The Strangest Race of the Year

The UCI is set to bring in new rules restricting the size of a team in a race to eight riders. Grand Tours could keep an exemption for nine riders but it means teams of no more than nine in a race. Everything is different this weekend with the strangest races on the pro calendar, the national championships and in France FDJ will field a team of 26 riders.

In the French championships you will see Europcar, Ag2r La Mondiale, FDJ and Cofidis swarming all over the race with 84 riders between them. The likes of IAM Cycling’s Sylvain Chavanel and Giant-Shimano’s Warren Barguil have their work cut out. It’s a similar story in Italy, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands where one or two teams field a large proportion of the field.

The big teams dominate the race but in a curious way. Any breakaway that goes clear without a rider from a top team is not going to get far because maybe 20 riders are on hand to lead the chase. So there’s a constant flurry of attacks but the composition has to be just right before a move goes clear. It’s tactical and at times a bit negative. It’s an elective selection with the bunch allowing the move to go. It’s the opposite of a big classic or a mountain stage where the race reaches boiling point and 95% of the field gets cooked.

Another scenario sees domestic pros desperate to beat their World Tour salaried compatriots. Spain has Movistar, Britain has Team Sky and in each case they’re the teams to beat even if it’s an individual race.

Even within the teams things are competitive. It’s not like a normal race where the team has to win. Yes the team has to win but this is one race where personal ambitions can rise to the top too. A win in this race can guarantee plenty, from a pay rise to juicy fees in post-Tour criteriums to plenty of public recognition and fame. So you can find team mates chasing each other. OPQS’s Niki Terpstra has won the Dutch championships several times thanks to Rabobank-Blanco-Belkin riders not riding to a team plan.

This Sunday’s race in France is a fascinating edition with FDJ’s 26 riders but with Arnaud Démare and Nacer Bouhanni in competition. One is set to ride the Tour de France, the other probably leaving for Cofidis and taking one or two riders with him so we should see a Team Bouhanni within the FDJ team. All this marking and tactics will surely dilute FDJ’s chance of winning.

Jersey Design
FDJ manager Marc Madiot adores the French national champion jersey and has made a point of not putting any sponsors logos on it but the visibility of the national champions varies. Some countries like to the give the national element prominence for example the French, Italian and Belgian jersey is really the flag with sleeves on. But for others it can he harder to tell. Some teams get the blame for this and it does seem that some squads push the rules. But a national champion’s jersey needs to be approved by the national federation in question and comply with other UCI rules and crucially the design is submitted to the UCI at least three weeks prior to the race. So it’s not for the teams to design a jersey after the race, there are meant to be guidelines in place already.

These are unconventional races where tactics are very important, it often takes a team effort to win the race… and sometimes a team effort to lose it too. But everyone wants to win, the honour of wearing the national jersey is still an important tradition in the sport and a valuable one too.

29 thoughts on “The Strangest Race of the Year”

  1. As far as the British Champioship is concerned it will be interesting to see if Lizzie Armitstead can do it with no team support and I would love it if the Yates brothers could put one over on Team Sky.

    • Lizzie’s definitely ploughing a lone furrow in this one but the parcours suits her, so I’d say she may well be able to do it (depending what her form is like at the moment). It looks a difficult race to call though and I’d say there’s any number of potential winners, so it should be an interesting race.

  2. Even eight riders is too many to encourage aggressive, exciting and unpredictable racing, why not six, why an exception for GTs ? What is the logic of insisting that the televised spectacle be reduced to hour after hour of teams rolling through at tempo, at the head of a generally disinterested bunch. Questions concerning the professional presentation of the sport have been raised several times on this blog. To persist with yet another aspect of a model that consists of little more than the equivalent of watching paint dry, is surely not the future. One imagines that this is yet another case of teams insisting on continuing with a clearly failed model, rather than aspiring to make the sport much more popular with the viewing public.

    • Maybe attrition. If there were only 6 riders at the Giro many of the teams would have failed to survive until the end with all the crashes and illness. There is also the varied terrain over a 3 week tour where the number of riders to support across the flats, cobbles and mountains changes.

      • Dodge2000. It is a bike race, where there can be only one winner. A sporting event which is meant to be an extremely tough, unrelenting and demanding challenge. What it was never intended to be was a generally dull procession, where the eventual winner only poked his nose out of the protective cocoon of his teammates on the odd occasion. How things have changed. Remember those classic names from the pre Armstrong era, almost all of whom managed at a reasonable level to climb, sprint, ride the cobbles, tackle the flat lands, ride in cross winds, kiss their nearest and dearest at the roadside, descend and even time trial. I hear some Classic and GT winners even enjoyed the odd cigarette and bottle of red wine. They did of course have team support, but not at the level nor type seen today. So what if a team doesn’t have any finishers. It is not the purpose of a race to ensure everyone finishes. What next, no one is allowed to win !

        The point I was really making, in the light of recent sponsorship concerns, is that if the sport does nothing to change the way it presents itself to the public, then the current sponsorship situation is likely to persist. Dragging a potential winner around France in a thoroughly predictable manner for three weeks can never be in the best long term interest of the sport.

        • Whereas a finish at which the sponsor has no team present will be much more attractive? Perhaps not. Indeed you might argue that sponsorship is part of the problem with the spectacle?

    • Fully agree! This is why U23 and women’s racing is so much more open and spectacular ( U23 and women are NOT less intelligent than pro riders and therefore race diferently..).

      Less riders, less chances of controlling a race and maybe an end to the endless saga of “break- goes- up- the- road -caught- 5km -to- go- bunch- sprint- overall -decided- in- mountain- top- finish- and- TT”.
      But I fear the DS of the teams will not like this as it means loss of control and power for them ..

      Reducing team sizes is the key measure to improve the vanishing attractivity of pro cycling!

  3. What on earth is Cookson trying to do by reducing team sizes? He seems to be on a mission to reduce the size of pro teams with stunts like this, also previously there was talk of capping the number of riders on a team. How does this help, when there are less riders to do more races? This is a good way to have riders under more pressure to be ‘fit’ all season. We know what this lead to in the past.
    How is all this being justified & just what input have the actual teams had? This size reduction also affects the team requirements for soigneur’s, DS’s, mechanics etc, so it’s not just riders losing their jobs?
    Considering that he has been the President for almost 9 months, I am yet to see anything come out of Agile that makes me think the sport has improved for the better. Yet another reason that the men’s professional side of the sport should not be controlled by the UCI. They just don’t get it and do more damage than good. It wont be easy stepping in to such a role, but the concern is that team sponsors are pulling out of the sport & the number of races in Europe continues to fall & are not being replaced.

      • It appears to be a common recurring theme from ill-informed internet commentators. Perhaps they see UCI President as some sort of Feudal King position?

    • I think you misunderstood! Less riders per team per race can mean more teams in one race (=overall the same number of riders). Will make racing more open.
      This has been needed for a long time! 8 is still too much..7 better (see U23 and women).

  4. Too many white natty champ jersies. Obscures the young rider and Rainbow jersey. Some countries need to change.

    As to team numbers, let the individual races decide.

    I do feel WT teams should reduce to 22-25 riders. As long as there is a wage scale which allows Pro Conti teams to be more competitive. Limiting PC teams to 14 prevents them from riding two events in same time frame. Bad plan.

  5. Inrng, in regards to national jerseys being approved three weeks prior to the race, does this mean that if a Sagan doesn’t win, then the Slovak champion will ride for a year in a all but in name, Cannondale jersey with the additional strip down the middle no natter what team they race for?

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