One specific example at this year's Tour underscores that complexity while at the same time allowing us to enjoy a rider ruthlessly crafting a place for himself on the final podium in Paris.
That sometimes unfathomable complexity is the real beauty of cycling, and it is what makes it so watchable for purists.
The overall winner of the Tour de France and subsidiary classifications can be a rider who has not won a
stage within the race. This year Peter Sagan will in all likelihood wear the green jersey in Paris, perhaps without a stage win
to show for it.
It may be unsatisfying to some but the Tour rewards consistency in performance, and that journey is always interesting to watch.
Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez is pretty much on everyone's list of favourite riders to watch; sadly, though, he may end up being the best rider of his generation to have never won a Grand Tour.
But don't cry too much for 'Purito'. He has consistently won a lot of other big races with a tactical style and grace missing from other riders - and barring illness or injury, he's on his way to securing the polka dot jersey and the $36,000AUD prize-pot as the best climber at the Tour using his head and dosing his efforts, and we get to enjoy watching him do it.
Rodriguez came into the Tour with limited ambitions after he crashed out of the Giro d'Italia and with a renewed focus on winning August's Vuelta a Espana. His hopes going in were to rebuild his fitness to Grand Tour level and perhaps snare a stage victory.
Now his ambitions have broadened.
In ordinary circumstances Rodriguez would be one of the contenders for the Tour and be closely marked. Only in extraordinary circumstances would the peloton ever allow a rider of his calibre any latitude. So he has to go to great lengths to secure his freedom.
But how does he give himself the space to play for his own ambitions without upsetting the general classification contenders?
Early in the race, Rodriguez looked like he was struggling with the pace until it became obvious that while he was less than fit, he was also intentionally losing time in order to pursue his own pre-race goal of a stage win. The calculation was simple: if he isn't a threat to win the overall, then he would be allowed to roam free.
As of today, Rodriguez is in 70th place at 1hr 14min 15sec behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and no threat to win the race.
For the curious, the mountains classification is decided by points awarded on placings across the various categorised climbs along a stage.
Climbs are categorised as 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st and finally hors categorie (HC), the most difficult.
Each category has a different set of points attached to it, with the HC climbs attracting double the points if a stage finishes on a mountain top.
(Mountains classification - Wikipedia)
What Rodriguez is doing is dosing his efforts throughout the race and only coming out to play when the stakes are high. He is not contesting the climbs in the transition stages; only the big mountain stages.
"I go step by step on my way to find good condition," he said after Stage 9. "So today in a hard mountain stage I went in the break to test myself and to look at where I am at.
"I think it was a very good test to be in front and to feel the active racing. Today, I tried to win some points in the mountain classification.
"For the moment I can't say if I'll fight for the jersey, but one never knows. For the moment my main purpose is to continue work on my shape."
But things changed on a monumental Stage 10 on the final day of racing in the Vosges, where he was ever-present at the front of the race, sniping for classification points in a battle with Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and just missing out on the stage win.
"My main objective for today was to take the mountain jersey, which is why I went in the breakaway. Today would have been nice to win a stage too, but it was a really hard day and I saw that the yellow jersey group never let us have enough time.
"But I took the mountain jersey and I am happy with it. My condition is still not at 100 per cent but I am improving. Now I will fight to keep this jersey and I hope in one of the stages in the third week I can go in the break and try to win a stage."
Now, ahead of a massive weekend of racing in the mountains, the classification looks like this:
Mountains classification (polka dot jersey)
1 Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) Katusha 51pts
2 Thomas Voeckler (FRA) Europcar 34
3 Tony Martin (GER) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 26
4 Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Astana 20
5 Alessandro De Marchi (ITA) Cannondale 18
6 Blel Kadri (FRA) AG2R 17
7 Thibaut Pinot (FRA) FDJ.fr 16
8 Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Movistar 12
9 Giovanni Visconti (ITA) Movistar 12
10 Nicolas Edet (FRA) Cofidis 12
Expect Rodriguez to be shaking things up at the front of the race.
One mission has been largely accomplished by Rodriguez - get the polka dot jersey. But can he keep it and accomplish his second goal of a stage win, then end up on the podium in Paris?
I like his odds.
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