The Team Classification

For the last couple of days Team Sky have been wearing yellow helmets. A celebration of Chris Froome’s spell in yellow? No, they lead the team prize and the rules say they should wear yellow helmets and they get yellow race numbers.

The team prize is the least understood of the official classifications in the Tour de France but it can have a direct tactical influence on the race. With all that’s going on in the race this prize rarely gets any attention but it matters to some.

The general team ranking is established by adding together the three best individual times of each team in every stage.

That’s the rule but it’s worth explaining. It’s based on the best three riders on each stage and not the best three riders overall. So each day you take the times of the first three riders from each team on the stage and add them together. The lowest cumulative time leads the overall.

Every morning there’s a ceremony at the signing on for the team that won the previous day. Earlier today it was Tinkoff-Saxo who collected the prize for yesterday’s efforts to Cauterets thanks to RafaÅ‚ Majka, Alberto Contador and Michael Rogers.

Movistar lead the rankings this evening. On Stage 10 their first three riders were Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Gorka Izagirre so you add their times together. On Stage 11 the first three were Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Jonathan Castroviejo so you add their times together. Today it was Gorka Izagirre, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana. Do this for all 12 stages and it turns out Movistar have the shortest time. Lead the classification and the team must wear yellow helmets and they get special yellow race numbers.

However the point of this post isn’t to explain the rule, as misunderstood as it might be sometimes. Instead it’s significance is more important in the tactical and commercial sense. You might ignore this ranking but those racing are not. Winning the team prize is a big deal for team managers and sponsors alike. Ag2r La Mondiale won last year and the team’s sponsor is a mutual health insurance company, for them a collective win is as important a solo stage by by Alexis Vuillermoz for the way the team aspect plays with Ag2r’s corporate message of “better together”. Interviewed on Europe 1 radio the other day team DS Julien Jurdie stressed the importance of this prize… and then went coy when asked if there was a cash bonus from the sponsor if they win the prize again. It’s similar to the world championships where the team time trial is a misunderstood sideshow to most people keen to see who wears the rainbow jersey for a year but a big deal for team managers.

Bringing us back to the Tour de France is the tactical aspect. Today Gorka Izagirre was in the breakaway and finished fourth, a good result but nobody really noticed. He could have sat up and been a relay for Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana: they attack, get on his wheel and he tows them for as long as he can, be it 20 metres or two minutes. But Izagirre pressed on and his fourth place meant finishing over two minutes ahead of the yellow jersey group and thanks to this Movistar lead the team classification tonight. Movistar won’t be cracking open the vintage champagne tonight but there will be some satisfaction with this.

It’s the stealth competition that needs yellow helmets to get noticed. The team prize matters more than you think and for some teams and sponsors it’s a genuine goal rather than a fringe benefit. As such it’s a tactical consideration and placing a rider or two in a breakaway matters even if they don’t land a win. Taking time is a win.

Right now the Tour’s team classification seems to be reduced to a duel between Team Sky and Movistar but in other stage races you might see a team helping to chase a breakaway for no obvious reason when it’s the team prize that’s at stake.

25 thoughts on “The Team Classification”

  1. That is a nice simple explanation of complex set of dynamics. Thank you!!

    To revisit an old conversation, does this not also contribute to UCI points. Not for the classification leadership, but if Movistar continues to put riders up the road to gain this classification, they are likely to accumulate more UCI points over the Tour. Some years that may not matter much, but for some teams in some years, having more points was important.

    It is quite possible that the importance of points will diminish with more reforms. However, having watched the reform process for a couple of years, I think betting on any given reform is not very wise. If you run a team, you kind of have to go with what is in place now.

    Those are small things, this is a really nice article, thank you!

  2. ” the team must wear yellow helmets and they get special yellow helmets”? ASO has a high speed helmet manufacturer in the race convoy? Or should that be special yellow race numbers?

  3. Many thanks Inrng. I had assumed that Izagirre had gone up the road solely to draw out Sky, but they did not take the bait.
    I was moved to check the Team Classification just now and was very surprised (pleasantly so) to see MTN Qhubeka currently sitting at 7th place.
    A real achievement considering that that they were a wild card entry to the race.

  4. Is it mandatory now Inner Ring because I remember the first year it came in Leopard(??) complained. The UCI would enforce it if a team protested? What if you were Avis pro cycling team? You’d be wearing the corporate colours of Hertz.

  5. Sorry, bit dense here. So is it the cumulative time? Three best from each team calculated for a stage and this number added to next stage’s calculation to determine best team? Or simply which team had three best finishers the previous day?

  6. Oddly enough, if you look in the UCI rulebook (I did years ago and cannot recall chapter and verse), you will find there are two competitions UCI sanctioned races are required to have. GC and the Team Competition. All other competitions are at the race organizers discretion.

    One of my favorite moments in the Team Classification was watching Euskatel go for the team competition in the 2013 Vuelta. Their last GT. They would send two or three riders in to the break every day during the last two weeks in the mountains. They rallied from a double digit deficit after the first rest day to win the competition !

    • Apparently not – if you look at the team results for stage 5 – a bunch sprint won by Greipel – 15 teams are given the same time. If time bonus were included Lotto would have won, Tinkoff second, Etixx 3rd.

  7. I think they need to re-examine some of this yellow in the Tour.

    Once upon a time it was easy to pick out the race leader, resplendent in his bright yellow jersey. A beacon in the bunch. Now the peloton is a sea of yellow. With these yellow helmets, yellow numbers, Lotto and Tinkoff with yellow kit and helmets. It’s a mess.

    • I hear what you are saying. I agree regarding the Lotto-Jumbo jerseys; they are often difficult to distinguish from the Maillot Jaune. The former ONCE team used to change their regular yellow kit to pink for Le Tour.

      As for the yellow helmets or yellow race numbers for the leading team; I don’t necessarily have a problem with this. Prior to helmet rules, Le Tour used to issue yellow caps for the top team.

      I think part of the confusion stems from the trend for category leaders to go all in in matching the jersey (shorts, helmets, bikes, etc). So you can have the GC leader in yellow helmet, even though his team isn’t leading the team classification.

  8. The other tactical consideration is that it can effect the success or otherwise of a break, especially the kind of “maxi-breaks” of lowly riders that go clear in the second and third week and gain big time.

    For example, if two teams are close in the team competition and one of them gets, say, two riders in the maxi-break but the other team only gets one, then that second team has a big incentive to chase, against the risk of losing 15 or 20 minutes in the team comp. If instead both teams get one rider each, effectively it is a neutral result. So sometimes when you see a team chasing for no apparent reason, it may be that the composition of the break affects the team competition. Alternatively, the team with two riders may send one back to the bunch, neutrality is resumed and suddenly the advantage of the break is allowed to balloon.


  9. What I still don’t get is why it’s so important to the teams – it’s a competition which gets very little publicity in the media (which only reports on the Yellow, stage winners and doping allegations) , no-one understands , and consequently the fans aren’t bothered about let alone Joe Public.

    • Sponsorship.
      The professional sport relies on sponsorship to exist.
      You’re probably looking at it from a British perspective.
      In the UK, cycling, although it is now booming in popularity, is still a minority sport. Certainly in terms of attracting British companies as sponsors.
      Sky is the giant, they are mainly self-funded, and have concentrated their efforts towards a GC winner in TdF. Their success has triggered the British interest, but it is still centred around individual stars.
      But if say NFTO or Madison-Genesis were to receive a wildcard entry to the Tour, the Team Classification could be a major interest.
      Inrng quoted the example of Ag2r last year. Look at MTN Qhuebka this year. A top 10 finish for them would be fantastic and go a long way to helping their future existence and growth.

  10. A useful explainer. It took me years to work out why the team times in the Tour were always significantly less than the combined GC times; I finally resorted to the rule book a few years ago.

    Is the actual method of working out the team award defined in the rules or is it open to interpretation by each race? The method outlined above works well in the instance of the TdF, but could other races opt for a different system, i.e. combined GC times or a points/placings system?

  11. As another indication of how seriously some teams take this competition, Emmanuel Hubert of BSE was urging Delaplace and Brun not to sit up and simply ride in to Plateau de Beille after their companions in the break had gone up the road.

    Why? To move up from 21st to 19th in the teams classification, with a view to doing the same again in the Alps. Little things can keep team and sponsor morale higher than they otherwise might.

  12. while nothing to do with the Team Classification can you explain why there seems to be no official podium for 2nd and 3rd on stages? never see them up there like single day races but pundits are always saying he’s on podium

    • Because it’s only a stage. The protocol is the stage winner and jerseys. Only in Paris do you get three riders on the podium, like the finish of a one day race. When teams or commentators talk of a “podium finish” for someone who manages to finish second or third it’s wrong in theory and practice.

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