Tour de France: The mystery behind having 'good legs'

Updated 11:18 AM ET, Fri July 21, 2017

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Story highlights

  • The mystery of cycling's 'good legs'
  • Tour de France features a number of grueling climbs

(CNN)As with any elite sport, cycling is a combination of talent and effort, aided by sports science and meticulously planned dietary regimes.

Riders do everything within their power to ensure they are in optimum condition to produce the best possible results in any given race.
Long gone are the days of post-race meals of lobster and champagne -- hat tip Jacques Anquetil. In 2017 it's all about ice baths and kale.
Yet for all the detailed pre-race preparation and recovery after each day's stage, there's one mystery cycling can't solve: the phenomenon of "good legs" -- or "bonne jambes" in French.
On any particular morning, seemingly for no real reason at all, a cyclist will wake up feeling especially sprightly.
The legs don't tire as quickly, if at all, and even the steepest of mountain climbs seemingly flatten as the rider begins their ascent.
For amateur cyclists, it's said "good legs" can occur as little as five times throughout their riding lives -- each time is a blessing and the day is fondly remembered for years.
    Of course, for the professionals it's a more common occurrence -- though not by much -- and riders at this year's Tour de France will need as many "good legs" as they can get.
    The 104th edition of cycling's most prestigious race sees the riders tackle a grueling 23-day, 21-stage, 3,540-kilometer route that takes in 23 mountain climbs and affords competitors just two rest days.
    This includes five of France's mountain ranges: the Vosges, Jura, Pyrénées, Massif central and the Alps.
    Some of Le Tour's most iconic climbs include:
    • Col du Tourmalet (2,115m): Introduced in 1910, French rider Octave Lapize was the first to go over its summit.
    • Col d'Izoard (2,360m): Introduced in 1922, Louison Bobet of France was victorious in 1950, 1953 and 1954 and this year's race sees the climb's first ever summit finish.
    • Mont Ventoux (1,912m): Introduced in 1951, three-time winner and current yellow jersey holder Chris Froome made history last year by running up the mountain after a crash forced him to abandon his bike.
    • Alpe d'Huez (1,860m): Introduced in 1952, Frenchman Thibaut Pinot won the last summit finish in 2015.

    History of the Tour de France

    There have been four cyclists who have won the tour five times:
    - Jacques Anquetil of France (1957 and 1961-1964)
    - Eddy Merckx of Belgium (1969-1972 and 1974)
    - Bernard Hinault of France (1978-1979, 1981-1982, and 1985)
    - Miguel Indurain of Spain (1991-1995), the first competitor to win five consecutive races.
    Lance Armstrong held the record for most Tour de France wins (seven) but he was stripped of those wins in 2012.
    France has won more times than any other country. (36)
    Three Americans have won: Greg LeMond (1986, 1989, 1990), Lance Armstrong (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005) and Floyd Landis (2006). Both Armstrong and Landis have had their titles stripped due to allegations of doping.

    Timeline

    1903 - Henri Desgrange, a reporter and cyclist, creates the Tour de France.
    1903 - Maurice Garin of France is the first cyclist to win the race.
    1910 - First time the race goes through the Pyrenees.
    1989 - Greg Lemond defeats Laurent Fignon by 8 seconds, the smallest margin of victory so far.
    1999-2005 - Lance Armstrong wins seven times in a row.
    2003 - The 100th Anniversary, but not the 100th race (the race was canceled 11 times during WWI and WWII).
    September 20, 2007 - Floyd Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour de France, is stripped of his title when an arbitration panel rules in favor of the USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency). Landis, the first Tour de France winner stripped of the title, initially maintained his innocence but later admitted to doping and accused others, including Armstrong, of doing the same.
    October 22, 2012 - The International Cycling Union announces that Armstrong is being stripped of his Tour de France titles and is being banned from professional cycling for life.
      October 26, 2012 - The International Cycling Union announces that no one will be declared the winner of the Tour de France from 1999-2005, after Armstrong is stripped of his titles.