There’s a new racing concept coming to the sport: the elimination sprint. It sees two riders go head to head over a 1,000 metre course, usually the final kilometre of a well known race.
Tested last year alongside the Grand Prix de Quebec, it will be back again used in the sister World Tour race in Montreal that’s also run by race organiser and local mini media magnate Serge Arsenault. But there are plans to take it to many more races.
Labelled the “Sprint Challenge”, it’s a fast and furious series where pairs of riders go head to head every two minutes. You start with 24 riders and within an hour it comes down to two riders for the win. Held on the evening of a race it’s a chance to create an urban race with some big names from the sport. L’Equipe today says this could happen in more races, the UCI is on the case with talk of a separate classification and even a unique jersey for the leader. Apparently the German World Tour one day, the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, is interested in trying this.
A sprint not for sprinters?
But it’s not without controversy. Interviewed by the French daily, Oscar Freire says sprinting is about positioning and tactics after 250km, “This concept is a different kind of sprint which has more in common with the track. I know cycling and sport in general are always looking for new ideas. But I’m not sure every idea is a good one“. Tyler Farrar’s also a bit of a sceptic, “I don’t think I’d be very good in these sprints. I’m a good sprinter after a hard stage and a few climbs. This kind of series is more for riders who are really explosive. For example it’d be perfect for a guy like Francesco Chicchi“.
For me, cycling has long had a “stunt” aspect to it and if there’s money then we can imagine some riders taking part. Riders have long raced against horses, camels and other weird challenges. But as Freire and Farrar suggest, the efforts and techniques aren’t necessarily suited to the endurance athletes that are road cyclists, whether sprinters or climbers. As such the winner is perhaps not going to be the biggest name in the sport. It’s more something to keep the crowds excited and a slick package for TV given the cheaper production costs and certain timings.
Note Paris-Tours has done something similar for some time, using the interminable Avenue de Grammont in Tours to hold short time trials for juniors. Taking this format is perhaps another idea, to invite track specialists onto the road. It would be exciting to see track riders using their speed to wow the crowds, and also a way to get take their names beyond the velodrome. Some note the irony where the UCI dismantled the Kilo from the Olympics, only to support a similar event on the road.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that here we could have the duel between World Track Champion Grégory Baugé and Mark Cavendish. It might also suit some BMX riders.
It could look good on TV, it’s fast and easy to understand. It reminds me of the X-games. But it’s also a stunt. Purists might not like it but it might entertain on the eve of a big race but for me at least, I want to see the road riders focussed on the big races and it’s not necessarily going to excite the sprinters. Doing a series of reps on the eve of a big race is unconventional to say the least. But bringing in some specialists from the track, maybe BMX and so on to entertain the crowds before the main race arrives is just the right idea, otherwise the finish line can be a dull place to wait. It’s also ideal to keep finish line VIPs and corporate hospitality invitees entertained.