The Year of the Climber

Chro-no: TTs will be rare in 2011 Grand Tours

If 2011 welcomes the Chinese year of the rabbit, for pro cyclists it looks like the year of the mountain goat. Why? Well none other that 2009 Dutch time trial champion Stef Clement has been busy with his calculator this morning and put his workings on Twitter:

yesterdays vuelta presentation showed that in 2011 in the 3 grand tours there are only 126 km ITT and 60 km TTT. Isn’t that a loss? 

A little research shows that this year 1.2% of all kms are TT in the Grand Tours, 15 years ago (1995) they did 368,6kms = 3.3% !


Clement’s certainly onto something. The 1992 Tour de France had 137km of individual time trials alone thanks to an 8km prologue, a 65km time trial in Luxembourg and 64km from Blois to Tour. That’s more than the 2011 Giro, Tour and Vuelta combined. Plus the 1992 Tour included 63.5km team time trial.

What does it mean?
If the numbers fluctuate every year, there does seem to be a trend to provide greater suspense in stage racing. A time trial stage is critical to the general classification of a stage race but for spectators it can be boring to watch and it can quickly widen gaps between riders on the GC.

The spectacle of riders attacking and cracking on a summit finish is a gripping TV experience, something you can’t say when lone riders appear inscrutable behind visors and fixed in an aero position. Yet it’s not always dull, the duel between Contador and Schleck last summer was perhaps at its fiercest around Bordeaux. Modern aids like GPS technology can ensure the time gap is measured in real time, enabling viewers to watch riders in a head to head competition rather than waiting for the intermediate time checks.

14 thoughts on “The Year of the Climber”

  1. Yes, they are not always boring but you don't get the "mano a mano" combat, the accelerations that you can get in a mountain stage. Then again, the riders often watch each other during the summit finish, see the Morzine stage in the Tour etc.

    But mountain stages draw huge TV audiences, time trials do not, certainly the France Télévisions numbers demonstrate this.

  2. I have always thought a head to head TT would be fun to watch. Not as part of a GT, but an event with two person heats seated in a pyramid.

    The rules would have to prevent drafting (have to ride on the other side of the road). And the heats would have to be short enough to not kill the riders (since they'd be doing a few of them)

  3. I was under the impression that this was the case last year, when the grand tours all but axed the ITT, as if to dare the Schleck brothers into sweeping them.

    While boring to watch, I'd like to see 100k worth of time trials just to weed out some… incomplete competitors. Riders like Cadel Evans are being written out of contention before the flag drop.

  4. The rally sport has introduced some years ago a short spectacle stage where they race in pairs against each other. That might be an inspiration for the GT organisers to spice up their TT if they feels it's too boring/not suspenseful enough.
    Generally both opponents start on different parts of the track, but physically next to each other and then there is a crossing section where they switch the tracks ( one could say a very elaborate/tricky kind of eight as track shape). Finish would be start line the rider started at. There one could have some kind of man against man action without drafting.

    It is true that mountain stages generate more (TV) interest even if they are not necessarily more suspenseful than a TT but I wonder if the organisers are doing themselves a favour with this inflation of mountains. I can easily imagine instead of producing more action and spectacle on nearly every climb, as the organisers surely hope for, the riders will even more carefully safe their strengths and less would happen. Also they are effectively reducing the number of potential GT winners. For example Wiggins, who as not the best climber but a good TTler needs a realistic chance to retake the seconds lost in the mountains. Else they too would just sit up in the mountains and concentrate on stage wins.

  5. I believe Time Trials create more drama on the mountains. The potential time gaps that TTs can produce forces action. I don't want to see riders sit on a 20 sec lead and go up the mountain side by side. I want to see the climbers attack out fear of beating they'll take in a couple of long TTs. More TT distance instantly adds to the pool of true GC contenders that any potential winner has to worry about.

  6. Nick: a bit like a pursuit race on the track? The risk is that you end up with odd matches, eg a climber vs a TT rider.

    Champs: I hear you. But note that the classic format of the TdF in the 1990s saw an early TT kill the race, Indurain would open up an unbeatable lead.

    Anonymous: very good point. I've written about inflation on here before. But the point about riders waiting and waiting is very true as well.

    I suppose it comes down to moderation, perhaps using two time trials but of a shorter distance?

  7. @TheInnerRing

    Yeah, a track style TT event on the road. I don't think it should be part of a GT or stage race. I think it would be best as a standalone event for TT specialists or ideally as a TTT event.

  8. I like the TT and like watching it. It's another skill that a rider must master to become a true champion. And as they say it is the race of truth. Because otherwise they're just going to sit and wait until the mountain finishes, let their team pull them within 5k of the line AND THEN duke it out. The TT ensures that there's more to a champion than just a good team.

    That being said the amount of R&D involved for the one event is excessive (it's the Formula 1 of bike racing).

  9. This is a side thought I just had. It would be interesting to make road racing more of a team event. Many champions give much praise to their team, like a race car driver to his pit crew. But it would be interesting to see it as a real team event. Essentially making the team classification the priority. Everyone gets a yellow jersey. It would really force a team to work more together.

  10. And early long TTs can help to put racers like Wiggo in yellow, if not right after the TT, but after the first, not-so-hard mountain stage.
    The climbers then have to attack well before the last km to pull back their deficit.
    That's make good racing. We need more TTs than this year, certainly!

  11. Anonymous, you're quite right. Looking back, I think I got muddled on wikipedia pages, 2009 with 2010. I'll fix the mistake. Thanks.

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