The Romanticism of Christian Prudhomme

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Prudhomme Tour de France

Christian Prudhomme is an optimist, a romantic and a dreamer. When the Tour de France route was unveiled last October the message from the race organiser was a race where the long time trials and a shortage of climbing would incite the climbers into daring raids, offering Alpine theatre and Pyrenean panache. Only this year’s vintage has not met those expectations, the climbers were neutralised and the most daring raid was came on the rest day when the gendarmes swooped on Rémy di Gregorio.

Much of this is not Prudhomme’s fault. The crash on Stage 6 took out plenty of riders and many of the survivors soldiered on with injuries. And any remaining hopes died when Team Sky put their train to work, asphyxiating the others with a high pace that prevents attacks, it is impressive work but it reduces the contest.

Still, was it realistic to expect riders to make up for lost time by going on a big attack? I don’t think so. Today we saw Alejandro Valverde win the stage. But he was so far down overall that he could get away. The idea of actual contenders battling for the yellow jersey with risky raids is always unlikely. Let’s look at three reasons why this was over-optimistic:

  • Historical precedent: can you remember the last time riders threw caution to the wind and took off on daring long range moves? It’s very rare. Last year we saw Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador try but it was so surprising because it’s rare; it worked for Schleck but failed for Contador. Before this perhaps we have to go back to 2006 and Floyd Landis’s manly Morzine mania. Over the years such bravery is very rare, to this day many still celebrate Hugo Koblet’s exploits from 1951 on the roads from Brive to Agen.
  • Risk: as mentioned on here before, an attack is risky. If it works in the mountains you could gain time but if it fails you will lose. Riders are not wild risk-takers and the system of UCI points rewards those able to secure consistent overall finishes ahead of the stage winners. We might want to see riders try big moves but the system means they are paid to do the opposite. For all the debate and hot air generated over race radios, the most sanitising effect on races is the UCI points system where generous rewards go to riders who might be invisible to the TV cameras during the race.
  • Tactics: even if Sky were not in the race, if a rider takes off up the road then they would soon find other teams chasing and a thin climber can rarely take much time back, their advantage is rapier-like attacks. Even if they could get away, our imaginary climber has to cope with descents, valley roads and more, terrain where they lose to the rouleurs.

In short, long range attacks have been rare in history, riders are not incentivised to try them and even if they gave it a go they might find the time triallists would eventually reel them back.

But what if we bought too much into Prudhomme’s claims? When the route came out he couldn’t stand up and say “ok, this is one for the time trial guys to limit their losses“. Instead he had to hype it up, to give us something to dream about over winter. After all declaring “the climbers must go on the attack” is another way of saying “the time trial specialists will hold the cards“.

The French had reasons to cheer

Prudhomme will take some satisfaction. Several stage wins mean the French audience – still important for business – is satisfied; it could have been worse. Prudhomme is an anglophile and British success is good for business, taking the race to another new audience in a large and accessible consumer market will delight the race’s sponsors (think Skoda, Nestlé). Now this is no comfort for fans but the Tour is a business, it was created to sell newspapers in 1903.

What about next year?
Can things be changed to make the race for the yellow jersey a bit more exciting?

  • You could have a harder first week where the yellow jersey is more likely to change but there’s a balance here, too hard and you begin to see the overall classification take shape. Big climbs are exciting but once we establish a rider’s power/weight ratio we establish the overall rankings too.
  • A more radical idea is to reduce the team size from nine riders to seven or even six riders. This means a squad has less manpower to control the race and the second order effect is that you could invite more squads to the race which would make things a lot more random. It’s not a wild idea, Prudhomme likes the idea but speaking to La Dépêche du Midi he explained it would not be easy:

“It would be a genuine solution, but I’ve got to remind you that we’re not in charge here, and I could remind you of the general panic that followed a proposal to bring down teams of nine riders to eight riders in the grand tours. So let’s not even think of six.

Team managers work hard to build a team and having a big squad of 30 riders but only taking six would frustrate many. It would also dilute the power of the existing, incumbent teams so let’s not expect these turkeys to vote for festive celebrations.

No script
But perhaps it’s time to be recognise that the race organisers can’t offer guarantees, they cannot make things happen.  Maybe we – fans and race organisers alike – need to abandon the pretence that a race director is a film director who prepares the scenes, chooses camera angles and even supplies a script. Yes, the race organisers can design different types of races but there are limits.

Conclusion
Crashes took out some riders, Team Sky have been too strong. If the 2012 is not a vintage year for yellow jersey excitement, perhaps this likely to be the case given the route but misfortune made things even less of a contest? Ultimately the race comes down to the riders and perhaps no amount of extra climbs, narrow roads or otherwise can guarantee excitement. A move to reduce the size of teams could make the race exciting but many existing team owners would reject this.

If Prudhomme is an optimist, good for him. To borrow a French phrase, he “sins by optimism”, and if dreaming is his biggest fault things could be worse. Is he naive? I don’t think so and promises of excitement and bold attacks are what is required from him, every race organiser since Desgrange has tried to boost the race beyond reality. Indeed his work to reshape the race is making things more exciting. He is also a businessman but as race director, let’s not assume he’s omnipotent. Maybe it’s our fault for wanting the biggest race of the year to always be the best?

TomC July 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm

I think that the loss of GC contenders in the stage 6 crash was what really hindered the race. The loss of Hesjedal, and the Garmin team as a GC threat, and others was a real detriment and meant that there were too few challengers to sky’s dominance. The only real threat has come from nibali but if Garmin were still in the GC race you could see them mixing it up a bit. The lack of Andy Schleck has also been to the detriment of the race for the yellow jersey, again you could imagine a repeat of some of last years exploits or at least more attacks in the mountains from the Grimpeur to spice up the race.

Not that this would have made too much difference to the leader, Sky are simply too strong, but it may have helped make the race more exciting.

Zac July 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I agree about the lack of Andy Schleck. Mainly because the strongest team other than Team Sky is Radioshack-Nissan. They are the 1 team who could come to the front and set a high pace to try to isolate Wiggins and then once he is alone, having Andy Schleck attack (and we could all see that Wiggins couldn’t bring anyone back himself, he always needed his team). The problem was that RSNT went into this without an overall aspiration so they went for the team lead and never put the pressure on. Also, having Contador would have helped too, because he may have lost some time in the TT’s but he is the other rider I see being able to attack and take time. If Schleck and Contador were in this race I think things would have been more exciting, but again we can never know what could have happened

The Inner Ring July 20, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Andy Schleck would have been interesting, if he attacked maybe Froome would have followed? Although that said you sense he’d have been down on the overall and therefore Froome might not have followed?

Zac July 20, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I think Froome would have stayed with Wiggins to try to pace him back up but if RSNT put someone in the break or even if they just put up a hard pace to leave Wiggins with only Froome to help and have Andy attack on the last climb then he could possibly take back time. Who knows, but I think the lack of a “great” climber is what really hurt this tour. That or having Froome decide he wants to win himself and attack his own teammate… Now that would have been exciting

Grupetto Denny July 19, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Eight rider teams would be a good start and would also slightly reduce the chance of crashes. People complain about the amount of time trial kilometres but I don’t agree that this year has been excessive. Go back to the mid-eighties and you’ll see that the Tour involving the intiriguing duel between teammates Hinault and Lemond involved over 200km of time trialing! The key factor this year has simply been that Wiggins and Froome have been by far the strongest riders and have had an incredibly strong team to back them up. The competition just didn’t come close.

Mick July 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm

I think you’re assuming that by dropping 1 rider/team there would, then, only be a start # of 176 riders (22×8), thus fewer riders, less chance for crashes etc…dropping to teams of 8 would be done to open up 2 (possibly 3) more team slots…The demand for more team slots always outstrips availablility. Potentially more actions/attacks/etc…but if I had to bet, even more chaos the first week(!)

mark July 20, 2012 at 11:49 am

Sky have only had 8 riders for the majority of this race anyway. If you cut the number of riders to 8, Sky could have replaced Cavendish and Eisel with Pate and Uran and they would have been even more dominant in GC.

Brad July 19, 2012 at 8:49 pm

With the amount of ITT km’s the climbers were going to have to attack even if there were 2 more summit finishes, so why put only 1 in the Alps and gut the first stage in the Pyrenees? Prudhomme seemed to be sticking it to the climbers this year because last year he gave them their perfect route and outside of Andy’s too late and a dollar short attack they didn’t do anything with it.

6 rider teams would make for much more interesting racing I think but doubt it will ever happen.

Seems like the stages were really short this year, mixing in a couple of the marathon 6-7 hour stages like we saw in the Giro last night creates some different demands.

But not Prudhomme’s fault Andy and Alberto weren’t there for the attacking but if it wasn’t for Froome we would be talking about how Wiggins dropped all his rivals on the climbs anyway.

Sam July 19, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Sky have effectively dominated with only 6 riders. Siutsou crashed out early and although Cavendish and Eisel have been great help with water bottles and a bit of pace setting, the devastating riding has been performed by a team of 6. Infact it’s really 5, since Wiggins hasn’t really needed to do any of it.

If we reduced teams to 6 this year, I think we would have had the same result.

Tom July 19, 2012 at 9:02 pm

This would have been a totally different Tour if Contador were riding it. He’s as good as anyone against the clock as well as in the mountains. I may actually watch the Vuelta this year.

Ankush July 19, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Just look at the guys riding for Wiggins at Team Sky – Froome, Porte, Rogers, EBH. These are some quality riders with couple of real GC contenders. This year’s race has been boring mainly because of the disparity between the top teams. And I agree with TomC, I also don’t think Ryder’s presence in the race would have affected Team Sky much.

This year’s parcours had too much time trialing and once Wiggins put 2-3 minutes on his rivals, it was going to be very difficult for other GC guys to get back that jersey off him. I would like to see slightly more balanced parcours, a couple of extra mountain top finishes might have done the job. But then Monsieur Prudhomme is the expert.

mark July 20, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Really Ankush? Its not as if Wiggins/Froome appeared particularly weak on the mountain top finishes – in fact, more mountain tops may have just ended up in greater sky dominance. Maybe we’ll see next year….

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale July 19, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, two of the three most significant riders in the last five years, did not race this year. Promising climbers like Ryder Hesjedal and Robert Gesink were injured before the Tour ever crossed a 1st Category climb. It’s quite possible that Sky would have won the race anyway, but we can’t know what the race would have looked like if some of the best guys were able to race.

No HC summits, extra TT mileage… this was never going to be the hardest Tour ever. And I’m okay with that. The fact is, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome dropped the rest of the field today riding up to Peyregaudes. The reason the Tour never really took off is because the two strongest riders are on the same team and are actually willing to follow team orders, happily or not.

Not every Tour can be the “biggest and best yet.” Last year in the Giro we saw the danger of that philosophy–a race that becomes ridiculous, and a race that was no more exciting than this year’s Tour. Some years have to be “regular years.” And with the 100th Tour next year, I think the plan was always to have a more conventional Tour this year.

Next year will be the spectacular route; it’s a significant Tour, there will be a good number of intriguing story lines, and there will be a lot of riders with a chance to win the overall. I expect, at minimum, a visit to Alpe d’Huez and another HC summit finish. The classic, legendary locations of the Tour should all get visits, and I’m even hoping for a mountain time trial. With Contador, Wiggins, Froome, and Andy all looking like good possibilities to win, the young French climbers as outside shots, and guys like Nibali and Van Garderen looking strong, it could be a classic.

Iron horse equestrian July 20, 2012 at 11:50 am

A mountain TT sounds intriguing. Are they used much?

Velotragic July 19, 2012 at 9:22 pm

The problem with reducing team size, is that teams would need to become even more specialised than they already are. There would be dedicated sprint and GC teams. The net number of riders influencing the result (whether sprint or mountain stage) would remain the same.

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale July 19, 2012 at 9:40 pm

There will still be fewer riders available to fetch bottles and to guard their men on the flats, but in general I agree that specialization will increase.

The danger is that there is a lot of attrition already, and if you start teams with only six riders, losing one or two becomes much more serious. And, inevitably, some team is going to wind up not finishing the Tour with a single rider, and there will be a lot of complaining.

Vaughters alluded to the real problem on twitter today: it’s not the number of riders a team fields, it’s the amount of money the super teams are able to pay some of the best riders to work together. Sky paid huge money to the Tour’s best climber to escort their leader around France.

Sam July 19, 2012 at 10:14 pm

But there are (a fair few) other teams with similar budgets, some of them could have bought better talent and done a better job e.g. BMC

Sam July 19, 2012 at 10:15 pm

On reflection that is a bit harsh. But using Sky and BMC as examples, Sky have bought to win le Tour de France, BMC didn’t.

tgartner July 20, 2012 at 2:21 am

Yes, I think team budgets are an issue. I loved Vaughters’s comment (I think it was during the Dauphine) about Sky having two 800k-euro guys shepherding a 900k-euro guy shepherding a million-euro guy shepherding a 2 million-euro guy. Due credit to Sky for spending wisely on the likes of Froome and Rogers, but the point is valid. I suppose a salary cap is probably not possible, but it is something that has worked to a good extent in U.S. sports.

Duncan July 19, 2012 at 9:24 pm

“For all the debate and hot air generated over race radios, the most sanitising effect on races is the UCI points system where generous rewards go to riders who might be invisible to the TV cameras during the race.”

+1

The Inner Ring July 19, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Indeed, this is one variable that can be changed… but like any change to the incentives, the long term effects are hard to predict, with unintended consequences. But I do think points are more important than radios.

Josh July 20, 2012 at 12:57 am

I would really like to better understand how that system works. Is there an older post or a future one planned to better help me learn it – or another website?

Rui July 20, 2012 at 1:25 am
Josh July 20, 2012 at 8:43 am

Thank you!

paul kelly July 19, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Throw in some more Plateu de Bellefilles finishes, not long, but add on a long day in the saddle, lots of attacks, big group hitting bottom @ speed = Carnage, best stage this year!

muellermanfred July 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Agree on the suggestion of having smaller teams! You could even tempt a wider mixture of racer types by reshaping the in-race trophys and rewards. But the majority of the success would still go to the big wealthy teams, because they buy away all the strong riders from the market.

Smaller teams would make it more colourful (and offer a challenge to journalists too). But we would still see dominant crews win.

Jcox bar July 19, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Another question for inrng from a newbie. Totally captivated this years tour and lovin the inrng coverage. Now thinking about traveling to see a mountain stage for next year. Any tips on how to go about planning such a trip. Are there any websitestiy can recommend as a starting point. E.g How long in advance do you have to arrive if you wanna bellow at the peloton as it flogs itself up alpe dhuez?

The Inner Ring July 19, 2012 at 10:01 pm

It’s probably been covered elsewhere but yes, you need to get there early. The roads are closed several hours before and for a mountain, you want to be in a good position up above. So you can start early, riding up is good but it means you must watch your bike.

Wait for the route to be announced in October and there should be some good stages to pick.

jkeltgv July 19, 2012 at 11:02 pm

not done the tour but seen the Giro multiple times and the best way is to arrive at a junction where you can meet the race route maybe 40 or 50km from where you want to watch it and then park your car, get your bike sorted and ride that part of the route before the race hits it – You need to work out how long it will take you to ride that bit and then work back from maybe 2 hours before the race hits there. I do understand that the Gendarme are much more strict than la polizia/carabinieri. Just pack enough to eat and drink and don’t start riding back down the hill before EVERY rider has come past you….also remember you need to ride the 40 or 50km back to the car without the adrenaline of riding the race route. Just remember to plan it all well and not “wing it”. All this is bearing in mind that my giro experiences are probably 10% of what it is like to do the tour – bigger crowds, less parking, more people riding, more people working, more gendarmes trying to stop you etc. Anyway, do it and don’t hesitate.

Jcox bar July 20, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Thanx for comments

STS July 19, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Should the organizer of the TdF design the route (and its stages) in order to predominantly provide interesting racing for the cycling fans? Yes, absolutely. There can be no question about this because this is professional sport. And professional sport is held for the spectators. Riders get paid only because we guys want to watch them race. So, if the long term trend continues and future Tours become as boring (or even more) as this one finally turned out to be, professional cycling will probably continue to loose fans and public interest and so will “Le Tour”.

The stages over the Grand Colombier and the one into Foix were telling examples of how dilettantishly stage finals can be designed. Why add a flat section to the final when coming down from the Col de Péguère and not finish the stage directly in Foix right where the descent ends?

If you want GC contenders to “risk” attacking from far although their gain is very questionable and the risk of getting caught and loosing time is big you have to design stages in order to reduce that risk and not increase it.

And with the race radios and TV receivers in every team car there is no more sense in doing monster stages. They wear out the riders making them think more about surviving the stages than animating them. Last year’s short stage to L’Alpe d’Huez was a very good example of great GC racing right from the gun to the finish. Any stage longer than 4 to 4.5 hours is an anachronism and almost a warranty for sustained boredom in terms of GC racing.

Decades ago those stages (sometimes) made for some great, epic battles. But then there were no race radios, no cell phones and no live TV coverage in the team cars. Those times are long gone. And there is no use in trying to get them back. Todays riders don’t want them back, team managers don’t want them back and sponsors don’t want them back.
That’s why the layout of stage racing has to adapt to these changes or the public interest will decrease.

Gingerflash July 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm

The point is that it’s almost impossible to plan a guaranteed exciting race. This year was thought to be an easier parcours and it’s said we had dull racing. Last year’s Giro course was the oppposite, crazy climbs most days, so hard that it was very dull with Contador wining by a huge margin.

Both races have been dull simply because one team or rider is far better than the rest. Any criticism should be aimed at those teams who just weren’t at the right level for the most important race of the year.

jim July 19, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Not a classic vintage perhaps, but there’s been plenty of excitement and highlights this year. It’s stood out for the amount of successful breakaways. And surely Monsieur V deserves a mention for his Merckxesque raid of the Circle of Death on Wednesday. That is something that will live in my memory for a while.

Brady July 19, 2012 at 9:49 pm

If Contador is in the race, or Cadel is on form, it’s much more exciting race. AC loses a couple minutes to Wiggins in the TT’s and has to get those back in the moutains. He would have been able to attack where Nibali, Evans couldn’t.

Ken July 19, 2012 at 9:59 pm

For all of Team Sky’s “dominance,” Wiggins’ lead is less than 3 minutes. What if the Tour brought back time bonuses — significant ones — for the climbs? That might give climbers with weaker teams an incentive to get away.

We saw the effect of raising the intermediate sprint points this year. It made for exciting mid-race action.

amelon July 19, 2012 at 10:00 pm

I hate to say it (ugh), but I miss Contador. Maybe that is too strong, but it would’ve been really interesting to see him in this race against Sky.

jim July 19, 2012 at 10:20 pm

I’ve got no qualms saying I miss AC – He was amazing to watch in last year’s Tour.

STS July 19, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Totally agree. Todays well calculated racing needs guys like Berto (and Voeckler although he’s not in the same league) who still race on instinct. And who have already proven to be succesful and don’t necessarily have to prove it with every move. They will still be admired for having tried even if their attempts fail. That kind of security makes them go when the chance arises and not wait and think about it until it’s too late. Can’t wait to see AC back in action.

Qwibble July 19, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Todays display by Froome and Wiggins has shown that the best TT riders are in fact also the best Climbers, so the gist of this article is not really valid. As for Sky been too dominant = boring, certainly not for this Brit! Really enjoyed the three stage wins as well as the GC success. Over the last twenty years or so we’ve had lots of dominant teams and riders such as Lemond, Indurain, Armstrong, and Contadope, and watching their stars rise, find sucess, and then surely fade has been fascinating.

Will be good to have Contador back I agree amelon, always best to see the best pushing each other on.

Been really enjoying the inrng blog, keep up the good work.

mo July 19, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Wasn’t it this website that said if u found the race boring than look elsewhere prudhomme has bowed to the suits hence the big town finishes – disappointing race

Rip Van Winkle July 19, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Race was a snooze fest. No way to argue that. 2 maillot jaune wearers…no close time gaps to make attacks realistic or worthwhile. BORING.

What is the point of stages with 5 climbs and then 10k descents to finishes – this tour proved that doesn’t create time gaps worth tuning in for. And the 3 TTs is dumb. The last one now how has no bearing on GC or podium. None of these mountain stages were that exceptional not when compared to Giro this year or the battles last year. The route this year made it far to easy for Sky to control the race – how was Prudhomme supposed to know? It’s his job to figure that at out.

Let’s see where the TV ratings come out for this years tour vs. last year after the first rest day – as a measure to determine if people started tuning out.

Hands down the Giro was a much more exciting race this year – regardless if the riders or course made the race.

Barodeur Billy July 20, 2012 at 1:35 am

I’m not sure if TV ratings will be a key factor, because I’m sure the ratings in Great Britain went up big-time.

Sam July 20, 2012 at 9:33 am

The tour is normally shown on ITV4 in Britain (and Eurosport for those with subscription). This weekend it will be shown on ITV1, which is a mainstream channel rather than a side one. Clearly they are hoping to show a British win.

The mainstream media which would normally ignore cycling has certainly started to get more excited.

David Woodley July 19, 2012 at 11:33 pm

I thought the 2011 tour was particularly exciting. It may be that this year was always going be dull in comparison.

Bundle July 19, 2012 at 11:36 pm

I tend to agree with your analysis, not so much with the conclusions.
1) We can’t underestimate the Contador & Andy absence: Prudhomme surely had them in mind when devising the 2012 Tour (at least Andy). Both guys can surely drop top-form Wiggins on any gradient above 6%.
2) Your analysis seems to assume that contenders’ relative forces are equivalent on day 2 as on day 20, and that a mountain stage would yield the same results on the first week as on the last. In a doping-free environment, and with many, many miles on riders’ legs, this continuity should be very unlikely, because peak fitness doesn’t usually last three weeks, and some guys are more powerful than ultra-endurant and the other way round. Also, the best climber for a short, steep, one-climb stage is not necessarily the same climber for a 270km raid with 5 HC passes (so we should have all sorts of mountain stages). Actually, there should be more of everything: given a certain proportion between TT and mountain, both categories of stages can be increased, both in mileage and number of days. If one guy happens to be the strongest everywhere, well, kudos to him, there will be no nail-biting, whatever the route.
3) Race organisers vs team-owners: who cares about the opinion of the latter?? It is the organisers that try to look after “le spectacle”, the ones that take care of the sovereign fan’s interests. We shouldn’t give the teams any chance at all to call even a tiny part of the shots here. If 6 or 4 riders per team, or no teams at all, is better for the race, so be it. (I was actually discussing this the other day with some Pro-Conti riders, and of course they were against, but their arguments carry no credibility, they’re just defending their job opportunities). At any rate, the field should be reduced to 110-120 riders maximum, both for safety and spectacularity reasons.

ak July 19, 2012 at 11:37 pm

I think there was quite some excitement in this tour. Except in the race for the yellow of course. But that was not because of the route. Even with the long tt still ahead there’s no contest. None of the climbers dropped Wiggins, despite numerous attempts. If Froome switches teams, AC and AS join in, and no gc contender crashes in the first week, do this same route again next year and it will be way more exciting.
Of course, more mountain finishes would help. And giving loads of UCI points for the combative rider classification, mountain jerseys and stage winners.

LDR99 July 20, 2012 at 1:33 am

“And giving loads of UCI points for the combative rider classification, mountain jerseys and stage winners.”

Now there’s an interesting idea.

Sam July 20, 2012 at 9:36 am

I would possibly agree with the jersey and stage winners, but the combativity prize is awarded by a panel of judges and is hence subjective, something I dislike in sport.

Larry T. July 20, 2012 at 12:00 am

Boring course, less-than-stellar field…what do we expect? LeTour is way too often raced in the negative way especially when the course favors the “kill ‘em in the chrono, defend in the mountains” style of racing. ASO needs to do better…but then again…maybe not….Le Beeg Shew’s the biggest event on the calendar and the race is rarely all that exciting. I wonder what the TV ratings will be for this year? I’d guess they might not be some of the highest on record.

MG July 20, 2012 at 12:07 am

I thought the route this year was actually pretty good, except maybe for the needless extra lap of Foix. The real problem is that Sky were too strong. I think we also have to be careful in terms of what we require of riders, to make things more ‘interesting’-you can either have a clean tour or just let everyone take what they want, but climbing up endless mountain passes does tend to encourage riders to go beyond what they might normally be physiologically capable of.
As for next year, I reckon Corsica would be a good place to go and watch.

Barodeur Billy July 20, 2012 at 12:07 am

They’ve got to be careful not to make time trials be too decisive. Frankly, to the average spectator time trials aren’t all that interesting; watching a single guy ride for 40 km is not as exciting as seeing a whole peleton try to negotiate that same course. And if you make the TT distances long enough to be decisive, then the good TT guys (like Wiggins) have less incentive to really kill themselves trying to win stages elsewhere.

I know that in the past, TT distances were longer still, but the sport’s changed. It’s become harder to achieve big time gaps on regular stages, even in the mountains, whereas the TT gaps are still there. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have two TTs (not counting the prologue) in one Tour. I’d have only one, and put it in the middle of the race, not the final weekend.

Andy G July 20, 2012 at 12:16 am

It’s a Tour … they’re all great, some better than others.
The Giro this year was a one-in-ten special edition.
Millar made the most insightful and ironically humourous observation of all … The Deathstar.

Another great blog, Ring.

Andy G July 20, 2012 at 12:29 am

One last thought … what if there was a ‘Super Goal’, a significant time bonus given to a team that could finish the fourth or fifth wheel within say, one minute of the first … run an edition that made it all about the Team competition … all TT’s are TTT’s.

grumpyoldman July 20, 2012 at 12:53 am

I don’t understand the nostalgia for Contador.

If he rides clean, where’s the certainty that he would give Wiggins or Froome a run for their money?

Esben Viborg July 20, 2012 at 1:02 am

I personally don’t think Sky were “too good” in this year. They were good, but nothing special.
It just seemed “too good” because the competition were very lackluster.
Noone were able to put in a really good attack. The few attacks we have seen from VDB, Evans and Nibali haven’t really had any punch to them.
It seemed almost too good when Sky had 4-5 ppl in the GC group when going over most of the mountain tops, but but none of the other teams tried to set the pace and shake the tree to get rid of the Sky guys. Liq. tried today but the pace they set, were way too slow to do any real damage.
Sky were good. but the lack of resistance made them seem “too good”.

LDR99 July 20, 2012 at 1:42 am

“They were good, but nothing special.”

Sky was the most dominant team to ride the Tour since the (in)glorious days of Postal. And even then, Heras, Rubiera, Acevedo, Landis, Hincapie never dominated like Knees, Boassen Hagen, Rodgers, Porte, and Froome.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are indeed, very special.

Esben Viborg July 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm

That might be the case, but how do you know?
Its not like anyone really tried to challenge the Sky “dominance”.
They look very dominating, but its on a very weak background.
No one has made a full hearted attemt to break Sky.
We haven’t seen any other team try to put pressure on Sky. So you can’t really say they are “the most dominating team since USP”, due to the fact that competition has been very weak.
Im pretty sure Sky would have seemed alot less dominating if Contador and fully fit Andy Schleck (with a moltivated Radioshack team) would have ridden in this years tour.
BMC might even have been able to challenge Sky if Evans had been a serious contender.

Im not saying that Sky wouldnt be able to be a dominating force in the Tour, like USP were, but this years they only seem dominating due to the lack of competition.

Doubter July 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Or very something…….
Porte in particular has never ridden that well….ever.
We haven’t seen Rogers ride that well in several years.

LDR99 July 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm

“Its not like anyone really tried to challenge the Sky ‘dominance’.”

No one really tried. So and so should have attacked. Etc. Etc. We always seem to think it is an easy thing to go up the road when the pace is high, just a question of will. Let’s give room to the possibility that Sky’s opponents didn’t go up the road because they couldn’t.

As in point of fact, many did try to challenge Sky’s dominance. Cadel was particularly persistent in his attacks before he finally cracked/fell ill. To the point of receiving criticism for it. Nibali attacked repeatedly, until the end in the Pyrenees when he too cracked, and he also had his team at the front until they were gone. VDB was on the attack repeatedly. Others tried to challenge Sky’s dominance. Sky just responded by sucking all the oxygen out of the race.

I’m not a fanboy of Sky or of the Sky/Postal approach to the Tour. But in my mind it is clear that Sky is the most dominant team in the Tour for years. Perhaps even surpassing Postal.

The field is fortunate there was no TTT. Sky would have taken minutes out of the field.

RSD July 20, 2012 at 1:58 am

I agree with the observation that the increased value of intermediate points made the sprint competition more competitive and more interesting. Riders like Sagan and others became much more active and visible.
I might suggest that adding an “omnium” points classification might also add some interesting competition – including some combination of sprint points, mountain points, stage placings, combativeness, GC, time trial placings, etc. One of the drawbacks to omnium competition is that it tends to promote overall mediocrity rather than specialized excellence. But it might be worth a try. (I think there is something like that in the Vuelta, but doesn’t get much attention).

DB downunder July 20, 2012 at 2:04 am

Chapeau to Brailsford & Team Sky, set a goal 6 years ago (1 year before publicly announcing it), announce it cope a heap in the first couple of years, learn and then deliver. Will be interesting to see if they can back it up …
The romanticism is dead because the stakes are too high and there are too many intelligent people involved. People only gamble, take risks when they perceive the rewards are worth it. Team Sky are showing shades of Big Mig, Tex, and possibly Merckx strategies, NOT talking about drugs! but the tactics of:
Step 1 Meticulous planning, including scouting hotels down to taking own linen & mattresses. http://www.cyclingnews.com/features/gallery-inside-the-new-team-sky-service-course
Step 2 Eliminate the competition by buying the best riders for own team, then
Step 3 Strangle to death anyone who turns up.
That sort of mindset strangles any creativity or risk taking because by definition all risks have been planned for and (hopefully) eliminated. This is what we are witnessing not great racing but the result of better than military like planning. With the stakes that high is this an unexpected by-product?
Challenge for ASO is the TDF is now like any World Cup competition, the best games are the quarter and semi-finals where people play to win, in the final they play not to lose.
Riders have been defending their positions since first week, so why are we surprised? Most (all?) teams realised they were riding for the 3rd step during the first TT stage, or perhaps even during the Dauphine…
Smaller numbers in the teams will reduce ability to control, perhaps also reduce the risk of one squad monopolising talent. More teams will probably increase the risk of crashes in the first week as this is the time that the pecking order sorts itself out and everyone is fresh so they gamble to take victories, points, and then ride to survive.
Maybe the answer is no team radios. Safety issue is real, so one race radio channel for all riders, controlled by the Race organiser who broadcasts with say 2-3 motorbikes feeding safety & course information only to the respective bunches. This is a logical extension of the current traffic control and time boards. In the first week reduces the risk of the DS’s screaming at the riders to all get to the front at the same time. TT stages no radios full stop. It is the race of truth, on your own, supposed to be pure. Keep the DS’s out of the real time, on the road race tactics, race organisation covers the safety aspect and the Team is restricted to the preparation of the riders for a race, in race support, dinner, and bed linen not control & influence on the day, that is for the riders.
Not a fan of time bonuses as they have also produced distorted results.
Points earned through the season should be split between rider and team, after all Teams make the investment in the resources to help a rider achieve their dreams, it is a symbiotic relationship. Perhaps if a rider does test positive, both lose points with a double loss penalty to the Team, no excuse for the “we had no idea” BS that gets spun out. Points’ sharing is a no brainer…. oh that’s right it’s the UCI …

beev July 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm

i was about to write a post when i read yours. i concur – the first paragraphs in particular. USPS/Discovery showed the tactics required to win – the methods underpinning them are obviously under scrutiny.
one thing i would like to add though, is that i have read no negative comments associated with Voeckler’s ride yesterday. He rode like a limpet on Kessiakoff all day, disregarding all aspects associated with winning the stage. yet, people still rail on Sky for their own tactics that are likewise focussed purely on the bigger picture.
so, in my opinion until other teams start to manage themselves with the professionalism and focus of Sky, you better get prepared for more “boring”* races!

* i do not regard them as such – folks, that’s professional bike racing…..

BarkingOwl July 20, 2012 at 2:10 am

Don’t worry Andy Schleck and Contador will be back next year. Just add a couple more mountain top finishes. It could be a battle-royal bewteen them and Wiggins, Froome and maybe Evans and/or Van Garderen.

I don’t understand the point of having the last mountain climb a long distance before the finish. It only seems to inhibit attcks on the climbs. Mountain-top finishes are the highlight of the Tour.

bjamin July 20, 2012 at 2:17 am

Removing the race radios could make things more interesting.

Ken July 20, 2012 at 2:47 am

So Team Sky crushed the yellow jersey competition. Dynasties don’t last forever. Other teams will learn from Sky, and some of the talent will seek greener individual situations. We will have competition, if not next year, the year after. For now, why not just admire one of the most talented and well run teams to ever ride the tour?

Ross July 20, 2012 at 3:25 am

You’ve got to throw a bit of the blame for a not-so-exciting Tour at Team BMC. They, like Sky, have bucket loads of money and decided to spend it on Gilbert and Hushovd, who have been complete duds this year. If they had invested in a couple of top notch climbers then maybe Evans would have fared better in the mountain stages, making for a more competitive race.

BMC preparation and training prior to the Tour has got to be questioned as well. They are the defending champions and this was the whole focus of their year, yet Evans has looked definitely underdone all year compared to any of the Sky riders, and the Team looked less than cohesive throughout the Tour. It could be a case of resting on their laurels, and/or Cadel’s priorities are elsewhere. Whatever the reason, they definitely let their fans down, and made the race less exciting.

DB downunder July 20, 2012 at 4:41 am

Agreed,
After last yeasr “perfection” perhaps BMC’s years is summed up on the Tacky stage with Jim O slipping, sliding and scrambling to get out a ditch and help Cadel. Sort of sums up their year, not an annus horribilus, 2 in the top 10 is not a failure, but off the pace and perhaps a lesser success.

Chromatic Dramatic July 20, 2012 at 8:09 am

I disagree. Had Evans been in top form, then definitely, but his form was not where it was last year, or anywhere it needed to be this year, and that is the reason why Wiggins had it in the bag.

Had Evans form been better, then he wouldn’t have lost as much time to Wiggins in the TT, which meant they would have had to mark him even closer, and only then would have the team come into it.

Mike July 20, 2012 at 3:46 am

When you think about it, Sky could have done what they did with 6 riders probably. They lost Sivtsov early and I know Bernie and Cav pulled a little bit on the front on the flatter stages / hills… but without those three they would have still had Wiggins, Froome, Porte, Rogers, Knees, Edvald. Those 6 guys could have controlled the race just as effectively.

Without Cav that is one less stage win (possibly two if he wins in Paris) but Edvald could have easily picked up a win or two if Sagan was not on such a tear.

Smaller teams means that each of your rivals also have less teammates to help them, so you can dispatch them quicker. At the end of the day it comes down to the riders in the race to make it what they want it to be. Sky was just on a different level to everyone there. The rest were unlucky in crashes like you said, or they just hadn’t prepared at the same level. Next year they will come back stronger hopefully.

I still found the race thoroughly entertaining though. I can appreciate the show of perfection and strength by Sky, it is quite impressive.

Mike July 20, 2012 at 3:56 am

Follow up:

I liked what – i think – Voeckler said: one or two less teams and 9 or 18 less riders on the road would mean less crashes – but then you would only get one or two wildcard spots… What is needed is a way to remove the incentive to ALWAYS be riding on the front of the peloton, so that if you are caught behind a crash, you are not penalized as much.

Ken July 20, 2012 at 4:54 am

Why not have the equivalent of auto racing’s yellow flag? When there’s a big crash, the race referees basically would hold everybody in place at a slow pace and let those behind catch up.

Cyclemaine July 20, 2012 at 5:12 am

One factor I tend to think is being overlooked is the presence of the Olympics in a few weeks. A dangerous tour could be catastrophic to cycling’s ability to project its athletes onto the Olympic stage. Lots of ITT kms and mountain stages that tempt a few climbers to attack while GC contending teams ride tempo to keep everything in check is a decent attempt to design a safe race. Obviously, it’s the tour and it’s never “safe,” but I do get the sense that the race was designed to be a controlled event this year.

The issue of UCI points is one that has received significant attention on this blog, and I think that attention is completely justified. All incentives have adverse consequences, but the point system seems to be a real drag on daring attacks and even a drain on talent given the allocation of points when riders switch teams (i.e.,teams sitting riders so they don’t use current team resources to increase the points haul for the rider’s future team). The UCI needs to take a good look at what they want to incentivize and then adjust the points accordingly. For example: Want aggressive races? Give points to combative riders. Want to increase focus on multiple races so teams can’t strangle one race? Provide point multipliers based on position in multiple classics or multiple grand tours. Want team stability? Have points awarded to a rider stay with the team. The list is endless.

From a viewing perspective, I enjoy shorter hard stages that are televised start to finish. That way we see the process that creates the day’s break and riders can take risks knowing the downside is minimal. This year the stages just seemed designed to suffocate the racing and Sky came fully prepared and equal to the task.

Russ July 20, 2012 at 7:00 am

Mike, alternatively what you want is only some of the peloton needing to be at the front at any one time. One possibility that occured to me would be to separate the finish for stage honours and the finish for time classification. In a sense this is done already by ignoring time gaps caused by crashes in the last few kilometres. Perhaps it would be better to go the whole hog and make the time-finish 10-15km from the finish-line? There willalways be crashes, but if the GC candidates finish early, they won’t have to get tangled in the sprint-trains when the pace really picks up.

A few other advantages:
– GC candidates might theoretically be able to gain seconds a day with judicious bursts at the right time each day.
– It allows a stage-finish to occur on the wide flats of towns, and a time-finish on a climbs or descents in the lead-up. Which gets around the problem that a town bidding for a finish isn’t generally a great place for GC sorting.
– It puts pressure on the team holding the yellow jersey to reel in the breakaway, because the sprint-teams won’t necessarily want to bring them back until the time-classification is decided.

Other ideas that come to mind:
– The team classification is under-used as an idea, given the importance of teams. I’d consider changing the team classification to a points system based on finishes/sprints/climbs for the top couple of place getters and significantly up the prize-money/UCI points for that category.

– Run the final time-trial as a pursuit for the top 20 placed riders (or anyone within 30-60min of the leader), starting as per their time-gap. It wouldn’t be any more tedious than now, if Wiggins smashed it off the front, but in instances where riders pass others, we’d see them side-by-side on the road.

GeeTee July 20, 2012 at 7:29 am

What of the position of the ITT’s within the schedule? Whilst stage 9 was not exactly early in the piece – it certainly meant that whoever came out best was then pretty much required to keep the lid on things for the rest of the tour.

TheDude July 20, 2012 at 7:56 am

Eliminate all the TTs. Maybe the prologue stays for nostalgia.

Salsiccia July 20, 2012 at 10:49 am

There’s some really good thoughts on here. Mine would echo many of the previous, including smaller teams, ban on radios, a better UCI points sytem (a better UCI might be more to the point, but hey-ho). My preferences in addition to this would be to replace the early time trial and the last-day-but-one time trial with one time trial in between the main mountain ranges. The climbers know it’s coming, so will be trying to get time on the TTers in the first mountain stages; the TTers can do their thing; then the climbers can go on the attack to try to get any time back in the next mountains.

Simon July 20, 2012 at 11:39 am

For all those decrying the amount of tt’ing in the schedule, maybe you should go and have a look at how much there was on the menu in 1988. Don’t recall that one being boring. It might have spiced it up this year if there’d been a mountain tt up the puy de dome or somewhere similar…(when was the last time that was in the tour, btw?) BMC have been absolutely terrible this year, from start to finish – with a cast like that and that kind of budget…jeez. Cadel’s the only one who’s even looked like bringing home dinner. Heartening to see FDJ having such a good tour, though.

The first week at least has got more interesting than it was in the recent past. Thank goodness we didn’t have seven days of vanilla sprint finishes before the action got started. Quite agree with the complaints about the lack of summit finishes though – I think again, there should be a mixture.

I saw a comment from Kelly about the crashes in the first week being attributable to radios – all the DS’s yelling at their riders to get to the front for a certain point with carnage ensuing. I wonder also if that’s a factor of the shorter stage lengths than in the past – on the sprint stages, you don’t seem to see the peloton strung out like it used to be – a combination of radios; the more intense racing that follows, tying into the increasing organisation of the trains? I’m all for variety in the tour – different tt’s, a mixture of parcours – bit of flat, bit of cobbles, bit of up and a bit of down. What would be the effect of slipping a couple of 300k days in there on the racing?

Barodeur Billy July 20, 2012 at 6:39 pm

1988 was 24 years ago. The sport has changed. Riding has become more conservative and we don’t see the monster gaps in the mountains that we used to. On the other hand, TT time gaps are still there, which is giving them outsized importance.

Simon July 20, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Yeah, but why has the riding become more conservative? Radios? Shorter distances? And a proper mountain tt would have suited a whole slew of different riders, wouldn’t it? I’d bet the gap between Wiggo and Froome wouldn’t have grown, for sure. Maybe my argument might be that the tt miles in this tour are all a bit too similar, rather than the number of them.

LDR99 July 20, 2012 at 11:10 pm

“Yeah, but why has the riding become more conservative?”

Some will say cleaner peloton. Riders can’t do clean what they used to do juiced. That’s one view.

MT July 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Apologies if this has already been covered but for all the romanticism, let’s face it, radios aren’t going anywhere. Instead, embrace them by bringing racing to life for the fans via technology:

– On air replay of race radio conversations
– Live tracking of power data, speed, heart rate
– Team car cameras
– Bike cameras

… all of which available over laptop, smartphone app etc.

It’s all coming at some point, the technology is pretty much there, may as well get on with it.

Bundle July 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Well, I am against riders and DS having all that information available, as it spoils the show. But you have a point: if it’s going to be there, at least let the audience see it.

Jason July 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm

This has been a boring Tour, but I do not think the route is at fault. It is mostly because Wiggins and Sky are so good. Do not forget that he has won almost every race he has competed in this year and if he wins the Olympic and World TT titles then he will have recorded one of the most successfull seasons for a rider for a long time..

Despite the success of Wiggins’ season everybody prefers a rider who attacks than those who do measured tempo riding..

jason W July 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm

how about limiting the use of radios to 10 stages per team, allowing the teams to register privately in advance with the organizers their choices.
any points won on stages could then have bonus points top ups for teams not using radios.

it would give Phil and Paul a hard time too.

beev July 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm

if you want artificial props put in place then fine, but F1 already specialises in that. i’m still aghast that DRS, a system devised to penalise the leader is welcomed – the equivalent in cycling would be putting drag vests or weights on the leaders like some grand national style handicap event. farcical in my opinion.
the radio argument is not so clear cut, but distilling the comments here, what i see a lot of people clamouring for is the removal of team domination (lets ignore the fact that this is rightfully earned through training and preparation) seemingly in search of more random results! if this is indeed what you want in a grand tour then i suggest the only way you will likely see it in anything approaching a fair manner is to have smaller teams, say of 5, and more teams in the event, say 35-40. doing this though encourages outliers, and that in my opinion would ultimately have negative ramifications on the Tour, as those previously marginalised riders seek to become just such an outlier through whatever means necessary….

Gingerflash July 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm

As is so often said, it’s the riders that make the race.

If you found this year’s race boring, it’s due to the lack of credible competition. One can’t blame ASO or Sky for that. If anyone is to be crticised, it’s those teams and riders who just weren’t up to Sky’s level.

Sky have (we assume) done nothing that’s not available to the other teams. As for their budget and their “star” riders, they’ve only been regarded as such because of their performances with the team. Froome hadn’t shone before the Vuelta. EBH, Rogers and Porte had been moderately successful. None were grand tour winners. None had won a classic.

Is this so much stronger or “star-studded” than a squad with Evans Gilbert, Hushovd, Ballan Hincapie, Van Garderen?

jkeltgv July 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm

i’d say it’s not more star studded but certainly more “fit for purpose”. You need to remember that of the Sky guys EBH, Rogers and Porte have all won stage races in the last couple of years and Rogers is a former world TT champ.

As the cyclists are used as moving billboards i think Andy Rhys just assumed he’d sell more bikes by having Gilbert & Thor on them than by investing in winning the tour again….or perhaps he thought he could get both.

Wiggins and Rogers will retire soon enough (i think), Porte will move on to lead elsewhere and we’ll all be bemoaning the dominance of the Danilo Honda’s German team. Man, they are just so efficient and machine like….

Steve July 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Sometimes the riders themselves limit the yellow jersey competition by refusing to let a top contender remain in a break knowing they’ll be chased down. I might suggest teams could be allowed to enter their required number of riders while allowing substitutes, depending on the days race and injuries etc. Only a rider present on every stage could qualify for the overall though.

Jaas July 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm

honestly the best part of these stages is watching the break form at the beginning. As a low level racer its really riveting stuff to watch as the best in the world destroy themselves to try to get in the break. And if you have to watch it on TV you don’t see that. On TV you see the break at the start of the broadcast and everybody is tapping tempo. But to get there they had to often bury themselves. Internet feeds have been great for this.

Dave July 20, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Overall some of this years changes are good, no bonus seconds for stage winners, the mountain points were correct, but 100KM of ITT is a major throw back to the snorefests of the Indurain tours, so the winner of this tour was known in October last year.

Next year a short TTT would be nice, two ITT’s totalling maybe 70KM would be good, followed up with the usual hard days over a number of cols with very short downhill finishes, stick in 4 or more proper mountain top finishes but make these days short and sharp ala the Chieti to Blockhaus stage of the 2009 Giro, but maybe a bit longer at 100Km rather than 85KM, put in good sprint stages and one or two really short hill finishes ala Mont Saint-Clair (Stage 13 TdF 2012), and you have a route.

Of course such a route would not really favour any particular rider so may not be picked. Then again with Berti coming back, a fully fit Cadel Evans, Ryder Hesjedal and who knows Froome leading a team of his own it could be a great race.

But wait here’s more…
How about this, riders (at least team leaders) must qualify for entry into the race?? So a number of races (not necessary ASO races) could be nominated as qualification races which TdF team leaders would have to race and put up a showing to be guaranteed entry to the tour. Just a though!

beev July 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm

i think you are over simplifying things with your TT comments re Indurain.

fyi – Indurains smallest winning margin was his first win – 3m36s. there were 120km of of ITT and he put a total of only 1m58s into second place rider bugno in total ITT’s – so no matter how many km you remove, Indurain still comes out on top (obviously this calculation isn’t really applicable post race but serves its purpose in this case).

it’s not too dis-similar in other years for Indurain – ie the ITT was as much a mental crushing as it was a chronographical one – much like the mental and physical domination Sky have imposed this year, and would have done also had there been fewer kilometres (and even more emphatically had froome not had an inopportune puncture on stage 1).

Sky prepared to win the race based on the parcours. They will do so again next year, and you won’t be able to get much value on them doing so regardless of TT kilometres….

Holly July 21, 2012 at 7:51 am

Last year the commentators were discussing how some towns were nominating for the 2013 TDF over the 2012 edition because it being the 100th racing.
I think that next year will see a return of the famous climbs, and only two TT (one being the TTT in Nice)
Hopefully more summit finishes, personally not a fan of having the HC or cat 1 climbs then a 20km downhill to the finish.

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