An aide memoire about the new UCI rule that’s been applied for a year now to some bunch sprints where a gap of at least three seconds needs to exist in order for a new time gap to exist. It’s still under trial this year and more complicated than mere gap of three seconds.
The tradition: for years the convention has been that riders finishing in a group have been given the same time as first rider of the group. More precisely the time is taken on the front plane of the front wheel (UCI rule 1.2.100). A gap of one second has to occur between the back of one rider’s back wheel and the front of another rider’s front wheel for a second group to be defined (1.2.107).
With a bunch sprint crossing the line at 60km/h one second equates to 17 metres, a sizeable gap. Fear of being caught out on the wrong side of a gap has seen teams with ambitions for the overall classification in a stage race running a train into the final kilometre in order to be as far ahead in the bunch as possible in case of a split. This in turn got in the way of the sprint teams and made bunch sprints even more hectic.
The solution: now a three second gap has to open up to count, again between the back of one rider’s back wheel and the front of another rider’s front wheel. At 60km/h this equates to a distance of 50 metres. If there’s a gap of 2.99 seconds then all the riders are placed together on the same time. Note this is measured thanks to a photofinish camera rather than the whim of a commissaire. The idea here is to let riders relax a bit in the final metres of a finish knowing that if a gap opens up it should not cost them time on GC.
This was first tested in the 2017 season at the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France, it’s now permitted in all stage races. However this new rule only applies to the “main peloton”. If a solo breakaway just manages to stay clear by two seconds at the finish line then the time gap between the winner and the chasing peloton is two seconds. It’s only if splits occur within the peloton that the gaps are measured.
Safety in numbers
Similarly if the peloton itself splits into several groups during the run in then the rule applies to the largest group only, deemed the “main peloton”. So imagine a Tour de France bunch sprint with 176 riders, if the field splits in crosswinds and 40 come in to contest the finish and then there’s a 100 rider group coming in behind then among the 40 riders any one second gap is enough to count as a split and a new time be given. However among the main group of 100 a 2.99 second gap can exist and they will all be credited with the same time. Similarly should 87 riders come in one group and 89 in the other then in theory it only applies to the larger group. This is bound to lead to some confusion, imagine a stage held in crosswinds where riders will be wondering if they are “safe” in what appears to be the largest group only for two groups behind to merge meaning they have to be diligent about a one second gap in the finish. Put another way riders should only count on the three second rule applying if they’re in an obvious big bunch sprint.
Also this rule only applies when it is applied. By which the race roadbook or rules have to stipulate in advance the stages, if any, which are expected sprint stages where this three second protocol applies. This is potentially confusing for outsiders as often the race rules can be hard to find, sometimes tucked away on a corner of a race website, sometimes only issued to participants and accredited media.
The three second rule doesn’t apply automatically to bunch sprints, it has to be mentioned in advance in the rulebook so don’t automatically assume it applies but half the point of this blog post is a reminder that it often applies to bunch sprints this year in stage races. So if you see a big gap between riders at the finish they might all be on the same time once the commissaires have finished with the results. It also applies to the “main peloton” so just because you see a large group coming it does not automatically apply.
The new rule is an artifice but so is the convention of giving everyone the same time if they stay within one second of each other. It’s still under review, a balance between rider safety and the visual simplicity of working out what constitutes a peloton and what doesn’t.
- Note: All this is from the UCI PDF available online and it’s only in reading it and like many blog posts the act of writing it up helps to learn the rule