There’s a time limit to finish each stage, a rider who finishes outside of the cut-off is eliminated from the race. It’s cruel but designed to ensure nobody can sit up and take some stages easy. It forces the non-climbers to race in the mountains.
Movistar have announced they’re planning to set a fast pace in the mountains with the aim of putting Mark Cavendish in trouble. If the Briton finishes a mountain stage hors délais then Jose Joaquin Rojas is in line to recover the green jersey. So let’s take a quick look at how the cut-off time is calculated.
This time is based on the winner’s average speed on the day. Note the rules are set by the race organiser and not from the UCI’s rule book.
From the moment the winner raises his arms in celebration, the commissaires calculate le délai. For Wednesday and Thursday’s big mountain stages the maximum permitted finishing time is calculated according to the winner’s finishing time plus:
• 6% if the average speed is less than or equal to 30 km/h
• 7% between 30 km/h & 31 km/h;
• 8% between 31 km/h & 32 km/h;
• 9% between 32 km/h & 33 km/h;
• 10% between 33 km/h & 34 km/h;
• 11% between 34 km/h & 35 km/h;
• 12% between 35 km/h & 36 km/h;
• 13% between 36 km/h & 37 km/h;
• 14% between 37 km/h & 38 km/h;
• 15% between 38 km/h & 39 km/h;
• 16% between 39 km/h & 40 km/h;
• 17% over 40 km/h
For Friday’s 110km stage across the Galibier the permitted finishing time is the winner’s finishing time plus:
• 9% if the average speed is less than or equal to 30 km/h
• 10% between 30 km/h & 31 km/h;
• 11% between 31 km/h & 32 km/h;
• 12% between 32 km/h & 33 km/h;
• 13% between 33 km/h & 34 km/h;
• 14% between 34 km/h & 35 km/h;
• 15% between 35 km/h & 36 km/h;
• 16% between 36 km/h & 37 km/h;
• 17% between 37 km/h & 38 km/h;
• 18% between 38 km/h & 39 km/h;
• 19% between 39 km/h & 40 km/h;
• 20% over 40 km/h
A lot of numbers but let’s do an example as my maths teacher used to say. For the sake of round numbers, we’ll assume on Friday that the stage is fast and the winner takes three hours. Note that’s within the race organiser’s expected time schedules.
Three hours and 109.5 km means an average speed of 36.5km/h for the winner. Therefore the time delay is three hours plus 16%, meaning 28 minutes and 48 seconds. Any rider taking longer than 3.28.45 risks going home.
In practical terms that’s tough. It’s 60km to the top of the Galibier and a lot of climbing. Losing at least 10 minutes here is quite feasible, if not more. The favourites for the stage will be racing downhill all the way to Alpe d’Huez and the sprinters will have to match them knowing they could lose ten minutes on the climb up Alpe d’Huez.
During every stage the voiture balai or broomwagon follows the riders, ready to pick up riders who abandon, even if many climb into a team car these days. Note even if a rider is a long way down the van will not normally overtake them. In other words the voiture balai doesn’t follow a set pace but is tasked with following the last rider on the road. It is only once they cross the finish line that a rider can be eliminated and often a rider will know they cannot make it but soldier on, pride driving them to the line, preferring to be rejected by the rules rather than quitting.
Commissaires of mercy
Note that the cut-offs are not set in stone. If a rider or even a group fall victim to something to delay them during the stage then the commissaires might well well keep them in the race even if they are outside the time limit. Examples could include a crash caused by a third party, like a spectator, or perhaps a level-crossing delaying the riders. In some cases when a rider shows exceptional courage then a moment of mercy is equally possible.
Safety in numbers
Also if more than 20% of the starters fall outside the cut-off then the jury will, with the race organisers, review the situation. It’s a way to ensure the race isn’t decimated… but this is subjective and few riders want to cross the line with their fingers crossed hoping for clemency.