)

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file

Le peloton est un terme sportif qui désigne un groupe de coureurs qui demeurent ensemble au cours d'une épreuve. "Peloton" is a sporting term that designates a group of racers that remain together during an event.

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Cycling: Unwritten Etiquette and Rules of the Road
..... Gary McClelland

Le Mont Ventoux, or le géant de Provence, beautifully on display for wine tasters at Domaine Rouge-Bleu, attracts bicyclists from all over the world who want to challenge themselves on the hors catégorie climb used 14 times in le Tour de France.  They also enjoy the gentler rides cycling past the purple lavender, yellow sunflowers and brume, green vineyards under blue skies, while listening to the chanting cigales and smelling the natural perfumes of Provence.  French is at best a second language for the visiting cyclists so except for bonjour, bonne route, and allez, there often is not much verbal communication.  However, good cyclists know the unwritten etiquette and rules of the road.  In biking around Provence on a recent trip with my friend Tim, I experienced a number of examples of the unspoken etiquette.

When I stopped for a minor roadside adjustment, a lovely French women rode into the gap between Tim and me as we climbed over a little col.  When I passed her to catch up with Tim, elle a pris ma roue (she "took my wheel”, or rode closely behind me) in the universal request to be paced if I were willing.  I nodded agreement and wordlessly we were off on a brisk but not frantic ascent to the col.  On a climb the wind drafting advantages are not substantial, but the mental benefit of having someone set a good pace can be enormous.  Using the retroviseur attached to my sunglasses, I adjusted my pace to maintain a constant gap between us.  As we arrived at the summit sooner than either of us would have alone, she said, “Merci beaucoup, vous êtes très gentil.”  (I try to collect très gentil compliments when I’m in France.)  I briefly considered continuing to ride with her but that would have violated the important etiquette that riders who start together finish together.  As I slowed, I told her that I needed to await mon copain.  Later we encountered her as we biked in opposite directions and she threw me a warm smile, a big wave, and a cheery bonne route that gladdened an old man’s heart.

One evening climbing the same col from the other direction, on a short, quick ride before dinner, I rode up behind two local racers, who were, according to their jerseys, sponsored by a plumber in nearby Caromb. They were chatting during what seemed to be an after work ride.  I knew the etiquette that trying to pass them would be challenging them to a race.  But I wanted to get back to fix my appetizer of melon halves from Cavaillon filled with muscat from Beaume de Venise.  I tried to ease by with a calm “bon soir” but the flag was immediately down and we were flying up the col.  I edged out the 3rd rider to finish a distant second to the faster rider.  Then we said hearty bonne soirées and went our separate ways knowing proper etiquette had been followed.  The melons were delicious.

Un peloton looking for refreshment in Bedoin. Gary admits: "I wouldn't try to pass these guys on ride!"

Riding north one morning into a strong mistral wind, I taught Tim the etiquette of drafting.  Following closely in the slipstream of the lead rider reduces the effort by as much as 30 percent.  Drafting is just because the riders getting the benefit take all the risk—touching tires can send the trailing rider to the ground but not the leader.  There is a fine art to being close enough but not too close.  The important etiquette is realizing that when the leader flicks his elbow he is asking the follower to take a turn leading into the wind. By switching leaders at each elbow flick, a peloton can slice through the wind amazingly quickly.

 Gary notes, "my friend Derek fixes a crevé below the castle of Le Barroux"

The most important etiquette is that a bicyclist in dépannage knows that other riders will soon stop to help.  When I was on my first ride with the local Bedoin Randonneurs bike club, j’ai crevé.  Not wanting to slow them down, I urged them on but they wouldn’t think of violating the etiquette that we would all finish together.  However, Roger was not happy with my slow tire-changing pace so offered to take over.  Another rider told me to just let him do it, “he changes all our tires.”  In the blink of the eye, my tube was replaced and we were on our way to a beautiful ride in the Provençal countryside.   And we did finish together.  Knowing proper etiquette makes a cyclist part of an international community biking in Provence.

Gary's friends biking, au peloton, through the plane trees of the winery Chateau Pesquié.

Le Coin Commentaires
Did you enjoy Gary's article? Please help me to thank him, now, by leaving "un petit mot", a little word, in the comments corner. You might also share your own bike-riding stories. Click here

Gary McClelland is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Colorado, who became a Francophile while spending a summer as a student in Paris in 1967.  

Photo credits: The cycling photos were taken by Gary or by Gary's wife, Lou, or their friend Terry Mattison. Read another story by Gary (about Pétanque" : read it here.)


Gary notes: one of my favorite places to bike for its color and scenery is the Dentelles... note the yellow and fragrant genêt, or broom. Besides me, the people are Lily Welch and Terry Mattison (this note corresponds to the third photo, below left). The village is Suzette.

 Click on the following photos to enlarge them.

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French Vocabulary

le géant de Provence = the giant of Provence (synonym for Mont Ventoux, or "Mount Windy")

hors categorie = beyond categorization

le Tour de France = an annual cycling race in France and other countries

la cigale = cicada

bonjour = hello

bonne route = have a good ride

allez! = come on, let's go! get a move on! go for it!

le col = pass (geography)

le rétroviseur = rearview mirror

Merci beaucoup, vous êtes très gentil = thanks, very kind of you

le copain = buddy, friend

le bonsoir = hello (used in an evening greeting)

bonne soirée = have a nice evening

le dépannage = fixing, repairing

j'ai crevé = I have a flat (tire)

6a00d834515cae69e2010536f40e5b970b-500wiRelated StoryVélo: Mom talks me into buying a bike "for the endorphins it will bring!".... read the story here.

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A great article Gary.I had no idea about all the etiquette involved - I'm a real wobbler on a bike - and I really agree that "tres gentil" compliments make your day.

Shelley Longmire

Wow Gary! I loved today's post and it is full of good information. My husband and I are getting around by bicycle, foot, and public transportation almost exclusively during our 6 month stay in France and it is very helpful to know the rules of etiquette for riders here. We ride a lot through the forest and between small villages. We have also done a couple of professionally sponsored tours in the past but have not encountered these tips before today. When I was touring with a companion through Greece over 30 years ago I introduced her to drafting behind me as she was a slower rider. Things improved dramatically until I slowed down to shift gears without warning her and that landed her in the middle of the road with a profusely bleeding headwound! Needles to say it ended her desire to do it any more. I guess I should have flicked my elbow first or something! Another advantage to living in France is that we happened to be in Paris on the last day of this year's Tour de France and were able to find a good vantage point to watch the riders from. A bit of a wait and over in a flash but thrilling to see in person!

Bill in St. Paul

Thanks, Gary, for a great lesson in biking etiquette and some fabulous photos of Provence. The ones of the Dentelles remind me of our two week stay in Vaison la Romaine, and our hike up to and around the Dentelles. My son-in-law is an avid cyclist and would one day like to ride the Paris-Brest-Paris race. Every year he does his qualifying rides so that he's always ready.


I enjoyed this very much. May thanks!

Debbie Turner Chavers

Thank you Gary. I appreciate the great tips. Lovely pictures.

Gail Jolley

Merci, vous etes tres gentil, Gary. I really enjoyed reading your article on biking etiquette, even though I don't do any biking myself. I experienced the joy of biking vicariously through you.

Bruce T. Paddock

Gary -

I'm a bike rider here in the U.S. (solo, so no drafting or elbow flicking), and a fan of European bike racing, so needless to say, I loved your post. Heck, I got excited when I saw that today's word was "peloton." Thank you for an entertaining, informative, and enjoyable read.

Regarding "hors categorie," though, I would mention that (as you know) mountains on a bike race are rated from 4 to 1, with 4th category climbs being the shortest/least steep, and 1st category slopes being the longest/steepest. Those that are harder even than Categorie 1 climbs are called "hors categorie" (HC), or "beyond categorization."

I was truly impressed to see the picture that showed you passing through the col de la Madeleine — and then I read the altitude. Did you find another col named "Madeleine" somewhere else?

Suzanne, Monroe Twp., NJ

Gary I enjoyed this story as much as I did your post about petanque several years ago. I have wonderful memories of coming upon a game of petanque in numerous Provencal towns like Carraine, Nyons, and Bedoin. Once I spent an afternoon watching games of petanque in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris and I was hooked after that. I also have wonderful memories seeing exhausted but satisfied cyclists in Bedoin, Venasque and of course on the roads around the Dentelles. Your photos near the beautiful village of Suzette transported me to a late afternoon in autumn two years ago when we happened upon this wonderful place.


Excellent article.. I sent it to a friend (athletic woman attorney) who will be visiting me (I live in Provence)next year. She likes to bike and I used this article (and photos) to show her the type of terrain to expect and look forward to. She will enjoy the article.

Carmen Clarke

Thanks for sharing, Gary. I loved to watch the Tour de France conclude when I lived in Paris, but I feel like I understand a lot more now. Great biking vocab and insight!
Merci Beaucoup et Bonne Route!

Marianne Rankin

The photos are great, and the first one is so colorful.

It's encouraging to know that there is a "standard" of behavior in the bikers' world. It's especially impressive when I consider that by stopping to help you in depannage, other cyclists could be "losing time" that otherwise might place them higher at the finish. I applaud everyone's readiness to assist fellow bikers.

I've never done the Tour de France, but when I was not quite 19, I cycled with a friend 52 miles in one day, much of it on hilly roads, some with only gravel. That may sound tame, but I'd done nothing to condition myself for it, yet lived to tell about it - something I doubt I could do now. I recently bought a new bike, and am looking forward to some trips when the weather is a bit cooler.

Linda Williams Rorem

Merci, Gary. My son is entering CU as a business major this month, so I'll have him look for you dans les montagnes de Flat Iron!

Nancy L.

Fascinating and beautifully written!

Eileen deCamp

Great story and photos! Thanks Gary!

Maureen Hamlin

As a long time fan of Le Tour (although no cyclist) I very much enjoyed your story - and greatly admire you and your team mates' stamina


Wow, what a pleasant way to begin my morning--seeing that Kristin has used my articles and photos and that so many of you have posted nice comments. I feared my piece was too far from Kristin's style so that regular readers might not enjoy it. Bruce: Kristin's dictionary did not give her the bike racing meaning of H.C., but that is why we have the Le Coin Commentaire to discuss the wonderful nuances of the French language. There are lots of col de la Madelaine in France. This little one between Bedoin and Malaucene is not THE Col de la Madelaine, but it is one of the loveliest bike rides in the world. Suzanne: I have a petanque court at my house; if you are ever in Boulder, stop by for a game! Gail: you really made your day with your opening remark. ;-)

Exciting news in today's paper that the top three finishers in this year's Tour de France are coming to Colorado to race at end of the month. Can't wait!

I'll respond to more comments later, but I've got to go bike first! Bonne route to all

Jimm Hughey

Hello Gary (and Thank You Kristin for sharing),
As a fellow Francophile, I enjoyed your biking adventure a la peloton. For me, the love of travel and discovery is in learning about people. The nuances of life in a culture that engenders the feeling of , vous êtes très gentil, is when we really connect with one another. Thank you for including this moment you shared with the woman.
Love the photos as well and bonne route, toujours.
Jimm Hughey, California

Iris Mendels

Gary, reading in your profile that you spent summer 1967 in Paris makes me wonder whether we met there. I was there part of the summer and the academic year until 68. Lived at the Maison d'Amerique at the Cite Universitaire. Later married a french/american academic who was an avid cyclist.


I loved today's story. I got hooked on bike races for the first time last month, while I was rivetted for nearly the entire month of July to the broadcasting of the Tour De France. I started watching just for views of France, but got quickly caught up in the race itself. Peloton was a very new word to me a month ago, but very familiar today. Today's article clarified a few things I did not learn by watching the race. Merci!

Cheryl in STL

Gary, thanks so much for this article! I am not a cyclist, but I do follow the TdF and go through withdrawl when it's over! So your article gave me a little post-Tour fix! There used to be a Tour of Missouri that I would always go watch, but it fell victim to state budget cuts. It was so much fun to see that many great cyclists up close! Enjoy that Colorado race!

Linda Meier

I also was excited to see the word "peloton". My husband and I watch the Tour every AM in July and are always sad to see it end. We have bicycled in France three times with Cyclomundo in the Dordogne, the Lot and the Loire and each trip was fabulous in its own way. What a great way to visit France and the countryside. And unlike Americans, the French think bicycle riders are way cool. Last year (after a brief visit with Kristin), my husband tackled and finished a ride up Mont Ventoux and now wears his shirt proudly on our Bainbridge Island rides. (I chose to go shopping and have a lovely lunch!)


Intereesting and well written, thanks Gary!


I am not a cyclist, but I get my yearly trip through France every year when Le Tour comes on....5am here! I watch it, note the small villages that intrigue me, check the route out on the computer and then try bringing up the places. I have a note book full of places I might like to visit my next time there. It is also an easy way to learn about the country.
That time of year I think all the cyclists think they are on Le Tour around here. There is a group of about 100 riders each year that get together and ride down the coast past Big Sur for 50 miles, have lunch and ride back. I drive down half way, pick up my friend and go have lunch at a nice restaurant.

Lisa A., CA

Lovely story and photos this morning! Thank you! You make me want to take my bike out for a ride. :) Next time I go to France I must take my bike with me!!

Cynthia Lewis

Mille mercis, Kristin and Gary. The article has so many interesting asides to biking and the photos are wonderful!


Gary.I am sooooo jalouse of your cycling adventures en Provence. I've put in quite a few kilometres a velo in the Dordogne, Tarn, Cevennes and Pyrenees. Mais jamais en Provence sauf trois jours a la Cote d'Azure. In case you've never been there before, here's a link to a handy French-English bicycle dictionary: Bonne route!

Jed Christensen

M. Gary.......bien fait. Quel bon article. Je suis le Tour de France sur le TV5 Monde chine, que viens de j'ai eu les post tour "bleus". Alors, ton article etait tres au current pour moi. Merci. Jed a Napa

Dave de Garis, Melbourne, Australia

G'day Gary and Kristin from downunder! It's Dave here from Melbourne, Australia. As a keen cyclist and someone who went to France for six weeks in 2008 cycling around on my own (mostly), this has again brought back so may great memories of Brittany, Bordeaux/ Dordogne, Provence and the Alps including the opportunity to ride up my Mt Ventoux and Alpe d'Huez on my stell frame tourer, the latter on the day when the Tour finished that afternoon at the summit. What an experience. I must say that drivers and passers-by and others were all really kind to me there in belle La France. Some language helped, but the attitude and demeanour from drivers, including truck drivers is poles apart from a more unsettling/ ascerbic relationship between riders and drivers here! I loved it all Gary; let me know if you want to come cycling downunder; there are plenty of good rides here, just not something that approaches le géant de Provence or the Alps. It's a couple of years back now, but I posted some pics and words on the great places I visited in 2008 here: And what a Tour for us with Cadel the winner. Unbelievable effort. Happy cycling.


Jed: there will be coverage of the Colorado race Aug 22-28 to cure your blues. Dave de Garis: if I make to Australia some day, I'll look you up for a ride. I've biked up Ventoux 5 times, twice in one day, and up l'Alpe d'Huez and have jerseys for both. But I don't wear them in Colorado because they just provoke other riders to challenge me to races--and there are lots of good climbers here! Enjoyed your photos. I have lots more provence biking photos, including Ventoux l'Alpe d'Huez at

thanks to everyone for your kind comments!


thanks again. I think my niece was a student of yours. And perhaps we have another friend in common who is a Boulder cyclist. You may know him as a massage therapist. Best of three worlds.....Boulder, France and Carmel.
Happy peddling.

Tom from Detroit

Thanks, Gary, for a great post. Though a francophile 'de longue date' and follower of le tour de France, I never knew the cycling etiquette you shared with us. Very interesting.

Elena/Lancaster PA

Hi Gary, I really enjoyed your post! Question for you: did you bring your bicycles with you or did you rent good quality road bikes in Provence? I have often wondered about the logistics of this- we have enjoyed many trips to France but up to now "sightseeing" has always taken precedence over bicycling.


Hi Gary. Great tips on ettiquette. Thanks. I was the beneficiary of the Good Samaritan convention this morning when I punctured climbing up to the Lac de St Croix here in the Var. Within about 10 minutes no fewer than 5 lone cyclists had stopped to help, with a kind Dutch guy refusing to accept payment for a new inner tube and an emptied compressed air cannister. On another occasion it was a motorist - again a Dutch biking enthusiast, who insisted on shoving my pretty dirty, oily bike in the back of his brand new car so he could get me to my own car some twenty minutes out of his way. Cycling really does engender feelings of solidarity and comradeship amongst complete strangers.


hi ! I enjoyed very much the pixes and text
by Gary ..;being a keen cyclist myself...
May i SAY THAT AS EARLY AS 1961 I HAVE LED QUITE many bike trips mostly for US bike-nuts BUT ALSO French groups in the States
and in a lot of other countries all over the world ...

What about a jersey SPONSORED by the wine-chief TO HELP PROMOTE his fruit "juice" ?
Which color ?!!!


Marianne Rankin

These stories are all very interesting, and maybe I can find a cycling club sometime.

Cheryl in STL, why would a Tour de Missouri have to be funded by the state? Maybe participants could pay a fee, and possibly you could get some other private support? I suggest trying to do it independently. In the town where I live, so far there is no bike race, but every year there is a 5K. Contestants pay $25, which covers a T-shirt and a few incidental expenses for the race. We have no town funding, but it works.


Elena: Now that the airlines have made flying with bikes an expensive hassle, there are now high-quality bike rentals almost everywhere. I took my bike to Italy once, but never again. In Provence, my favorite is located in Bedoin but they will deliver and pick up bikes almost anywhere in Provence.
Patrick: after my bike had gone to and from Arizona by truck, I'd forgotten to put my tool and tube kit back on my bike, which I discovered by the side of the road when I had a flat far from home. Within minutes I had a free tube inflated by cartridge and I was on my way. Pass it on!
Iris: I lived in a dorm on Vaugirard not far from where they were building the Montparnasse tower. I visited Le Cité a couple of times but our paths probably did not cross. But now they do here!
All: thanks for your kind words and questions. any other questions about biking in Provence, links to more photos, or comments send to coach8 at

bonne route!

Ed McFadd

Quelle bonne histoire!! I loved the story and your thorough engagement. At 69 I am an avid cyclist here in San Diego, California and look forward to a bike trip in France probably next year. The French vocabulary will be helpful and the biking etiquette tips invaluable. We don't do the elbow thing much but it's really important to support your fellow riders.
Bonne route!


Loved your article, Gary ! I feel lucky to be part of your peleton here in Boulder, even tho I do not know how to do half of what was mentioned in your article !

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