Making the cut

Monday, 18 July 2011

Voiture Balai

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

Example
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.

Uphill sprint
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.

CD July 18, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Seems like a dumb strategy by Movistar if Cav is just going to hang onto his team car up every climb.

Dennis July 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm

They want to ride hard enough to make it difficult enough for Cavendish on the stage, but not too hard so that the time cut gets too big. That sweet spot will be difficult to find.

Martin July 18, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Not sure why i thought it, but i always thought that if someone had a classification jersey they could not be eliminated, but would be docked points.
Seems a bit of an unsporting strategy to me. It’s basically trying to get someone kicked off a race which does not seem right to me.

Gillis July 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm

what about the rule stating they can’t eliminate X% of the group regardless of time….which is why they try and stay together at the end of long stages.

blake w July 18, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Doesn’t seem very sporting. Rojas and co seem so shady and try to find anyway to usurp Cav from the jersey and or points, that is any way but actually besting him on the line.

AJ July 18, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Interesting idea, Dennis. I did some calculations and found that for reasonable stage distances and speeds, as the winning time becomes faster, the increase in the cut-off time from le délai is always smaller that the decrease in the cut-off time from going faster. Bottom line: Even with the increasing percentages in le délai, a faster winning time means a smaller cut-off time, and presumably more suffering (or more riders being cut).

AdamL July 18, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Why isn’t this a sporting tactic? It’s not tacks under his tires or a frame pump in his spokes. For someone to finish a GT, they need to stay inside the timecut. Cav is a rocket in the sprint, but an anchor on the high mountains. He plays to his strengths, besides Rojas, the Movistar team has quite a few talented climbers, and they will be playing to their strength. Interesting idea – but I don’t think it will work.

The Inner Ring July 18, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Gillis: good point, it’s 20% and I’ve amended the text above to add this bit. Thanks.

AJ: exactly, which is why a very fast start to Friday’s short stage could be troublesome for Cavendish and others.

Frank July 18, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I don’t think they actually expect it to work, otherwise they wouldn’t announce they were going to try!
By doing this they’re effectively giving Europcar and Leopard-Trek an excuse to sit up and take a tow, and HTC will know its coming so will be prepared. Just mind games really.

Chuffy July 18, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Has the yellow jersey ever been eliminated?

Nathan July 18, 2011 at 9:41 pm

@Chuffy: It’s wikipedia, so treat it cautiously, but apparently 14 riders have left the tour while wearing yellow. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_jersey_statistics#Yellow_jersey_retirees

grumpyoldman July 18, 2011 at 9:53 pm

With Betfair, Cav is currently hot favourite at 100/30 on to take the green jersey, with Rojas second favourite at 13/2 against.

Given that Cav only finished 1 minute inside the limit at the Plateau de Beille, and given what you say about Movistar’s strategy, I do not regard his odds as particularly generous.

He looked as if he was pretty distressed for part of the trip on Saturday. The commentators on France 2 were getting pretty agitated at one stage. Stage 18, with 3 HCs in 200km could be the last straw.

I hope I’m wrong, as it would leave a sour taste, and in my view, would not do much for the prestige of the race if he was eliminated.

mk July 18, 2011 at 10:11 pm

By not pushing, hanging on to cars etc, a sprinter can get in some “rest” which could potentially give them an advantage on the next flat stage. So which isn’t sporting? Forcing your rival to work or bending/breaking the rules to get an advantage in a latter stage?

Beth July 18, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I agree that it seems unsporting and even underhanded, but is still within the rules. Sometimes these things backfire, though. Movistar needs to take care. The press, the fans, even the peloton will have the last word on whether this is an “O.K.” thing to do. If Cav actually is eliminated, and if it happens on a stage where Movistar pushed the pace up, I expect Movistar will be “questioned” about it ad nauseum for years to come. Bizarre that they would announce their intentions like that before hand. Mind games?

LeonG July 18, 2011 at 10:25 pm

While it sounds like a mediahype exercie how could it be underhand as a strategy? It is perfectly fair to attempt to fairly gain any jersey and if it means cycling someone off their legs then Eddy M & Bernard H could tell you a few tales of their own. Best of luck to Movistar but I’m sure HTC would have a riposte of their own so why blab publicly about tactics?

Rich July 18, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Movistar hitting at the start, bad weather, it’s going to be interesting

Bundle July 18, 2011 at 11:32 pm

People who say this strategy is unsporting or underhanded are not explaining their perception. Mine is that the cut-off is older than all of us here, and still no one has ever succeeded in eliminating anyone on purpose. So, kudos to Movistar if, first, they show the audacity to make such an ambitious attempt and, second, they have the strength (with their decimated team) to succeed. It would be Tour de France drama at its best to see Cavendish writhing his way up to Alpe d’Huez in order to save his green jersey.
I agree that in theory they shouldn’t be announcing it, but they need to stir the judges’ awareness in this regard: there have been allegations of Cav clinging to his car, not only in the TdF but in the Giro as well, and that Movistar’s car is not being allowed near the last gruppetto, whereas HTC’s is.

ave July 19, 2011 at 12:49 am

I’d love to see Movistar at least try…
I’m sure they can pay a photographer to follow Cav all day.

Also a fast race would certainly affect the favourites’ race too.

Chuffy July 19, 2011 at 1:16 am

@Nathan – thanks for that. My wife asked and I was sure none had (cited Sherwen being allowed back in after a crash).

Movistar trying to eliminate Cav is dastardly, but no more so than HTC keeping Cav’s train going to take points off other contenders in the intermediate sprints. Legal and it all adds spice. :)

jza July 19, 2011 at 1:37 am

Yes, Rojas and Cav should ride together, in the grupetto, holding hands as they cross the line and smile and hug. Just like the Schlecks. The race is so much nicer if nobody has to lose.

jeez….It is a race, there is a time cut, if you can’t make the time cut you’re out. Racing is racing, if Cav can’t hang on, he shouldn’t be there. If you don’t like the time cut rule, find another race. Mountain stages effect the whole race, not just the GC.

gav July 19, 2011 at 1:59 am

I cant really see how this tactic by Movistar will work if there is any truth to it. It seems a last crack at the green after failing on the line? In all fairness to HTC those boys put in most of the work over that last stage with all the other teams hanging on to their back wheels, Tyler should organise his train rather than complain about Cavendish- truth is Garmin were disorganised in the closing sprint. HTC put the work in, they got the result. Interesting to see how it will effect the GC riders though…

Jimmyp July 19, 2011 at 2:42 am

Thank God inrng has an educated and intelligent audience. No offence to our host (more so a compliment to our host), but sometimes the comments are better than the article that begot them. Keep it coming, everybody.

C Grade Cyclist July 19, 2011 at 4:17 am

My 2-cents is that its a legitimate tactic. The ‘time gap’ rule has been there since kingdom come, and everyone has to play by the same rules.

If the greenjersey was somehow sacrosanct, then Team SKy could hire track sprinter Chris Hoy for the Tour de France. They could tow him to the line for the flat stages, and let him take 10-hours to finish the mountain stages….

OK – that’s a bit exaggrated & unrealistic. But hopefully you get my point. To be a TdF sprinter, you need to (1) be an awesome sprinter, and (2) be able to get thrugh the mountains in decent shape. Point (2) should not be forgotten…..

Davey July 19, 2011 at 6:14 am

I have to agree with the folks above who say it’s a race, and within the rules and conventions, anything goes. However, pretty weak of Movistar to announce ahead of time that they intend to take the fight into the gutter. Maybe some kind of psy-ops? Cav seems pretty neurotic, maybe this will mess him up.

Grumpsical July 19, 2011 at 10:43 am

I doubt that such a petty tactic will help a two bit team like Movistar. They forget that Cav is perfectly capable of climbing, but that he chooses not to (within the rules) in order to conserve energy for annihilating squirts like Rojas.

He has shown time and time again that he can climb, when he needs to, and this is just another of those pathetic exercises by a team that on other days is reduced to making scurrilous accusations about cheating.

ScienceTwitt July 19, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Its a race, a stage race. Climbers make it tough for the peloton so they gain time and stage wins. As has been pointed out above its a GT and the green jersey if for collecting the most points and reaching Paris. If you cannot climb then so be it. If someone wants to get rid of you by hammering on the front then thats part of racing. Hanging onto cars and variable delai times are where things start to grey. they need to tighten up the rules but dont expect ASO to jump. They like headlines like anyone else trying to make money from a race. If you are a good sprinter and can climb better than Cav and think you can push him out of the delai zone then why not? Will it work? Who knows but I also agree that its part of Movistar focusing on Cav simply because Rojas thinks he gets away with too much. Does he? Lets see if someone films him or gets a picture of him holding onto a car for a significant portion of a climb.

Flashing Pedals July 19, 2011 at 12:30 pm

everyone racing at this level – TDF knows the ‘score’.
riding hard from km zero is a well versed tactic in racing – I have seen it happen in one day races (E3 Prijs) or major stages in the mountains at the Tour.

It’s a part of bike racing, it may grate some ‘morals’ but get over it people. The racing is brutal when you’re hanging – tired riders, getting up day after day to survive and win, or exist in the race.
Many different levels, but they all know the score – If a rival can gain advantage and secure a jersey, stage, or simply eliminate them, they will.
Does anyone complain about the naughty teams who ride in the crosswinds and eliminate GC prospects ? the riders who get shelled out because they cannot ride in the waaiers?
the break that goes with all the big hitters in it, yet forgets to ‘take’ the star who missed the move ?

No of course not.
If Cavendish survives a mountain stage, then good luck to him, If he hangs onto anything, team fans will take pics, as he is the green jersey – it’ll quickly surface in the media.

PJ July 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm

The comment by C Grade Cyclist is spot on, especially when you consider the green jersey is the reward of a points competition, not a sprinting competition.

With that in mind, I don’t think Movistar could be thought of as being ‘underhanded’ in adopting a strategy of lifting the race pace in order to test if Cav can beat the time limit. It’s no different than one GC team splitting the peloton in a crosswind to try and distance another, less powerful GC rider. Harsh, yes, but fair and within the rules. This is professional sport.

However, announcing this strategy to the rest of the world probably compromises any chance it might have had of succeeding, and as others have pointed out Movistar aren’t scaring anyone with what’s left of their team.

Mark July 19, 2011 at 1:01 pm

What’s all this bullshit about Cav hanging onto cars ? Sour grapes from his rivals because he is too good for them

Martin W July 19, 2011 at 1:39 pm

@ “Mark” – shouldn’t you be warming up? Big stage today!

Gingerflash July 19, 2011 at 2:19 pm

While lots of people are dissing MOvistar for being underhand, let’s not forget that the first suggestion of using this tactic against Cav came from the boy-wonder Gilbert. He said OPhL might try to eliminate Cav by setting a tough pace in the pyrenees.

They didn’t do it, but if it’s a dastardly, trick, then Gilbert’s dog is Muttley.

My opinion? It’s an old rule, Cav knows it, Rojas knows that climbing Cav’s weakness and his own (relative) strength – fair game.

Tim July 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm

If you can’t finish the race all the way to Paris, you can’t win the jersey. Maybe this will highlight the issue for Cavendish and he will work harder on climbing in his training. Maybe improving his climbing will negatively affect his sprinting. Who knows? But a grand tour tests your abilities differently than other races, and the rules are the same for everybody (unless you’ve tested positive for Clen).

DPR July 19, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Is it worth pointing out where Cavendish finished today? All alone as well I gather… shows he can climb when he wants to.

43 Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad 0:06:48

Well above last place rider 170 Julian Dean (NZl) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:16:47

Brian July 20, 2011 at 1:21 am

Where did Movistar make this announcement. Anyone got a link?

The Inner Ring July 20, 2011 at 8:21 am
Brian July 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm

inrng, thanks for the response. I read the article and I don’t see where there is any indication of tactics to drop Cav on the mountain stages. Instead, Rojas is just saying he’ll work for the green jersey as hard as he can … to the ends of his strengths (“hasta el límite de mis fuerzas”). This could mean pushing the pace in the mountains, but there isn’t any announcement from Movistar or Rojas to this effect.

In fact there are only two mentions of Cavendish. The first is to say that at the intermediate sprint in stage 13, Cavendish complained, but nothing happened because of it (“‘Cavendish se ha quejado en el sprint intermedio, pero no ha pasado absolutamente nada’, comentó el murciano, respecto a unas quejas del ciclista británico). The second, is to say that, along with Gilbert, he is a great competitor (“son dos rivales buenísimos”).

And in case anyone is wondering, I did double check with Google translator, but it didn’t help much. After two years living in Argentina and that Spanish minor my Spanish is good enough to know it’s a terrible translation.

The Inner Ring July 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm
Brian July 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm

That’s better. I was hoping it was a wrong link; I haven’t been following your blog for very long but so far I’ve been impressed with your journalism.

dsm July 20, 2011 at 4:25 pm

All very interesting but isn’t the point for the sprinters to just make the time and save as much energy as possible. Why make it in the red zone when you’ve still got ten minutes to spare. This is a skill in itself and all part of the race. GC riders spend 3 weeks gauging their effort against those around them, it’s no different for the sprinters.

As for Cav, to win in Paris, first you have to get to Paris and am I missing something but hasn’t he won in Paris the last 2 years. Oh that’s right, the Tour hasn’t included any mountains before.

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