A Two Week Tour de France?

Tour de France crowds

A two week Tour de France? Non. Or to use the phrase beloved of many a French hotelier, c’est pas possible. Still it’s good to question established ideas and tenets. There’s no rule that says the Tour de France must be three weeks long and if there were, we should question that too.

It’s a current topic since UCI President Brian Cookson was in Madrid to award Spain and Movistar their UCI World Tour prizes. He spoke to the media when asked about a shorter Vuelta and Tour de France implied nothing was off the table. Let’s explore why an abbreviated Tour won’t suit anyone.

Lost In Translation
Brian Cookson doesn’t speak Spanish and his interviews in English the other day have been translated into Spanish and then back to English and other languages. When asked in Madrid if the Vuelta a España could be reduced from three weeks to two he replied, in essence, that discussions were ongoing. The follow-up question whether these discussions could apply to the Tour de France too and the response, written up in Spanish was “aquí no existe nada intocable” or “nothing is untouchable”. So reducing the Vuelta is possible but implicitly a shortened Tour de France can be discussed… but is unlikely to say the least.

Reduced Vuelta?
A shortened Vuelta is possible and discussions are ongoing. Is this sacrilege? Perhaps not, after all the original Vuelta was two weeks long and over the years the race’s distance has varied a lot. 1947 was 23 days long; 1987 was 23 days long (hat tip @irishpeloton) and some with just 14 stages long in the 1930s and 1960s.

But the Tour?
I can’t see any practical reason to shorten the Tour. There are theoretical ones, the kind worthy of an essay – see below – but hard to conceive in pro cycling’s real and intensely commercial world.

ASO own the Tour and it’s not in the UCI’s remit to abbreviate privately-owned races. Group discussions continue but nobody would gain from a shorter Tour. ASO shrink the race by a third meaning their income should shrink by a third. A reminder that ASO earns income from the Tour via three sources:

  • TV rights income: the most lucrative source. Cut the race back and you cut back the number of broadcast hours. You could argue an abbreviated race would be more dynamic and so not lose value as much but equally a shortened race might not be long enough to hook people in. Similarly the Tour has traded on its reputation as one of the world’s toughest sporting contests, to shrink it is to devalue this aspect
  • Sponsorship income: a combination of TV airtime and roadside support sees sponsors flock to support the race. Reduce the race by a third and you reduce the airtime and the number of roadside fans by a proportional amount so sponsors would not pay as much
  • Daily hosting fees: the going rate for a stage start is about €50,000 and €90,000 for a stage finish. Remove seven stages and that’s close to a million Euros in income gone.

That’s just ASO’s loss and it’s hard to see their gain. It can be argued some of the Tour’s stages are boring. Those flat routes that end inevitable sprints for example and even this blog’s race previews often recommend readers tune in late for the action.

But it’s another thing to find it boring and simply scrub the stage. It’s like saying white bread doesn’t taste of much so instead of a ham and cheese baguette you might as well skip the bread and just eat the filling. Crucially the Tour is aware of this and tends to place the boring stages, plus the rest days, mid-week when audiences dwindle. The weekends are often host to crucial mountain stages to ensure bumper viewing figures and crowds.

Ramunas Navardauskas Tour de France

There will be other losers too. Teams would have less airtime, less publicity in a shorter race. Plus with, say, only 14 stages the chance to get the glory of a stage win is diminished meaning less success to go around. For example Garmin-Sharp’s Tour de France would have been very different without the third week stage win by Ramunas Navardauskas.

Touching on the stage start and finish sales there’s more geographical element that a reduced race can’t cover as much ground… or if it wants to visit a lot of France then it’s beaucoup transfers.

Finally there’s the fan aspect. I like a long race and sure not every day is great but this is not a sport for those with short attention spans; if you don’t like watching for hours and days then watch the evening highlights. There’s no point in cycling trying to ape more intense sports too much because a two week race is still a very long contest, but it’s the moments of drama along the way that add to the tension, the crosswind on a flat day, the surprise breakaway, the unexpected crash.

Who Gains?
We would have an extra week on the calendar. But what to do with it? Freeing up space in July is awkward because all the big names are hardly going to ride a shorter stage race just before, preferring instead to fine tune their training. Besides there’s already a big lull in racing before the Tour de France with Halle-Ingooigem and the Sibiu Cycling Tour, plus the national championships in the two week space before the Tour de France.

There could be health gains for the riders, three weeks does seem to be the upper limit for racing with the body collapsing into catabolism in the third week. But to those who say it’d have less doping, look at the 100m in athletics: less than 10 seconds, not one mountain pass and yet it’s endured as many scandals and podium rejigs as a grand tour.

In theory…
Reducing the Tour de France is a way to rebalance the sport. If the Tour de France is too dominant on the calendar, sucking up audiences, attention and money then then one way to boost other races is to scale back the Tour in the same way you’d cut back a large tree in order to let some light shine other plants below.

But the egalitarian argument would be better served by boosting other races rather than pruning the sport’s biggest success story. Or at least some equality could be achieved by more surreptitious means than chainsawing one third of the race away. For example the Tour might be the biggest race but the UCI could award equal ranking points to all grand tours, let riders target the Tour for the prestige and money but let those who do other races enjoy equal rewards.

As not seen on TV: Rodriguez, Contador, Froome and Nibali in the Tour of Oman

So far, so theoretical but since the topic’s appeared in the news I wanted to walk through the reasons why it won’t happen. What is more likely is we get a reduced Tour de Suisse and Critérium du Dauphiné, ditto Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice. As someone who enjoys these races – the Dauphiné was the best race of 2014 for me – this is a shame but these events are less profitable and scaling them back as a means to ensure a more equal participation is understandable…

…However while we might say we want to see the big names race against each other it’s worth noting audiences for these clashes are low, Tirreno-Adriatico loses money while the Tour of Oman can’t afford live TV, presumably because nobody will pay despite the prospect of a stellar field and breathtaking scenery.

Nothings is untouchable but there are no obvious commercial or sporting reasons to shrink the Tour de France and besides, the idea of shrinking the Tour de France has got lost in translation through interviews. The race is the sport’s best shop window and closing it early would be self-defeating, akin to sawing off the branch the sports sits on.

As a private business it’s for ASO to decide but there’s little commercial pressure and others, from teams to riders to fans, don’t have many reasons to support a shrunken race either. With the sport looking at reform there’s always the danger of change for change’s sake, that neophila trumps tradition but in this instance there’s no push for a shorter Tour. The question for any calendar reform is not whether the Tour will be shrunk but what can be done to boost other races.

63 thoughts on “A Two Week Tour de France?”

  1. A 2 week tour would be ideal but to mess with the 3 legends would be stupid at least. I think the best opportunity to establish a 2 week tour would be in the USA – combine the Colorado Pro Challenge and Tour of Utah and make a 2 state 2 week tour.

    • The fan-base view of “stupidity” has dramatically increased reported revenues to federation.

      The UCI has been eliminating popular races and impoverishing continental pros for over a decade and few seem to mind. When the currently published roadmap goes into effect, the sport will only lose more fans, but the revenues should not decline much.

      FYI, Inrng, you may want to check out Bach’s 20+20 document just released a couple of days ago. IMO, there are some implications that should affect the UCI/cycling.

  2. I’ve heard Lionel Birnie say a couple of times (probably on the cycling podcast) that if the tour was conceived today it wouldn’t be a 3 week tour, but a 2 weeks one. The implication clearly is that 2 weeks is better than 3, but I don’t see the reasoning. I think a 3 weeks tour is an event and one of the reasons that it is so popular. However I’m interested in the counter arguments to the article above, and if we were designing the tour now, why would we go for a shorter race?

    • I think if you wanted to start the sport today three weeks would be strange, the history of the sport was all about gruelling tests and today’s world is very different. It’s like someone proposing a five week race today, it would seem too much.

      • It also depends on the medium through which the race reports and attendant mythologizing were conveyed: newspapers. Nothing needs to be in real-time (or necessarily verifiable even), and you need to keep your audience attentive (and buying the product).

        Maybe the question also needs to be considered from such an angle not ‘what races do we want to watch?’ but ‘how do we want to watch racing?’ – and certainly INRNG has touched on improvements that could be made in event and broadcast production that would offer a rich, immersive media experience (at least a newspaper story could capture your imagination; poor television production only dulls it).

        Tradition is fine and history is important, but they should not be made holier than the sport. First, as with the Vuelta examples, what we now consider ‘traditional’ is probably less firm than we believe. And, second, too much holding on to the past, leaves you with no capacity to embrace the future. Other sports do this, other ‘holy grails’ are indeed touched (cf. Wimbledon getting a roof, football getting [limited] video replay – the only arguments against these developments were the ‘charming tradition’ of rained-out centre court matches and fallible refereeing decisions, which no one is proposing return). Further, tennis has somewhat deemphasized the Grand Slams by introduction of WorldTour Masters and Finals tournaments (or whatever they’re called).

        Two-week grand tours can certainly work – unless one stubbornly insists ‘they must be three weeks!’ – there is no reason why such races could not be designed as serious tests for professional athletes and suspenseful excitement for viewers. Elevate some of the current week-long races (Suisse, Utah/Colorado), add Germany. The Tour de France could actually increase its cachet if it were part of a larger, more coherent narrative: a rising tide lifts all boats.

  3. Above, you write regarding the current 1 week races: “scaling them back as a means to ensure a more equal participation is understandable…” I don’t follow your point. Why would scaling the Dauphiné or Paris-Nice down to 5 days ensure more equal participation? Won’t the top riders still pick and choose their objectives and use some but not all shorter stage races as preparation to their main goals?

    • I suppose because you could have Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice in March, maybe with a week’s interval in between. With this there would be a large share of the field in one race going on to do the next race.

  4. I think it would be a shame to shorten the Grand tours. The inner ring suggests it’s like five weeks!! It’s about grueling tests but today’s world they’ve replaced toe clips…added radio, GPS, telemetry….how does this make 3 weeks unduly hard? I say leave it!! If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    • Sorry, but if you don’t think the sport of cycling in need of repair, then you’re not paying close attention. Although sponsorship has always been tenuous, what does it say when the winningest team in the sport (both men’s and women’s pelotons), winning multiple stages in the marquee event, with some of the most well-known riders…when such a team can’t find a sponsor, something is rotten.

      I’m referring to HTC / Highroad, Mark Cavendish, Tour de France 2011: 5 stage wins, a green points jersey, a Champs Elysees hat-trick. What more could a sponsor want!? Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough to save the most successful team in the sport at that moment – if that’s not ‘broken’, I don’t know what is. The sponsors now are bike manufacturers (who are more marketeers than innovators) and sugar daddies. It’s not healthy.

      • Yeah, there are problems, but the GTs are presently record breaking (or very near to that) in terms of audience. Why should you start repairing cycling changing just what seems to go better than ever? o_O
        If you have a complex object, say a car (say an historic sport involving any kind of sociological, cultural and economic element, like this blog shows pretty well)… if you observe some problem in, don’t know, steering, why fiddling with the engine should be the best idea?

        That said, even if sponsorship is a relevant matter in present cycling, what you say simply isn’t true. There are big sponsors that don’t belong to the bike world nor are driven only by very personal interest of the owner (you maybe forgot to name State sponsorship, too). And there are mixed situations. But what matters the most is that precisely the GTs don’t suffer from a sponsorship crisis, right now they may even be taking advantage of the hardships affecting teams and, more than everything, lesser one-day races. So, all you say just doesn’t fit at all with the question presented here… IMHO.

        • My reply was to the statement ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, which I broadened to the overall state of the sport; my specific view on GTs I posted separately above (I think it’s a discussion that should be had, there should be no ‘sacred cows’). Remember of course that we are already fans; for me, I’d like there to be more fans. That’s how the sport grows and stays vital. Old traditions can be tossed (cf. the Hour Record) and new ones created (cf. Strade Bianchi) – again, hardcore fans of ‘tradition’ might not agree, but the also cannot disagree that it has attracted new people to the sport.

          And I think you actually illustrate my point that something needs fixing structurally: if GTs are indeed “taking advantage of hardships affecting teams and…one-day races” – an assessment I would tend to agree with – that means the sport is slowly cannibalizing itself rather amplifying the common interests of organizers, athletes and sponsors. Perhaps this is actually a necessary step; as INRNG says, like pruning a tree so that it can grow.

          And I do think sponsorship is relevant – irrelevant it is certainly not: INRNG linked on Twitter to a story about how cyclocross eats road racing’s lunch in Belgium because sponsors love it and fans love it alike. If the TdF is as close as one gets to such a ‘captive audience’ for road racing, and you dangle prize sponsor-bait, and still can’t get a bite…well, I stand by my point that something needs to change. If sponsors are happy to sponsor events and prizes, but not teams, then it would seem a league structure would be useful: no less exposure for sponsors and the billionaire owners can have more a guaranteed ROI via revenue-sharing plans.

          • I argued that it was quite unfair to reply to Richard Rose that way, if you broadened so much the scope that it became unclear what possible relation would exist between sponsorship problems (moreover, very focused) and the matter which was being faced both by the blog post and the other reader’s commentary.
            “Something needs to change” is not a good justification to “change whatever and cross your fingers”.
            As for the pruning example, inrng him/her-self elaborates that argument in a paragraph eloquently branded “In theory…” and right after that goes on to explain why it’s not the best idea ever.

            The sport may be sometimes cannibalizing itself, but that’s not because some part of it are working. It’s because the others aren’t. And blowing up your good engine because your car isn’t steering hoping that maybe everything will be fine won’t fix the car. Even with two weeks long “GT” it would still be risky to put your money in something that could be tainted by doping accusation like “a team” (to start with…). Or to put it in a little French/Italian/Spanish race which is prevented by the international rules to have a good field and which can’t get TV coverage unless some kind of critical mass is achieved (and it won’t be achieved by a single sponsorship, so no one will make the first move).

            If your long-term plan is to destroy the Tour, the Vuelta and the Giro to destroy ASO’s (and RCS’) power in the process, well, I get it, if you put it like that I guess it makes sense, but as I explained elsewhere it would mean to destroy the main technical (not just “traditional”) assets of cycling, those who have the strongest binding with “not-hardcore fans”, and I completely fail to see that as a good strategy. It’s not “changing” it’s getting a tabula rasa and try to ride your bicycle on it… supposing the tabula rasa doesn’t come out to be thin ice.

      • HTC-Columbia was itself a sugar-daddy team, owned by a billionaire and largely funded by a giant break clause pay-off from Deutsche Telekom. It was also run on a tight budget and when its starts wanted more money it wasn’t there, so they quit for new teams – eg Cavendish moved – leaving the rump of the team without a marketable star which therefore made it harder for a sponsor to come on board.

        More at http://inrng.com/2011/08/highroad-pro-cycling/

  5. The biggest issue for the elite level calendar is ‘What is the World Tour’. Until this is clarified individual races will remain just that. With the current calendar athletes and teams will continue to use other races to prepare for their bigger goals. What is undeniable is that the Tour is way more important to athletes and teams (generally) and certainly the average viewer than the World Tour. I cannot see the current tabled reforms altering this and therefore it would be lunacy on the sports behalf to cut the Golden Goose.

    • You can enjoy pro cycling and all the associated races in all its splendour throughout the season and not have the foggiest idea what the pro tour is or means. Having said that, I guess I have been doing so for years now. Enough said.

  6. I think it’s important that cycling doesn’t go the way of cricket with the long format (5-day Test match) becoming superseded by shorter matches that are easier to market. Almost everyone involved (apart from the TV companies) thinks this is to the detriment of the sport overall as a spectacle and a challenge and as an affront to tradition. The tradition argument is easy to bat away – traditions are malleable, look at any period of history – but the spectacle and challenge of a sport are critical to its long term success.

    There is a ridiculous short-termism when people start thinking along these lines; cycling would do well to avoid this.

  7. Just on a point on the potential shortening of the Vuelta, doesn’t ASO own the Vuelta as well and so the UCI can’t do anything about that? Ditto Paris-Nice and the Dauphine (both ASO races) – the UCI might want to reduce them but if they don’t own them, there’s not a lot they can do about it (I assume). Ditto the Giro (owned by RCS) and Tirreno (RCS again) – I just don’t see how the UCI can force third parties to change their formats.
    I assume the UCI’s thought this through (!) but I sense that ASO and RCS can just say ‘Non’ and ‘No, grazie’ respectively and there won’t be a great deal that the UCI can do more than threaten. By all means shift them so they don’t clash but these are businesses not charities.

  8. Your third last paragraph really sums it up; it’s not the length of races or crowded calendar that’s the issue, it’s the basic funding/sponsorship/TV rights/advertising revenue model that’s broken. As has been mentioned here before, the basic structure of both teams and the racing schedule today would be instantly familiar to Fausto Coppi; it takes more than power meters and adding Twitter handles to riders’ jerseys to truly modernise the sport.

  9. It’s not tradition. It’s a technical element. If we want a different cycling, let’s shorten the GTs. It will be different, sure. But it wouldn’t be the same sport, nor they would be GTs anymore. Inrng referred to catabolism, and that’s an interesting hint, a tile of a more complex mosaic. How many riders aren’t able to gor for the GC of a GT just because they “don’t have got the third week”? A simple expression that sums up a lot of different biological and psychological factors, technical variables that just aren’t there in a two weeks race. It’s not only “a week less”, it’s a wholly different strategic gameboard because of physiological factors, to start with: the shape of the “curve of form” that you can draw along two rather than three weeks changes quite a lot. Throw in the team element, too, and multiplicate the challenge. Note that the breaks get more and more chances the more the race goes on: that’s just a simple example of the changing scenery that the three weeks imply. We only have three races like that, and I think that maybe they can’t be more than that, but they sure shouldn’t be less.

    Consider this: the Tirreno-Adriatico, a race with a very fine tradition, has been living in the last four or five years one of his best moment ever, great participation and/or great podia and/or a very compelling development; nevertheless, it’s no match with any GT, if you look at the race as a whole.

    A subjective element: I follow thoroughly all the cycling season, and I recall quite well what happened (as a general narrative, maybe) in all the GTs of the last 8-10 years, to say the *very* least, specific edition included. With Tour de Suisse, Tirreno, Dauphinée, País Vasco and the likes I find it hard to go further back than 3 or 4 years. I maybe remember some older event, but it’s way harder to associate it with a specific year. And I should stress that in the moment when I’m seeing the races, for different reasons, I’m normally more excited with the Tirreno or the País Vasco than with the Vuelta. I don’t know if it’s only my brain that’s flawed to work like that, or if it’s an obvious consequence of keeping the information active along three weeks instead of a lesser time, or if the 3-weeks narratives are more effective, or if I’m affected by the feeling that – like it or not – “a GT is more important”. Whatever it is, the medium-long term impact is totally different. And if it wasn’t only me… well, that difference in impact would be an asset which I wouldn’t sacrifice ligh-heartedly.

    • “How many riders aren’t able to gor for the GC of a GT just because they “don’t have got the third week”?”

      Exactly. The same goes for long mountain stages. Useless according to some, “because everything happens on the last climb”. Yes, but the group that arrives at the foot of that last climb is very different if there are four categorie 1 and HC climbs before it of if there’s only one. Some riders are better at more explosive stages, while others need to grind down their opponents in long, hot stages.

  10. I was just thinking about changes in other sports that would have horrified the traditionalists but nobody bats an eyelid to nowadays – the first substitutes were allowed in the English football leagues in the 1960s.

    I wouldn’t be completely surprised if somebody has come up with the suggestion of allowing a substitute to be introduced on the first rest day – non-qualifying for the GC and any team time positions, but a boon to a team that has had injury misfortune in the first week and needs to parachute someone in to get their sponsors jersey on TV.

    I am, of course, instinctively opposed to this.

  11. Part of the nature of Grand Tours is the stress it places on the riders along with the physical test, especially those competing for the GC, even in the supposedly ‘benign’ first week.

    As Frank Schleck says in ‘The Road Uphill’, there isn’t a single day where they’re not on the limit. Just because some stages have no impact on the top of the standings, doesn’t mean that they aren’t important.

    It’s similar to mountain stages – given that there’s no real racing until halfway up the last climb, why bother with having two HC/Cat 1 climbs before the final summit?

    • There are one or two days when the wattages can be low for some but they can still be stressful, especially in the finish. But it’s the surprise factor, things can still happen. Action can’t happen every day but it doesn’t happen all the time in a one day race either, of course.

  12. Pro cycling certainly needs some fixing, but too many seem eager for the equivalent of bolting carbon fiber, electronically-controlled components onto a bicycle with a broken chain. What is wrong with pro cycling at present? I think there are 3 major issues 1) Verbruggen’s World/Pro/Whatever Tour folly jacked up the cost to field a decent team to ridiculous levels while adding nothing of benefit. 2) The traditional cycling countries are currently economic basket-cases. 3) Continuing doping scandals create a “who cares?” attitude with the pubic. If the UCI were to fix 1 and 3 all we need to do is wait for 2 to finally end, but fooling around with the calendar, TV gimmicks, etc. will not fix any of the three issues.

    • +1 … Larry that is a beautiful summation of what I think, but haven’t been able to articulate!
      Actually, considering what a mess TV money has made of English football ( + rugby + cricket etc etc ..) , I quite like seeing cycling bumbling along in a disfunctional manner. As soon as big TV get stuck into it we might get bike cams and good coverage, but we can all kiss goodbye to any notion of having any control over maintaining traditions etc…
      I can see it now… ‘Tonight on XYZ Premier HD….from Qatar…. Froome vs Contador vs Quintana in the 25th edition of their race for the golden skinsuit, up specially built indoor 5k 15% ‘mountain’…”

  13. +1 Nail and Head Larry T.

    From what little information is leaking into the public domain, these proposals do nothing to resolve the fundamental problems facing the sport. Accepting the status quo with everything but the events and team numbers is no solution, it is just a fudge that will lead nowhere.

    This is NOT the way to make the sport more attractive to commerce, media or fans.

  14. I can only speak for myself, but I would guess that all of us as kids on our first 10 spds. many of us longer then we would like to admit. Recall our thoughts while riding our bikes fast were linked to the mysticism of competing in one of the GT’s and most likely TDF.

    If we lose that mystical aspect of our sport by shortening our GT’s we will cheapen our sport.

    As said perviously here by many, cycling will never be an economically viable enterprise, at most a fringe sport watched and enjoyed by a limited audience. Lets try and keep it unique and when kids ride their new carbon fiber 22 spds. they still dream of competing in a GT and not just collecting millions of $$’s

  15. One advantage of two week grand tours is that it could make it possible for the top riders to contest all three each year. This would give the callender more of a narrative an ultimately boost all three grand tours.

    It could also lead to more exciting racing – at the moment a strong climber can build such a lead over the many high mountain stages that it is impossible for them to be challenged. Shorter grand tours could have less high mountains and more opportunities for riders to attempt moves similar to Andrew Talanksy’s win in the Dauphiné.

    • Still wont happen (all top riders contesting all 3 GTs)

      The Tour will still be seen as the biggest prize, and some sponsors and their teams won’t risk compromising the chances of their top GC guy who they think has a really good shot at the maillot jaune, by having him ride the Giro first. Same goes for the no 1 support team they build around him during the season.

      IMO the Giro being 2 weeks instead of 3 wouldn’t lessen the potential risk in their minds.

  16. The reasons for 3 weeks are very clear with regard to all 3 GTs. Don’t fix the calendar, it ain’t broken. If traditions are not as solid as they can seem to be, all we have to do is to continue to build them up. I prefer “everything is untouchable” and “it’s not good to question everything” than the absolute opposite. What a lot of people are not intelligent enough to understand is that very often progress doesn’t mean change, it means plain continuity. And cycling is a good example.

    • More valuable yes but less chance. In theory Etixx-Quickstep, Giant-Alpecin and Tinkoff-Saxo might like a shorter race but the lesser teams would have fewer chances to score so they might not support a reduced race.

      • The chances for redemption within the race would be reduced, but could be more easily resumed in the following GT. Presuming of course that a two-week standard were adopted with a calendar featuring (at least) 5 such races (5 x 2 weeks = 10 weeks vs. 3 x 3 weeks = 9 weeks), and that there is some standardization in format; Jose de Cauwer has long been pleading for a sort of ‘playbook’. That might result in a more competitive GT peloton if races are deemed equally important to race and are equally race-able – nobody begging off because of the competition or the gradients or amount of TT kms.

        The argument that not enough riders will be fatigued in 2 weeks also has the corollary that more, not fewer, riders will have a chance. So the narrative switches from ‘we’ll try again next year’ to ‘we’ll try again at the next race.’ How could that not be a good thing for riders and fans and sponsors alike?

        If the extra fatigue element is necessary for the competition, there could always be multiple stages in a day as is already the case in shorter stage races (e.g. the ‘driedaagse’s of West-Vlaanderen and De Panne). Imagine, for example, a short, explosive morning stage and a night TT/ITT – that wouldn’t be any less physically demanding, and could certainly be much more compelling television from a sports entertainment perspective (that is bearing in mind that most TdF viewers aren’t watching for the race).

        I know, a 2-week TdF still seems impossible, but I think it would be no less coveted, and by spreading the opportunities and spoils around more evenly, it would be less about a single event and more about the sport and the athletes. Less is sometimes more.

        • Please stop calling *those things*… “GT” 😛
          Let’s try “MT”, for example… aurea mediocritas, if you wish 🙂
          Just kidding, but it’s to stress what I was defending above, that is, the technical difference implied by a consecutive third week of racing.
          Fatigue doesn’t reduce the field, it changes it. And internal differentiation is a core value of cycling.

  17. i think the uci should definitely equalise the GT ranking points – le tour is already so heavily favoured because of the publicity that it dominates the calendar, but as a race it is no different to giro and vuelta so should not get any more points. if anything it should be the other way round to encourage balance but that would again be inequal.

    • I disagree. Any season-long scoring system which doesn’t recognise the reality that the TfF is perceived to be a level above the other GTs (not necessarily a big gap, but a clear one) is doomed to be unsatisfactory. However, I would also say that the scoring system should recognise that the monuments are a level above the week-long tours too, and the current system fails to do that.

      • The scoring is pointless anyway. No one cares. Was Valverde the best rider last year? I don’t think it’s even possible to say. Is Nibali better than Kittel? You may as well give it to the rider with best haircut or funniest name.

  18. I’d like to see the talk about reform move from shortening the Grand Tours and into shrinking the teams in these races from 9 men to something more like 6 or 7, while inviting more teams. That would eliminate a lot of the ‘boring filler’ stage talk, and each rider on any given team could see fewer race days if fewer riders on the team had to race at any given time.

    • That’s being explored too. You might remember the experiment with smaller teams in the Tour of Poland last year. One reason the Tour of Britain was exciting this year was smaller team sizes made it hard for a team like OPQS or Movistar to control the race. Christian Prudhomme has made noises in support too:

      “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.“

  19. Are there any viewing figures to suggest that less hardcore fans get bored in the third week? If they do then perhaps something could be done to give the third week a stronger identity and increased drama without breaking with tradition. Certainly in some GTs I have found my attention wandering in the middle of the third week and I’ve been an avid fan for 25 years. How about a 400km TTT?

    • Figures about TV spectators and road-side fans suggest quite the contrary (but I suppose you knew that), at least while the Giro and the Vuelta are concerned, while I don’t have any data about the Tour, even if I guess it shouldn’t be very different. If you are *very* interested I could dig some numbers out.
      The three weeks allow a good build-up among the non-specialized media, who, alongside Horace, prefer “in medias res” narratives.

    • Each of the three weeks should have a different identity, highlighting different kinds of riders. That’s the trick. And it can’t be said enough, for a GT to function as an elimination race, attrition must be permanent, and for that you need a lot more kilometers. 400 is no joke. It is probably the kind of distance we need nowadays on a third week mountain stage. The longer the sport takes to come to terms with the natural and logical ever increasing distances, the worst.

      • The races aren’t returning to the days of 300km+ stages. It just isn’t going to happen. Afraid ‘ever increasing distances’ aren’t logical – in fact, quite the reverse.

        The riders face a, say, 240km stage, they just ride tempo for longer.

  20. agree that first question needs to be do we want / need a world tour; versus a season of individual or at most loosely connected races.

    If we want a world tour then, then need season ending prizes, i.e. green jersey for the year, GC for the year (combo of points in 1 week and 3 week tours). An actual points race, that is actually greater than any single win along the way. Conversely have an invite only or season ending race which you needed to have qualified for (albeit world champs already has elements of this, with countries getting more spots for higher points) but for pro teams. The race could be limited to the top 50 or something like that, small field, best of the best going head to head, or top 15 ranked riders with the ability to choose three additional riders. the season ending prize also needs to be serious, like $1m or something. capture the attention of both riders and public alike.

    If we go with a genuine world tour we can definitely also learn from other sports. For mind, surfing is closest. Fringe sport, free to spectate, most who do surf don’t actually compete, the casual viewer has no idea what’s going on but it looks good to watch and has elements of both a sport and a lifestyle. Think most of the races are starting to get tuned to this with sportifs / public participation rides the day prior. Some of the more physically demanding sports have bye rounds, perhaps a 2 week vuelta is the equivalent, recognition it’s been a long hard season and the softening up has already occurred. Of course, it’s also easy to imagine 2 week specialists emerging within a short space of time (richie port would kill it!).

    ultimately would still love to see cycling clubs represented. you have an enduring entity, revenue stream from club members, national association, consistent colours year to year so you can watch a given race and easily identify teams, something for juniors to aspire to to get into racing …

    my 2 cents

  21. Keep the Tour at 21 stages, but reduce the Giro and Vuelta to 14 stages. The Tour is the World Cup/Champions League of Cycling, the Giro and Vuelta aren’t. This will likely never be agreed while the owners of the Giro and the Tour are not one and the same!
    Consider moving the Tour back a week to make more space in a very congested calendar in May/June.
    Winners of the Yellow, Pink and Red jerseys of the 3 grand tours should wear them the whole year!

    Regarding the calendar. Add a new one day “classic” in the US before/after Tour of California. USA must be part of the World Tour circus. (Tour de Romandie is a World Tour race and California not!?)

    Thats that!

    • Sorry, but no. Definitely not the Giro. It’s only since the mid-80s that the Tour gained the prominence it does now, until then the Giro was not as far behind in the cycling fan’s consciousness.

      My preference would be for the Vuelta to go back to it’s original date, and push the Giro and Tour back by a week or so, and bring the Worlds back to it’s late August date.

        • If you like present times, during the last 8-9 years the Giro and the Vuelta have been constantly closing the technical gap (level of participation, *effort required*, quality of the course) with the Tour, which had grown really impressive during the Armstrong era – mainly due to strong political factors.
          Several riders are nowadays ready to recognize that, in terms of personal preference, even if they are forced by their teams to make choices depending on TV exposure.

          Some guys in an Italian cycling forum (in the Cicloweb.it website) worked out a really interesting graph with the relative “historic” importance of each edition of the three GTs along the years, based on the distribution among the three of the top GC riders of the period (classified by palmares), focusing every time not only on the single edition, but on a ten years period (both the five previous years and the following five, using rolling averages). Sorry, I guess it’s very hard to figure out what I’m saying, but I can’t do much better without spending *much* more lines.

          To sum up, their results were that the Giro was the most important GT from about 1932-1934 to 1963, with the Tour a close runner-up with an 80-85% of the “value” both in the pre-war period and, more than everything, from 1953 on, when it was approaching at an impressive speed. From 1946 to 1952 the Tour lived its worst period compared to the Giro, scoring an average 70% of the top race’s value.
          From 1964 to 1973 the Giro went on losing ground, but, all the same, during these years it was pretty near, since its value was an average 80-85% of the Tour’s. From 1974 to 1983 the Giro went on fading and lived its darkest era “of the ol’ times”, scoring an average 60% compared to the Tour. From 1984 on, the Giro slowly recovered its status, averaging a good 70-75% of the Tour’s value, until the Armstrong era started: from 1999 to 2005 the Giro’s value was a depressing 50% of the Tour’s.
          Nevertheless, from 2006 on a notable recovery started: the nine years average is 75% again, but what’s most impressive is an average growth of +4% a year (and an average 85% referred to 2010-2014, 92% last year).

          [The Vuelta situation was quite tragic up to 1987, hardly getting to the 60% of the Tour’s value, that is, hardly achieving the worst results shown by the Giro. From that year on, it started to grow slowly but steadily (avg. 70% 1987-1998); the Armstrong era stopped that growth, but didn’t hit as hard as on the Giro (avg. 68% 1999-2005, when the Vuelta was indeed more “important” – well, no, let’s say better participated – than the Giro). From 2006, the steady growth started again, from 68% to 90%: less violent (avg. + 1,5% a year) than the Giro’s, but it ain’t fall as deep either; an average value of 80% of the Tour during those nine years].

  22. I don’t know… as an Anonymous said above, I find it very interesting that the three GTs can have a (more or less) different identity.
    That’s a very good effect of having more than one *specimen* of the GT species.

    And we should also observe that, though against their will (or not), all top riders often don’t participate in the Tour at the same time, or… maybe just happen to DNF (imagine that 😉 ). So we wouldn’t for sure have the dreamed “titan clash” just cutting down the Giro and the Vuelta. We had kind of a surrogate of that this year… precisely thaks to the existence of *another* 3-weeks race (GT). Not to speak of the fun we can have when there’s no racing around thanks to Froome’s website, Tinkov’s twitter and the likes.

    In this sense, KB’s idea of shortening all the GTs (about which I couldn’t be less enthusiastic, as I said before), is at least coherent and has got an inner logic. To reduce only the other GTs – ore one of them – right when they’re becoming a sure value would be pure madness/silliness/political fiddling. That’s why I’m very afraid it’s just what could happen soon, cycling management has a soft spot for combining those three ingredients whenever possible.

  23. I cant understand why anyone would want tk cut the great races. The Vuelta has been the best big tour for at least 5 years now. The Giro has a lot of bad weather in the mountains. But i cant see why any grand tour should be cut. The big races were made popular not by the UCI so who the hell are they to cut races with so much heritage? So we can watch the Eneco tour? Give me a break. They havent proven that they have any kind of commercial nous ever so I wouldnt let them anywhere near the best races.

  24. One reason that makes TdF more successful than the other GTs*, is that it takes place on July. More people locally in France but also internationally, can arrange their vacation time in conjunction with the race, when it’s more difficult to skip work on May to go visit the Giro.
    So, could have been a good idea to alternate the season of the GTs? Again, there’s the argument that you can’t force ASO to schedule their race otherwise, but also the weather in Italy or Spain during the heart of the summer is impossible with much more heat than France.
    Frankly, I don’t see changes possible. Like evolution, if something was misplaced, it would have been changed.

    *(I mean besides the fact that they’re the pioneers historically as well as organized-wise.)

  25. Thanks for bringing some sanity to the debate. I get sick and tired of stakeholders proclaiming they are doing things for the fans and that the fans don’t like current cycling. I haven’t been asked anything.

  26. A small point, but wouldn’t a two week race have 15 stages rather than 14? You would want to include both the weekends at the beginning and the end of the race, giving 16 days and you would only need one rest day.
    If you then don’t ‘waste’ the first day on a prologue or short TTT and the last on a procession into the capital city, you are only three days short of some current GTs!

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