The Merits of Finishing Seventh

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Winning is very difficult in cycling. With 200 riders on the start line your chances are low. So it’s no surprise to see many take satisfaction in the lesser places, finishing in the top-10 in the Tour de France is a great result. Indeed it’s not uncommon to see a rider aim for the top-10.

A means to an end?
At first glance a prominent position seems nice but it a promise of more to come. Finishing, say, seventh is good but surely the point of this is that it signals you’re close to the top? Perhaps within reach of the yellow jersey for the following year or able to contest the most prestigious stages of the race. It also says that you’ve got the engine to win the overall elsewhere, if the Tour isn’t for you maybe you can win in Paris-Nice or the Tour of Romandie.

The end in itself?
Only several stake plenty a strong result in itself, some will actively “defend” a ninth position on GC. Because making the top-10 in a race like the Tour de France will bring you more recognition and media coverage than winning outright a smaller stage race. Such is the media frenzy for the Tour that it makes sense to get in the top-10.

Yet I can’t help wondering if this is a negative aspect to the sport. You can’t accuse someone in the top-10 of sitting back, but all the same each year you see a few riders crack the top-10 without really putting their nose in the wind, maybe gambling a few places on GC for a stage win instead?

The French Exception
In the Tour de France the first Frenchman is a valuable thing. Those of you outside France might not have seen the TV coverage but the French media goes to town on the first Frenchman, they get daily interviews, photos in the newspaper and most valuable, the TV cameras will dwell on them.

Le Mevel waves to the cameras

Don’t forget the likes of Contador don’t speak French, a TV interview with them doesn’t work so well (although Andy Schleck speaks fluent French and even Lance Armstrong charmed French TV until he blocked them). All this publicity is so valuable it means the local lad can get almost as much coverage as the yellow jersey.

€€€s vs Excitement
What I’m saying is that as much as I respect a solid finish, it leaves you wondering what the rider can really do. It’s something that shows the huge economic value of the Tour de France, where even finishing minutes down on the GC brings attention that a win in a smaller race can’t replicate. Are riders racing for money and publicity, or could they take a risk to actually win something?

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