Shrinking Time Trials

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The Tour de France’s route was out and one of the features of the 2019 route was the lack of time trialling, both in the number of stages and the few kilometres on offer. It’s part of a trend as the chart shows. One frequent response in the comments and by email in recent days is that more time trials, whether more stages or just one long time trial, would “balance” the Tour’s course and give time trial specialists and others more of a chance against the pure climbers. It’s an idea that sounds right… only recent editions suggests it wouldn’t work out like that.

Meet Chris Froome. On his way to his four Tour de France wins he’s won summit finishes and crucially he’s won time trials. On his way to taking the 2013 Tour de France he was second to Tony Martin in the Mont Saint Michel time trial stage, but only by 12 seconds, and put over two minutes into GC contenders like Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador and more than three minutes into Nairo Quintana, Thibaut Pinot et al before winning by over four minutes in Paris.

Here’s a chart from the 2016 Tour which shows the GC standings, in seconds, relative to Chris Froome. All the riders fell away on Stage 13. This was the TT stage in the Ardèche gorge and as you can see from the chart Froome’s rivals tracked him for much of the race but it was Stage 13, and then again Stage 18, the Sallanches-Megève time trial, where Froome put big time into his rivals on his way to winning the race by over four minutes.

Similarly this chart is from the 2017 Tour de France and even two short distance TTs, Stage 1’s 14km in Düsseldoft plus Stage 20’s 22.5km in Marseille sees Chris Froome putting the best part of a minute into his rivals to begin with and then riding on for the next three weeks with Marseille’s TT as an insurance policy tucked in his back pocket and he duly pulled out more time on them.

This scenario isn’t just limited to Chris Froome alone although he’s the most obvious example. Tom Dumoulin is a similar rider, able to put minutes into the climbers in a time trial stage and then match them in the mountains, arguably he’d have been closer this July if he’d ridden more steadily, eg by not attacking on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend which cost him time on the climb to La Rosière; or by tracking others on the long ascent of the Col du Portet summit finish. We can add Geraint Thomas and Primož Roglič too as prototype riders who can win a time trial stage and then match the climbers in a summit finish, or at least limit their losses to seconds.

All this points to a new exchange rate, for want of a better term, between a time trial stage and a summit finish. It only takes a few time trial kilometres for the likes of Tom Dumoulin or Chris Froome to take a minute on the climbers whereas they need a lot of summit finishes to extract the same time. Indeed the pure climbers aren’t the mythical creatures we might take them for, they rarely climb a whole mountain pass faster, they can just accelerate better thanks to their lighter builds and this gives them a shot at the stage win and time bonuses if things fall their way. Was it ever any different?

What if things went the other way, that we reverted to very long time trials, imagine the route of 2006 or 2007 each with 116km and 117km of solo time trials, would this give the likes of Rohan Dennis and Victor Campenaerts a head start? They might get a head start but so would Froome and Dumoulin and all the climbers would lose five minutes with ease, meaning less of a contest. What’s possible on paper though is the idea of a duel between Froome and Dumoulin, possibly with Thomas and Roglič too… although this is exactly the contest we had this July too, no?

Another precedent is the Giro this year. Simon Yates and others knew Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome had the Rovereto time trial stage and so attacked knowing they needed time and time bonuses to hold off Dumoulin. It’s true but the Giro had 44km of solo time trials in total which isn’t much either… and in the end Froome won both he and Dumoulin put five minutes into everyone else… although not quite via the predicted scenario. The year before we saw Dumoulin bolster the hypothesis given he matched Nairo Quintana on the climbs and then used the final TT stage into Milan to win although at time this was Dumoulin’s first grand tour success. Later today we’ll see the Giro route released with three solo time trial stages totalling 58km and it’ll be fascinating to see whether this is enough (perhaps an appearance fee on top) to tempt one of the top riders away from the Tour with Thomas looking the most likely.

It’s worth adding that time trials can struggle for TV ratings. Tour de France directeur Christian Prudhomme comes from a media background, reporting on the Tour since the 1980s, first on radio and then on TV. He knows time trials aren’t an audience bonanza. But this only explains things partially, if they’re going to have just one time trial then the ratings shouldn’t vary much if it’s 25km or 40km.

Summary
Would more time trials balance the Tour de France course? It sounds appealing and 100km or more of time trialling could give Tom Dumoulin an advantage on Chris Froome and set up an enticing duel. Only this would come at the price of the near-certainty of eliminating all the pure climbers from the GC contest. Indeed for all of the steeper, backroad climbs of the 2018 route we still saw four riders capable of winning the Espelette time trial stage in the first four places overall on GC before the time trial started happened… which rather suggests they don’t even need a time trial stage to win. Add more TTs to the 2019 route – or the 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and surely Froome or Thomas would still have won, only by an even bigger margin?

Christian Archer October 31, 2018 at 11:41 am

Lance Armstrong (don’t shoot the messenger!) on his “The Move” podcast is arguing the point that it would make for a better race if longer TT’s were included, thus creating the bigger gaps that INRNG has highlighted. Therefore, forcing the pure climbers to attack earlier and with more abandon. He reckons that this would create a closer race and generate the suspense that we so rarely get in the 3rd week.

The Inner Ring October 31, 2018 at 12:19 pm

But where would they attack? They can’t ride up climbs much faster than the likes of Dumoulin or Froome so they’d just be reeled in and overtaken? They’d probably settle for stage wins and the mountains competition instead, no?

StevhanTI October 31, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Maybe that’s the hidden agenda: revive the KOM competition…

Although personally I really like the way it usually pans out over the last couple of years: the baroudeurs duking it out on the road while constantly looking over their shoulders wary of the punchy climbers and versatile GC guys packed together and breathing in their neck

Sam Hocking November 1, 2018 at 9:10 pm

I think the general idea, is the lighter weight GC climbers escape with the stage hunters. The gap is big-enough on GC because the ITT has made the gap big-enough to allow the race to open up a bit. If a climber in GC has lost 2 minutes in the shorter ITTs fashionable today, they will never be allowed much rope by the likes of Sky train. However, if they have +5mins they will. That then makes it a race ofg climbers ahead and trains chasing them. That is more exciting. Compress such mountain days into <100km and that becomes explosive and difficult for a train to control, especially if the climbs are not the a+20km monsters where threshold riding is guaranteed the fastest way.

Gabriel November 2, 2018 at 10:21 pm

Tempo more than threshold.

Anonymous October 31, 2018 at 11:46 am

What they’ve done is probably about all they can do. More TT would mean even more predictability, as you say. Having said that, even if there were zero TT km I wouldn’t back the ‘pure climbers’ to beat Froome and possibly not even the others – they’ve never shown themselves to be superior climbers and Froome would alter his preparation (as would others, although they’re not the climber that Froome is).
The only thing ASO could have done is to not have a TTT, as that favours the stronger teams much more heavily.
All said and done, none of this would be likely to either affect the outcome, make the racing less predictable or alter how mountain stages are raced – with one team being much stronger than all the others. Add in the fact that this team have the strongest rider – and that they still win even if he’s not up to it – and we all know exactly how the race is going to pan out, barring something truly bizarre.
The small changes people suggest aren’t going to change this.

Anonymous October 31, 2018 at 1:23 pm

Have a mountain TT instead of the team TT (probably not the same day, obviously) and at least then we see what riders can do for themselves.

Richard S October 31, 2018 at 12:04 pm

My first thought is that more can go wrong in time trials. Just as Froome et al can gain 2-3 minutes on Bardet and the climbers over 40km if they have a bad day for whatever reason they could also be one of the ones losing minutes. I suppose the same applies to long mountain stages. All these short stages and lack of time trials just means nobody pulls out any time on anyone! I think for balance the best route would include a longish time trial of around 40km, and also a team time trial of similar length. You want the winner of the Tour to be an all rounder. The only reason all rounders have become unpopular is because they tend to ride for Sky. The team time trial would prevent a team sending 6 mountain domestiques.
With regard to the change in currency of time lost on mountains compared to time trials, is this perhaps as a result of gears? With a 34-32 or something similar a ‘big’ time trialist can spin up more or less any slope sat down. With a 39-23 on all but the dullest flattest ski resort access road they would be forced to stand up. As we all know you use more energy when standing up as you are holding your body weight up. The more weight you are holding up the more energy you use and therefore the more tired you get. A little 60kg climbing flea in the 80’s will have had much more of an advantage in the mountains versus a 75kg time trialist if both were on a flexi steel frame turning a 39-23 (or was it even a 41-21 in those days?) compared to Quintana/Yates/Landa/Bardet and Froome sat down spinning a 34-32 on an extremely efficient carbon frame.

StevhanTI October 31, 2018 at 12:25 pm

I’m by no accounts a specialist in these matter but it does sound very logical to me.

Anonymous October 31, 2018 at 1:25 pm

Careful Richard, any minute now someone’s going to start carping on at you about ‘Why not go back to wool jerseys?’

Anonymous October 31, 2018 at 1:42 pm

*Larry

Anonymous October 31, 2018 at 3:21 pm

* no

Anonymous November 1, 2018 at 11:20 am

*yes

Tom October 31, 2018 at 4:28 pm

Nah mate, I’m vegan.

Andrew October 31, 2018 at 7:56 pm

That’s a very convincing theory.

Shawn November 1, 2018 at 3:08 am

That’s it then! Let’s ban those nearly 1-to-1 gear ratios and the mountain goats will start pulling out bigger gaps on the steep climbs. (I would prefer that to banning power meters.)

Ferdi November 1, 2018 at 5:59 pm

Ban both, to be on the safe side. And don’t forget the radios. And allow each race to limit equipment as it sees fit.

JeroenK November 2, 2018 at 3:53 pm

That’s a nice theory, but more rules on equipment to make things more interesting?

Fact is, the top GC guys are light enough to match the power to weight ratio of climbers, especially now they learned to pace themselves. They are not 75kg but more like 67-68. They are also powerful enough to gain lots of time in flat timetrials. The power to weight is there… if you restrict gear ratio’s, they produce as much power as before, only at a lower cadence. Yup, they’d have to stand up at a certain point, but so does everybody else. They weigh more, but they also have more leg and upper body strength to support them. I do not think it will make any difference and that’s not what I observe on super steep finishes. F.e. Tom D. is pretty good at them, also when the gradient forces him to stand up. Sure, he lost out to the top 3 on the Hell climb during the WC, but there were boatloads of little climbers in his wake.

Rod November 3, 2018 at 3:03 am

I’m with you. You restrict bottom gear and you don’t favour a climber per se, you favour a grinder. And of a certain sort.

In past times Pantani’s chronicles (by Matt Rendell, I think) had a mention that he couldn’t do more in the WC in Colombia because he favoured a big gear standing up, and due to the rain his rear wheel slipped so he had to climb on the saddle. Contador and his extended standing climb reported something similar.

This is not the magic bullet. Maybe you put them in a fixed gear for a TT and you’ll have something.

Davesta October 31, 2018 at 12:37 pm

It’s something I’ve mentioned before on this blog, but the idea of ‘pure climbers’ has always struck me as being a myth.
Yes, there were the odd Pantani’s & Schleck’s that could float away up the climbs away from the slightly heavier contenders. But I think it’s fair to say that that was due to ‘other factors’ as opposed to some ‘pure climbing’ nature…

Riders in the mold of Quintana, Chaves, Martin, Bardet etc, strike me not as ‘pure climbers’, but simply ‘less all-round riders’…

RonDe November 2, 2018 at 12:41 am

Yes! There’s a reason Quintana has never had a single day in the yellow jersey of the Tour. There is a reason that Bardet, even when he was 2nd, never really threatened Froome.

That reason is their skill set is heavily weighted towards climbing and away from other areas. Froome is a better all-rounder.

beev October 31, 2018 at 12:48 pm

When will ASO accept that time trial kilometres are clearly not correlated with generating a French winner? Seemingly never – as again they are trying to produce a parcours for Bardet. Sky should just sign the (or indeed any) Frenchman to get the monkey off that nations back!

The Inner Ring October 31, 2018 at 12:54 pm

I’m sure they’d like a home winner but what route could Bardet win on? It’s hard to see and surely wouldn’t have the team time trials and the individual time trials we’ve had, or will get next year.

Martijn Stolze October 31, 2018 at 3:12 pm

The only reason we don’t see a TdF completely bereft of TTs is that it would be too bloody obvious that the ASO would want a French winner. Now they semi-plausible deniability.

Ballsofcottonwool October 31, 2018 at 4:58 pm

250+km & 4000m of climbing every day for 3 weeks and no TT, if Bardet’s DS had his way, I heard him state the harder and longer the race the better.

CA October 31, 2018 at 5:04 pm

Bardet still wouldn’t win… he’s not the strongest rider.

RonDe November 2, 2018 at 12:46 am

Don’t expect the French to cotton on to what some of us already know: Bardet hasn’t got what it takes. As INRNG said in his piece, most of the better climbers are climbing together anyway. The only difference made on climbs is in the order of a few seconds the vast majority of the time. Guys like Dumoulin, Froome and now Thomas can just climb with the rest and either steal the bonuses or make the difference in the ITT even if it is 20 kms instead of 50kms.

Sam G October 31, 2018 at 1:46 pm

I would like to see one year with no TT or TTT Km’s then the next year with over 100. It would be very interesting to see who would come out on top each year.

If ASO announced this before the two year period it would generate the interest they are looking for.

Anonymous October 31, 2018 at 2:02 pm

“It only takes a few time trial kilometres for the likes of Tom Dumoulin or Chris Froome to take a minute on the climbers whereas they need a lot of summit finishes to extract the same time.”
What? You mean “Mow ’em down in the chrono, defend in the mountains” actually works? Say it ain’t so!
As dull as the chrono stages are, as Richard S. points out we think Le Grand Boucle should reward the best all round racer and I dare say 2019’s route might be a bit unbalanced in this regard?
Counting the minutes until the Giro d’Italia route is revealed, hoping the “World’s Toughest Race in the World’s Most Beautiful Place” comes through once again.

Anthony October 31, 2018 at 2:19 pm

Seems to me that a hill climb TT is in order. I’m curious if a return of the Alpe d’Huez TT or something similar would produce the closer time gaps organizers crave.

Mark H November 1, 2018 at 2:08 am

The problem with that is by making Alpe d’Huez or similar a TT stage you effectively remove one of the most popular days racing to replace it with a TT. A TT on the flat or going uphill is about equally interesting to viewers and roadside crowds, whereas a prper road stage is more exciting, especially if you have both the stage win battle and the GC contest ongoing.

Charles November 2, 2018 at 9:41 am

Why couldn’t you do the race one day with a finish on Alpe and then follow it with a TT up the Alpe the next day?

Paul November 1, 2018 at 9:35 am

Look what happened the last time

Alasdair Russell October 31, 2018 at 2:41 pm

Crazy idea – how about limiting the ‘gains’ on a TT stage by giving fixed time bonuses for the first X riders?

So the first place rider gets a 2 minute bonus, the second place a 1:55, the third place a 1:50, the third a 1:45, etc. Could also be first 60 riders get from 60 to 1 seconds bonus, or whatever.

Point is, the TT would still be a contest where it matters – Tony Martin would still be going all out to win it – and the time bonuses should be calibrated to be enough for the GC contenders to want to beat their rivals, but it would stop it having such an outsized effect on the race.

PS: Sorry for the double post.

The Inner Ring October 31, 2018 at 2:45 pm

Fixed the double post. But as for your idea, it’s not allowed within the UCI rules but if it was I’d be cautious about it, I don’t like the idea of these arbitrary awards as they’re complicated to explain and take us away from the purity of covering the course in the shortest time (yes, time bonuses are enough already). Your suggestion was tried in the past though for the team time trial, whatever time recorded by teams was capped so they couldn’t lose too much on the stage.

Othersteve October 31, 2018 at 5:47 pm

A theme seems to be prevalent of who should have a an advantage to win the next TDF. What can we do to manage the outcome as to benefit the less prepared rider we like?

I have a solution similar to AR’s above, and perhaps not as complicated as INRing suggest.

Lets just handicap the race like we do in horse racing. The podium finishers from the previous TDF all have to ride bikes that are 5 Kilos heavier then the UCI weight requirement, regardless of discipline TT bike, road bike….will that get us new winners?

Hammarling November 1, 2018 at 2:15 pm

Could you imagine how pissed a rider would be, pulling minutes of advantage on the road only to have that reduced to 20seconds because there was only a few places difference? It would make a complete mockery of TT’s, with riders only trying to take the minimum real time gains and minimim effort to game the bonus system.

Flip it to a road stage, where time gaps are still given based on real time gaps. Give a bonus time to each place finisher, regardless of their actual relative gap on the road. The outrage would be unimaginable, but the outcome is the same.

Honestly, i think it’s a terrible idea.

maximflyer October 31, 2018 at 2:55 pm

I get the point of more TT kms would result in an even more predictable race but what about the (very few) pure time trialists? When they would get the chance to shine? Don’t know how Cancellara could have collected his yellow jerseys with this current trend.

matthew ralph October 31, 2018 at 3:12 pm

I think the biggest issue is Chris Froome is an absolute beast.

He seems to have the issue of being able to ride at 95% of his ability every day and rarely waivers. His bad days see him lose a maximum of 30 seconds when they occur they occur rarely and his real good days can see him gain 30 to 40 seconds.

Compare this to other GC contenders and when they crack they implode and lose minutes. If they have a good day they only gain bonus seconds and they have bad days more often than Froome. Froomes consistency more than his power is what always keeps him at the pointy end of the race, he rarely has anything other than a good day, he is very similar to Sagan in this instance, Sagan is not the best sprinter in the world by a long shot but he is ALWAYS in the right place at the right time, a bad day for Sagan in the sprint stage of a tour seems him finish 10th. An average day is top 3 and a good day he picks up the win. Consistency is key and team Sky have this nailed down. Sky don’t seem to look to improve riders massively they just eliminate as many bad days as possible which keeps them at the front of the race and in the GC standings.

There was mention of eliminating the flat time trial for a TT up alpe d’huez which sounds fun but from a quick google search quintanas fastest time is only 1 min quicker than froomes and the way quintana is riding at the moment he would already be 4 mins down so clawing back 1 min isnt going to make a difference. he finished +14mins back on the leader this season.

I would argue that maybe the pure climbers should improve their TT’ing. Simon Yates seems to have done that recently, if i remember correctly in the Giro he didnt lose a huge amount of time on the first stage to dumoluin, he blew up in the end and Froome has that monster stage but it seemed to be more nutrition based/tactics which scuppered him in the end. he sorted it out for the vuelta and ended up winning…

From what i can see you can change the tour in anyway you want and Froome will always be favourite. He is the best all-round endurance athlete of the current generation.

Ban power meters, ban 2 way team radios and then we can get more fun exciting racing.

CA October 31, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Why not ban the fastest riders then, that’s the only solution to ASO’s problem.

If ASO wants to have an inferior rider win, then the top riders must stay at home.

Anonymous October 31, 2018 at 4:53 pm

ASO’s problem, or entirely the invention of others?

Why a TTT if they want a French winner?

cd October 31, 2018 at 7:32 pm

CA, I think you have something here. Only solution.

Maybe change rules to limit riders to one GT a year and you can’t do the same one in consecutive years if you podiumed in that GT the year before.

sam October 31, 2018 at 4:52 pm

pretty spot on there about the consistency. Sky succeed by eliminating as many variables as possible. and it’s not just froome who avoids and days, most of their guys eventually eliminate them. they’re just relentless in this pursuit and if a rider can’t hang, they get the boot or just quit.

so yeah, froome wins all the time (like sagan) because he’s so dialed, not only because he TTs the best.

(don’t let this turn into a debate about TUEs, what they’re doing, they’re doing the best)

Anonymous October 31, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Also, other riders don’t come back stronger than everyone else after bad days – Froome did to win both Vuelta and Giro.
What you make of that is down to you.

Mitch Davison October 31, 2018 at 9:44 pm

The claqueres will tell you about his superiority and wont ever doubt a thing. Only if Bertie or Alejandro or a French-Russian villain come back strong, you will hear from them

JeroenK November 2, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Agreed on the team radio plan, but the more I think about a powermeter ban, the more useless the idea seems to me. It’s peanuts for a team to calculate speed for a given power, gradient and rider weight. If you ban powermeters, it’s still pretty easy to set a steady threshold pace on a climb. Riders can do that on feel alone and some speed or time/distance based data enables you to do replicate exactly what you would do with a powermeter.

Most of you guys simply need to come to terms with the fact that there will allways be a team with the biggest budget, they will have the best guys, they will have the initiative and set the pace and -if the team and the top guys are on form- they will win.

Anonymous November 2, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Ergo, budget cap. Say 15 million Euros per year.

huge jackman November 2, 2018 at 5:46 pm

What “problem” is it you think a budget cap stops? Is it that a team you don’t like keeps winning? Because that says more about you than the sport of cycling.

Anonymous November 2, 2018 at 6:38 pm

One team dominating the biggest race – the one they really want to win – and making it tedious to watch for almost every year since 2012. That team has much better domestiques than everyone else, which means they can pull back any break from their leader’s competitors. Thus, their leader rarely has to actually prove themselves. And we watch a train going up a mountain, rather than actual racing.
Have I explained that fully enough for you? Or are you going to continue to believe that others are simply childishly biased against a certain team?
It’s about the race. For instance, I’d love to see Bardet and Froome swap teams – that would be an interesting race to watch and I’d be happy to see Froome win, if it was a decent contest.
What you imagined I think says more about you than it does about me.

JeroenK November 2, 2018 at 8:07 pm

A budget cap could make things worse. Quick Step is a very good example of a team that makes clear choices about where they want to excel. They have no money to have good rosters for both grand tours and classics, so they specialize in the latter. A budget cap could result in more teams not investing in grand tours – because that’s where there’s the most risk of not getting return on investment. In classics, that risk is more spread out. That could leave fewer teams sending a solid team with the aim to win a grand tour and you’ll have the same thing all over again.

Also a budget cap is a brake on the possibility for a sponsor to attract attention. The business model of cycling is a whole different topic, but my simple guess is it will not make things any healthier for all.

I would love to see more exciting racing as much as anyone, but the dynamics are complex. Smaller teams could work very well. A big part of Sky’s dominance is the ability to rest part of the team on a day others work on.

Anonymous November 2, 2018 at 8:25 pm

The budgets of Movistar, AG2R, FDJ, Lotto-Jumbo and many other teams who have GT riders are around this level, budget-wise.
A limited budget is more sustainable too – for most.

RQS October 31, 2018 at 4:32 pm

Thanks for entertaining my idea the other day. It’d be interesting to see if the race would be ennovated by more climbers attacking to gain time.
There’s an effort cost for performing in TTs and part of me wonders whether the focus on time taking in the TT then affects the climbs – an idol hypotheses based on Froome’s gains in 2013, given that he was losing time in the mountains to Quintana.
By stretching riders between disciplines you might just find that it makes it harder for them to win. But really the best riders have always TT’d and could climb with the best of them. So it’s hard to see how you can make a winner less of a winner.
The last pure climber to win the TdF was Pantani and 1998 was an exceptional year due to the Festina affair. Would Pantani have won it under normal conditions? I suspect his camper van toilet was only full of sh!t. Certainly we know that the dope did not stop.

RonDe November 2, 2018 at 12:54 am

Froome destroyed Quintana on Ax 3 Domaines (and the field, to be fair) and beat him by half a minute on Ventoux. Quintana wasn’t winning anything he wasn’t being allowed to, much like on the Col du Portet this year. Quintana won because he was no threat. He was being managed.

Wayne October 31, 2018 at 4:53 pm

Maybe if the ITT was always in the first week of the Tour which is usually pretty dull anyway and then if the likes of Froome take a lot of time the climbers (or less well rounded riders as someone rightly said) have no choice but to attack en mass against Sky or whoever is the dominant team. With TTs late in the race maybe it leads to more conservative riding in the mountains?

Tim October 31, 2018 at 7:26 pm

There’s a case to be made that the best riders and the best teams prepare for the course at hand. If you add 100kms of ITT, you can bet that Froome and Sky will dump resources and training time into Froome’s TT position. Now, this won’t make Quintana a TT specialist, but you can bet a 100km ITT TdF would produce a better Quintana on the TT bike.

Each athlete/team is putting resources into being successful at the tour. This tour, with the many passes over 2000m, you can bet that hotels at elevation have suddenly become booked for more than they’d usually be. Ditto things like elevation tents.

My point is that there is a gap between Bardet/Quintana and Froome/Dumoulin precisely because there can be a gap and yet still remain competitive. Ag2r/Movistar don’t have the resources that Sky do, so they must put them where they might be more effective (e.g. altitude next year). Fewer ITT kms next year means fewer resources focused on the ITT.

The Inner Ring November 1, 2018 at 4:23 pm

I’d agree with much of this, when the TT becomes more important we do see riders train more and teams put more resources towards it but this probably only perpetuates the gap, eg if Froome and Quintana both focus a lot on time trials Quintana can try to catch up but Froome is likely to improve too.

Chris_SK October 31, 2018 at 8:34 pm

Surprised no-one has added the point of “modern preparation” means the time trial power riders like Dumoulin, Thomas and Froome are much thinner and lighter than before. In previous generations the pure climber really did have a simple w/kg advantage in the mountains that could be used to gain time or put the bulkier time trial specialists under pressure.

The shape of a GT rider has changed – Quintana, Landa, Bardet still have their punchy attack, but without the tt power – the best they can hope for is 20-30s here or there; time gains that are dwarfed by their losses against the clock.

My question would be – how can an athlete “peak” to be 65-68kg and yet maintain the tt power of a much bulkier rider? Unfortunately I don’t think the answer will be to eat more ready brek and banana’s.

UHJ November 1, 2018 at 11:19 am

Exactly, Chris_SK, the physical appearance of riders of today has changed dramtically. This is – I prefer to believe – mostly due to improved training regimes and the general analysis toolbox of the powermeter readings; modern day coaches know a heck of a lot more about how to implement the “big data” they receive from powermeters.
Lemond might have been one of the first to use and train with one, but even he was unware of how to pinpoint his training based on the data he had. Today, remaining lean (very lean) and retaining power is essential to all GC contenders. The tipping point here being the transformation of LA after cancer; he showed what could be acheived if you put your mind to re-sculpting you physique.
Of course, your basic anatomy cannot be changed, e.g. you cannot reduce a rider’s height and thus some limitations apply but most other physical features can be tweaked one way or another using legal means of training and living and thinking. Sagan may have the option (his is no slouch in a not-too-long TT either) but enjoys his sporting life too much to attempt the change.
Also the testing has improved making it far easier to select riders with the best future options, based on VO2max numbers etc.
This all adds up to the way grand tours are ridden today. Coaches and riders know so much more about their physique that they can optimise almost everything – “Minor gains” – leaving very little room for riders more unilaterally disposed for one type of riding; mountains, TTs, sprints etc.

RQS November 1, 2018 at 9:44 pm

I hate this excuse of ‘better nutrition’ and ‘better training’. It’s rubbish. Most of what is known about training and diets was established years ago. Just as with the old chestnut that training in Australia, Spain or the Caribbean is ‘summer’ training, it’s been a constant smoke screen for dubious practices.
Better pharmaceuticals is THE answer. Don’t kid yourself it’s any different.

sam November 2, 2018 at 12:01 am

i won’t call out “no way!” because no one can know for sure. what i do know is that training techniques and dietary understanding have improved dramatically even within the past 5 years.

sports science did actually improve, writing it off to TUEs discredits a lot of over worked graduate students and lab technicians. in all seriousness, there are data sets and actual studies behind this rather than salty skepticism.

gyros November 2, 2018 at 1:00 am

If sports science has not got any better for decades, as you imply, then there are a lot of teams paying a lot of people a lot of money for stuff that RQS on the internet thinks he knows.

I’m guessing that’s not quite right.

RQS November 2, 2018 at 7:50 am

Well you can read ‘Run, jump, swim, cheat’ if you like. Or you can base your information on those that have a vested interest in creating smoke and mirrors.
No doubt there are minor refinements, but there’s no big secrets when it comes to diet, and equally training improvements might be personal, but they are not ‘massive’. If you think that a coach with some magical training improvement and/or diet is going to save them for himself when he could write a book about it then think again. Chris Carmichael is the perfect example of what you would get. Carmichael made his money off the back of his association with Armstrong, as if he somehow improved him. But he could no more provide an interesting insight into training than anyone else. Literally all the US Postal team have said this. And, coaches are not paid huge amounts for exactly this reason.
I know that sport scientists regularly review and analyse movement, but in the main their work tends to prevent injury. The main factors for training improvements are workload x volume. And, it’s the dugs that help you with these. Either actively (anabolics) or in recovery (corticos).
The gains from diet will largely depend on what you were like before you started training, body composition deciding whether you need to eat more, eat less and what sort of thing to eat. This is self-evident in cycling where watts/kilo is a major factor. The tough part for cyclists is getting yourself into a sustainable state which doesn’t put you over the razors edge of being ‘unhealthy’, by which I mean compromising your immune system so you get sick, or catabolising muscle because you’re not able to sustain your body under your current workload. The problem with standing on the razor is that there are many exogenous factors which can attack you and send you over the edge. Typically, boxers will aim for the razor, but not athletes that perform regularly because in the main part their system is constantly under stress. Nature always factors in fail safes to protect against knocks, it the drugs that do the rest.

RQS November 2, 2018 at 8:38 am

Of course, even Team Sky are saying that the power data during races is largely irrelevant. The point being that although it might give you better metrics, better data only means better decisions I.e. you know where your limits are and can test and train to these. But on any given day they will subject to the vagaries of a human body under exogenous stress.

What I would like you to consider is why most of the 100m runners these days are training in Jamaica? Is it because of their excellent training facilities? Is it because of their extension research into sports science? Or perhaps it’s because they don’t do ANY out of competition testing on their athletes giving free reign to the athletes who train there? You’d think the top coaches might be lured to the US where they have the money, facilities and less chance of being harassed by a hurricane (amongst other living standards) if it’s about training techniques and diet…..

RQS November 2, 2018 at 9:37 am

Perhaps I should couch my words a little to say that coaches know how to motivate, and will use different techniques to motivate athletes, and some athletes get caught in a rut of only doing certain routines, and a change can push them and motivate them to better performances.
People seem to think that athletes have a constant access to better equipment, scientists, nutritionists and a lab just waiting to shave seconds off their next performance, but the truth is that laboratory testing is rare and expensive. It’s also largely unnecessary as there’s a hoard of academics that will be doing the testing to produce the gains. If something beneficial is found it will disseminate like wildfire through the sports world I.e. if eating mungo beans caused a 3% spike in performance we’d all be eating mungo beans. Sooner, rather than later, a coach, or his understudy would take their secret elsewhere for more money, if it wasn’t already published in an academic journal, and the secret is no more.
The ruse of marginal gains has been found out. Sky’s ‘grey gains’ is really the truth of the matter here. The money which teams spend is much more heavily focused on doctors and coaches who have experienced the dark arts. Why is it that ‘experienced’ soigneurs are prized over PhDs in sports science?
It’s muddled thinking on this that enabled Armstrong, and it’s the same thinking that put Sky on a pedestal. I respect the athletes for what they do, as they do work hard and are dedicated to what they do. But they are stuck in a corrupt system which has no way of cleaning itself up. It’s the hypocrisy and bare-faced lies that I can’t stand. And, it’s the lies we tell ourselves which are the bed rock to this.

Richard S November 2, 2018 at 10:19 am

Its a hell of a jump to say that because all the leading 100 metre runners are pumping themselves full of juice on Jamaican beaches all cyclists are cheats. I get what you are saying though. Most leading cyclists are incredibly thin and I think if an amateur were to attempt to attain a similar level of sustained emaciation they would find that their power was considerably down and they were continuously ill. Whether it is still corticos or something new that is getting them so thin there is definitely something going on. I also believe that Sky’s ‘marginal gains’ and generally new way of looking at things will have given them an initial advantage over a peloton that was largely stuck in its ways and had become reliant on looking towards doctors for gains. But I think the period where this benefited them was probably 2010-11, after which the rest of the teams will have cottoned on.

UHJ November 2, 2018 at 9:59 am

@RQS, that’s a lot of words just to say they’re cheats. You’re entitled to your opinion, I will stick with mine, I’m not kidding myself anymore than the next person.
No doubt doubious pratices are still around, but I know from personal experience how much more I can achieve today, that I wasn’t able to do when I used to race. Using a powermeter today and analysing my data and dieting correctly, I am able to go better at 57 than I did at 23. And that just while riding for fun. Go figure…

Motormouth October 31, 2018 at 8:37 pm

So less TT distance per race, but they still are an overwhelming factor in time gains/losses says there is something wrong there. Lance has an idea but it’s hard to imagine that would actually happen.

What about a JGTCC style weight penalty by position… so basically the top three each day take weight penalties to ‘balance’ the competition. The more you win, the more ballast you are given. 🙂

DJW November 1, 2018 at 9:23 am

Froome wins because he is the best climber of the rouleurs, but, above all, because the strength of his team means that he does not need to respond directly to attacks by rival specialist grimpeurs who won’t cooperate. As stated he always has the TT kms as insurance and even then the climbers gain only seconds on the hardest climbs. This is presented as new but looking back through the fifties to seventies, Anquetil, Pingeon, Janssen, Gimondi, Thevenet, Merckx, Hinault were all good TT riders who could cope with climbs, while for the pure climbers we just have isolated wins from Bahamontes, Ocana, Van Impe. The only thing new is that even the isolated pure grimpeur wins no longer occur. Course manipulation seems unlikely to change that.

UHJ November 1, 2018 at 11:22 am

To add to the list of pure climber’s wins: ’58 – Charly Gaul
But surely, it is the odd hapening and far back in time.

The Inner Ring November 1, 2018 at 4:24 pm

Indeed, the aim with the course seems to be try and keep the climbers in contention, so we see the likes of Landa, Bardet, Quintana all as podium picks.

piwakawaka November 1, 2018 at 9:28 am

I can’t understand why they don’t use on screen telemetry to make TT more interesting, real time comparison with closest rivals using avatars, imagine watching the last rider ‘racing’ the previous 4 all at once, all the data, all of the time – they made the Americas Cup watchable doing this, I think it would work just as well in TT. Once they have mastered it there, they could then roll it out for RR stages, we should have graphics that show relative position of jersey holders, stage contenders, relative to each other throughout the stages.

Megi November 1, 2018 at 9:31 am

Surely the way to have more time trialling in the Tour de France is for the French to develop a top time trialler who can climb. When one eventually appears, just watch the time trial kms multiply astronomically.

plurien November 1, 2018 at 10:43 am

UCI regs limit the TT format but all the above produce two ideas for innovation:-
1 The ITT secteur du parcours.
If TT stages don’t get the media ratings why not just include an ITT in the middle of a stage? Transponders make this trivially easy to do and the real-time GPS data would be very dynamic to watch. Sure there would be drafting and team tactics (eg; hang off the back a little before the TT secteur and then smash it as a team to get back in the bunch by its end etc..) but these come at the possible expense of losing time in the stage and so the calculations multiply for more excitement.
2 The non-team TTT
One rider from each team forms the ‘Team’. Yes, instead of 18 teams of 8 we are treated to 8 teams of 18. The ideal Sky domination antidote. Managers pick which rider goes in each team – or there’s a lottery if you want to rule out behind the scenes deals – and it’s the time achieved over the distance by each individual that counts to their GC. (If a rider drops out of their ‘team’ they are not allowed to contribute to any later-starting riders). There will be some who want to go really fast and others who aren’t so sure about helping the collective effort. Could be fun when some alliances are made or when a top GC guy has to go it alone.

Anonymous November 1, 2018 at 8:37 pm

Let me guess, you also “invented” the new Omnium competition?

plurien November 2, 2018 at 10:59 am

Hammer Series handicap TTT worked well for some. I’m just pointing out there are other ways to present the sport whilst keeping it real for everyone who respects the heritage.
Didn’t invent the omnium but have spent happy days with those who’ve gone on to win the rainbow stripes at it and we all know it’s the ‘one’ event that gets new viewers enthusiastic enough to get into track cycling.
Did invent a critérium prime where a set prize amount can be won by a single rider willing to attack the bunch by staying min 3 seconds off the front for a whole lap (so the bunch might not let them go)… but if another rider achieves it too, the prize gets shared between them ( so the first attacker will close them down). It worked well and it’s a prime which isn’t just ‘rolled’ by someone who happens to be on the front anyhow.

Ecky Thump November 1, 2018 at 11:01 am

It would be interesting to do a similar graph on TT kms in the Giro, and compare the two?
Certainly in the last couple of years, and in 2019 by the looks of it, RCS have increased the TT distances whilst ASO have done the opposite?
RCS are taking a different stance, embracing the change and looking to attract the ‘Super TTers’.
I’d love a Froome or Thomas v Dumoulin v Roglic in the Giro, though maybe this wouldn’t be universally popular amongst cycling followers?

UHJ November 1, 2018 at 11:26 am

RCS also dare include an uphill prologue next year. And a spectacular one, at that! I did this some weeks ago during the Emilia (Donne) and that climb will create gaps, for sure.
It is just so short and steep that punchy climbers can out-“sprint” the TT’ers sufficiently to attain some buffer-time.
This prologue will be fun!

RonDe November 2, 2018 at 1:04 am

Giro 102 has 3 ITTs and all have uphill sections. Two have uphill finishes. Why has Monsieur Prudhomme not thought of this?

Anonymous November 1, 2018 at 3:05 pm

If everyone steps back several paces in the light of day, isn’t it a bit silly to think that all they want is Bardet or any French champion?

ASO wants Le Tour to be the premier professional cycling event. And changing the route, the flavor, etc. keeps it fresh and everyone talking and watching. Fewer TT kilometers, and here we are talking about the Tour in November.

Anonymous November 1, 2018 at 4:01 pm

My word there are some daft ideas on here – most of which would greatly compromise a grand tour, possibly producing a winner who was not the best rider.
And yet you suggest limiting team budgets and people are up in arms about how impossible it is and how it’s unfair or not how the world works (see how well that’s going).
But limiting team budgets would be more likely to result in the best rider winning.

The Inner Ring November 1, 2018 at 4:02 pm

This is about the course design though and Tour de France owners ASO can’t limit team budgets.

Anonymous November 1, 2018 at 5:39 pm

But there has been a lot of talk about ASO apparently trying to alter the course to make the race more interesting or to change who wins.
Also, ASO can’t come up with new, oddball TT ideas either.

Rik VII November 1, 2018 at 4:40 pm

I think ITT’s were invented to make flat stages more spectacular for the live audience on the roadside: The entertainment grows from a sole minute up to 3 hours. From a sporting point of view the advantage is that the rouleurs are able to create gaps on the flat as the climbers in the mountains.

In modern cycling this invention is problematic. On my TV-screen a ITT is rather boring and the climbers aren’t able to create big gaps in the mountains any more (at least mostly).

IMO the the solution of all Grand Tours to shorten the ITT’s and make them more mountainous doesn’t makes it better:

A short ITT is even worse as a long ITT, because there’s is chance to follow a rider, there is no development between the split times. I wait till 6pm and check the results. That’s more fun.

A mountainous ITT reduce the advantages of the Dumoulins, Thomas and Froomes. But a mountainous ITT is less exciting as a normal mountain stage. A flat road stage is a sprint stage, while a flat ITT is nothing like that. An uphill finish is an uphill finish, ITT or not. Why make it complicated?

My proposal is to have one flat ITT and one flat TTT in the first half of a GT – about 35-40 kms each. No prologues, no uphill, hilly and / or very short ITT (as we will see in the Giro an the Tour 2019) . And btw: no monster ITT’s and TTT’s like in the eighties and nineties. One real event for the teams. One real day for Ron Dennis and Tony Martin and leave the rest to the sprinters, punchers and climbers.

_ November 1, 2018 at 5:59 pm

I don’t see a need to tweak routes to affect outcomes… Froome’s domination is already waning, spectators need to be more patient. And it’s not Froome or Dumoulin’s fault that e.g. Landa, Quintana or Nibali crash or under-perform or have rotten luck.

Messing with routes for instant gratification could devalue the event in the long run. It’s like we’re giving people head starts because we feel sorry for them. Anyway, just the possibility that Froome could crash out at any moment will always keep the haters following.

RonDe November 2, 2018 at 1:11 am

Never were so many crackpot ideas collected together in one thread in response to an issue that isn’t an issue. Unless the issue is that you don’t like Sky and they keep winning Le Tour.

So you want Bardet to win? Then why doesn’t Bardet move to a better team? He will never win at AG2r and repeating the same thing every year won’t change the outcome? Maybe t=you want Quintana to win? How many times must he bang his head against the same brick wall and get worse every time?

Why is it regarded as essentially the job of the race organisers or even the governing body to essentially fix the sport to handicap some and not others?

Don’t tell me. Your excuse is going to come across a bit like Sir Brad’s injections. Its all about a “level playing field”, right?

PS When Bernal becomes Sky’s top man watch the ITT kms go up!

RooBay November 2, 2018 at 3:44 am

I think the ASO needs to move away from this seeming obsession with designing a course to ensure the strongest rider wins. Why seek that out? You may as well just have everyone on a wind trainer to work out the winner. What we all want to see is a winner that wins through a mixture of strength (doesn’t need to be the strongest), guile, good race craft and a dash of luck. A chancer. This requires a course that rewards adventure and derring-do not an ability for mindless big gear grinding in a TT.

Also, why does the course always need to seek out this mean? Why can’t the route be more like the Worlds where year-on-year the course suits a different type of rider rather than just handing the race on a plate every year to the dominant stage racer of the day? There have been way too many multiple Tour winners in the modern era. It is pretty easy to remember the winner of each tour since 1970 because there have only been 23 winners in those 48 years (or 24, depending on your view of the rightful winner in 2010).

Ferdi November 2, 2018 at 10:14 am

TTs are the first place where cyclo-computers should cease to be allowed. They change the nature of the exercise, and do not contribute at all to surprises.

gyros November 2, 2018 at 2:48 pm

The point of a race is not to get a surprise. Much less is it the point of every race. The best racers in any race will tend to win and repeat their winning whatever the sport.

rob November 2, 2018 at 11:06 am

May sound a bit simplistic but if everyone knows Sky’s tactics why not take advantage of it and sit on the back of their train and blast past them in the last few K?

Adam November 2, 2018 at 12:04 pm

I have only been watching the Tour since 87 so please correct me if I am wrong but has there been another multiple Tour winner which the organisers have repeatedly modified the Tour format to stop winning? This reduction in TT kms is very much against the historic norm and seems soley aimed at stopping Froome, although he still manges to win (2015 especially). Indurain was always given courses that suited his strengths perfectly.

The Inner Ring November 2, 2018 at 12:53 pm

I think they’re more inventive now, before the race just seemed to happen, these days the course is designed with TV in mind. I don’t think they’re modifying the course to stop Froome from winning, as the piece shows above he’s won in the TTs and summit finishes, more just to ensure the rest of the field is closer to him. Still, the sport is full of courses being changed and other tricks, the 1930 the Giro d’Italia paid Alfredo Binda a sum equal to the race prize not to start so that they’d have a more open contest instead of yet another Binda win; Milan-Sanremo added the Poggio to thwart Dutch/Flemish sprinters. Possibly the 2012 Tour route was relatively flat and with added time trials to encourage Wiggins to win too.

Rod November 3, 2018 at 3:17 am

Meh. There’s always hand wringing.

In the older days the organizers would pay the repeating favourites (e.g. the boring choice) to take a vacation from their race and do something else. That’d ensure there’d be a different winner.

Lanterne_Verte November 2, 2018 at 8:29 pm

I’m speculating here byt maybe part of the reason that TTs are not so entertaining on TV is that TV production and race organisation see them as a bit of a day off. I can imagine some amazing possibilities with camera wizardry, data, technical analysis, back-stories in a slick, punchy TV package but maybe thats asking too much of a sport that although the TDF is huge just doesnt have the budgets of football and others. Currently its quite normal to be watching a TT in a grand tour with innaccurate timings and confusing or just plain sloppy camerawork, I believe it could be so much better.

Adam November 2, 2018 at 9:58 pm

Personally I find the TTs very interesting but often they are ruined by poor TV coverage. The World’s TT this year was underwhelming because the director focused on the wrong riders. Th 2013 World’s TT was quite good because of a 3 way battle between Martin, Wiggins & Cancellara as the rolling GPS time was accurate and increased the tension. Something like virtual spectator that is used in the World Rally Championship would be a big improvement.

Ferdi November 2, 2018 at 10:11 am

But they do spend more energy. Imagine a stage with 9.000 metres of vertical gain, and do the math.

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