The 2016 Tour de France had plenty of highlights but the yellow jersey contest was not a vintage edition. It’s brought calls for all sorts of changes, from the Tour’s route to structural changes to the sport like reducing the team size and imposing a salary cap.
The Tour’s route could be tweaked but how to recompose the geography of France? 2012 had lots of time trialling and was a slumber fest, 2015 had beaucoup mountains instead and people complained too. Some say shorter stages are more exciting but they’re not the guarantee of action as the Joux Plane stage shows. The old “the organises propose, the riders dispose” phrase rings true, you could draw the course on a computer simulator, a Tour de Minecraft, but in reality it’s always the riders who make the race and not the route and that’s before we get to variables like the weather.
Similarly the Tour can only use the terrain available, it can’t always visit the north and its Paris-Roubaix cobbles… but as we saw in Paris-Nice earlier this year there are gravel tracks to exploit all over France and they’re likely to appear in next year’s race. This adds an element of risk and the novelty is good for TV.
More mid-mountain stages could be included but there’s only so much terrain to exploit. Commercially it’s awkward as places like the Massif Central, Jura and Vosges are depopulated meaning few willing host towns but it makes business sense to take a hit on the day’s hosting fees for the sake of TV ratings. The real problem is that the promise of “ambush country” often doesn’t deliver, the terrain might be promising but the teams don’t automatically light the race up.
One boring element was the time trials. A regular ratings flop, they allowed Chris Froome to pummel his rivals. If you’ve read the recent The Moment The Tour de France Was Won piece you’ll have seen the chart depicting the GC standings of the final top-10 riders relative to Froome. Only let’s strip out those two TT stages and see what the result looks like:
As you can see Froome wins of course but the final result is even closer with the top-10 within about three minutes and a podium with 66 seconds in it. Now before you leap to the comments this is just an exercise in subtraction rather than reality and this brings us to an obvious conclusion: move the goalposts and Team Sky simply adjust their aim. In 2015 Chris Froome let the dust gather on his TT bike and delivered knock-out blows in the mountains instead and that wasn’t any more interesting.
Top teams too strong?
Which brings us to Team Sky’s dominant position. Are they the problem? A modest proposal would be to ban Team Sky because without Froome, Poels and Co. the race would have been very different. Outlandish? Of course but in 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. Even if it happened today how many people would say “I want to see the best riders go head-to-head“.
Budget is the big talking point, the Tour de France coincided with the latest release of Team Sky’s accounts and their big spending allows them to recruit riders who could lead other teams. The likes of Landa, Nieve and Poels may not be able to win the Tour de France but they’d be gadflies in the mountains rather than sherpas.
Only spending doesn’t necessarily correlate with the podium. Big budget teams like Astana, BMC Racing, Katusha and Tinkoff didn’t have a GC podium place between them and all their millionaires. Meanwhile low spenders like Ag2r La Mondiale, Orica-BikeExchange and Lampre-Merida did just as well if not better and Dimension Data had a great Tour too.
A salary cap has been a regular suggestion in recent days. However it’s not a binary matter of to cap or not to cap. Do you limit the entire wage bill of a team, for example to tell Team Sky that instead of spending €24 million on wages they must spend no more than, say, €20 million? Or €15 million? Whatever the level there will be teams on less. Then these absolute numbers vary on the ground, as explained before on here French teams have high payroll taxes so their money doesn’t go as far as, say, Team Sky’s Pounds or Tinkoff’s Euros so parity is still hard to achieve. Plus what is salary? Top athletes earn earn salary, bonuses, image rights and endorsements. You can define “salary” to include all of these of course but it gets complicated. Similarly cap salary spending and you don’t touch the spend on training camps, support staff and all of that. FDJ for example has a decent team on paper to support Thibaut Pinot – remember they’ve won a team time trial this year – but they had to stop spending money on Francis Mourey and cyclo-cross in order to find money for route recons and Gran Canaria training camps. By now you get the picture that a salary cap is not a yes/no matter but more a question of how, how much and who. What ever shape or size a cap will never equal the playing field but it could level it. There are arguments against it, for example cap salaries and you effectively cap the wages available in the sport, it gives team managers “rent” at the expense of the actual talent, the riders.
Another suggestion is to reduce team size per race. The UCI already limits teams to 30 riders for the year to stop super squads with almost vast payrolls but now there are calls to cut the size of teams fielded per race. In fact these calls have been made for sometime, for example by Christian Prudhomme in 2012. To a lesser degree it happens elsewhere with eight riders instead of nine in races like Paris-Nice or the Dauphiné and other races have smaller teams. To be more meaningful it would have to be six or seven per team and the effect would be felt over the three weeks. Again it’s not a binary yes/no but about the how. If teams are down to six riders would this mean 22 teams of six and a field of 132 riders or would we get a peloton of 198 riders like today only with 33 teams and so on? It could be done but team size in World Tour races is a matter for the Professional Cycling Council, a joint committee between the UCI and pro cycling stakeholders, including the teams. No big team will vote for smaller teams, it’d be like a large army offering to go into battle by leaving a battalion at home and even the smaller teams don’t like it, a six rider FDJ would still be at a disadvantage to a six rider Team Sky. There could be unintended consequences here too, would a six man BMC Racing have left Greg Van Avermaet behind, would Etixx-Quicksep leave Julian Alaphilippe out, would Katusha back Joaquim Rodriguez or Alexander Kristoff? It’d mean many teams with one leader and a profound shake up to the sport that goes well-beyond composing a startlist here and there. By all means explore it but it would have big knock-on effects.
One caller on a French radio phone-in suggested awarding time bonuses at the top of every significant climb as an incentive to reward early moves. Wacky? Well we have time bonuses at intermediate sprints already but this feels unsatisfying, as if we’re trying to rig a contest in a sport which derives a lot of its attraction from the way it crosses real terrain. Look at the mountains and points competitions where both have been tweaked and tuned over the years but this doesn’t guarantee a desired outcome or a fine contest. The points competition gets tilted away from Sagan every year and he still wins it.
There’s also a tech request for race radios and powermeters to go. I’m not sure this would make any difference. There are great races with and without radios. Similarly a powermeter helps with pacing but the numbers are never absolute. Ban bike computers and you don’t ban the notion of riders pacing themselves on a climb; cautious riders who like to hold a tempo will not launch wild attacks simply because we’ve taken away their bike computer.
The Tour de France was enjoyable but the race for the yellow jersey lacked a contest. It’s brought calls for change from smaller teams to salary caps to route changes. Only the route keeps changing and Team Sky keep winning. In the absence of a Binda-payoff people have mentioned rule changes but these are big changes to the sport and the worst thing to do would be to introduce them as a means to replay the 2016 Tour de France, by all means explore deep structural reform but this needs thought and testing. Formula 1 is a ready example of example of a sport that fidgets in the name of innovation only to confuse the public.
We can tinker with the Tour and other races but they’re not algebraic formulas nor spreadsheet models. Tweaking a value here won’t always achieve the desired outcome, instead the sport is full of random and stochastic elements from crosswinds to rain to crashes and chance attacks and trying to reengineer results and create contests is hard going. If things were this predictable the whole sport would be boring to watch in the first place.
There are matters the UCI and ASO cannot achieve at the stroke of a pen, you cannot legislate to keep Alberto Contador from crashing, to prevent Thibaut Pinot from getting a virus or to put Nairo Quintana and Fabio Aru in top form. Test all the measures above and what Chris Froome would still be the uncontested winner?
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If team Sky were an entirely French outfit and Chris Froome were French, would this “debate” exist? I think not. The race for the Yellow jersey this year being dominated by one man was because he was the only man capable of dominating this year, aside from his team and other contenders not being up to it and crashing out, targeting other events, not up to form etc. etc. hardly Froome’s fault that! the most exciting stages seem to be the “ambush” stages or the “transition” stages, you know the ones where nothing is supposed to happen but I accept that these could be increased but at the cost of roadside numbers/towns . There have always been dominant teams going further back than the 25 years or so I have been following pro cycling, so the Sky team is nothing new! My fear being that change for change sake and cycling could end up with something similar to the hideous play station sport that is F1.
If Froome had been French, I suspect many would still have been wishing Bardet had won this year – compare the affection that Poulidor held compared to “Monsieur Chrono”, Jacques Anquetil.
I seem to remember in 2012 when Wiggins won the tour that there were calls for Froome to be allowed to ride for himself. Inrng will remember the #freefroome being used from the infamous Twitter account *chuckle*
Followed by #freePorte in 2013 🙂
Yeah, it would be nice if these riders could ride for themselves and not be lumped together in one team, I think that’s the point of a budget cap?
Totally agree with you !
Wackynonymous forgot the tortuous french spirit which prevents us to acclaim an undisputed winner. We generally prefer the outsider even if we have a certain inclination for the national rider, that’s one of our paradox.
Not too sure why it’s always the French that are being criticised for this. Listen to a lot of fans of different nationalities (even a sizeable British portion) and a lot of them think that yes, the Tour and the race for the Maillot Jaune was boring. I don’t think you can deny that it wasn’t.
I am French so feel that I’m quite well placed to answer. Yes, we would be delighted if FDJ or AG2R had a super team, mostly composed of French talents but at the end of the day, you want a bit of spectacle. We’d be delighted with a French winner, but if Bardet or Pinot takes the yellow jersey after the first mountain stage or first time trial and then “kills” the rest of the race, it’d be nice the first year but for the majority of cycling fans, would be boring after a while.
There would be a UK-Australian alliance where two teams would merge to to create a super budget capable of creating a team strong enough to prevent them locking down the race. Murdoch is Australian after all.
If Brialsford wasn’t on the winning team he would stop at nothing to get back to the top, if it needed more budget he would get more sponsors, if it needed a better GC contender he would screen all the under 25 and train one for 2 years until he had one, if it needed stronger Lts he would do the same. Its not team caps or terrain its Brailsford creating the strongest GC contender (twice) and the best team (and securing the budget he needs to do it).
You have a phenomenally positive view of Brailsford.
Had Sky not come along, what evidence do you have that they would have been so easily replaced? Bearing in mind that he was starting a team from nothing.
Had Froome not come along – and he came from outside Brailsford’s system – which UK rider would Brailsford have formed into the top GC contender? Thomas doesn’t have it; Yates is too young.
You can’t just make someone a TdF winner.
Apologies for the pedantry, but Murdoch is an American, naturalised in 1985. Many of my fellow Australians disown him completely.
Oh, no, no, no. He’s yours now. No returns- very sorry.
Most people calling for a change are not French – and many are British.
For most, it’s not Anti-Sky/Froome sentiment, it’s wanting an interesting TdF – which there hasn’t been since 2011.
If Froome were French, most would be just as bored as they are now – even the most nationalistic French person probably would be by now.
None of this is Sky/Froome’s fault.
Echoes many Amercan fans that smelled a rat with the Lance-gate years before truth was revealed. Nationalism wasn’t a factor, rather spurious superlative performances. Hmmm. “Froomewagon”
Plenty of people other than the French are sick of Sky/Froome.
Like most I have my favourites but it’s a good close race that we all crave and one of those hasn’t been delivered since 2011.
Australians have little love for the “mother country” when it comes to sporting matters and we were certainly very happy to deliver a TdF winner before Britain did!
Post Wiggo, watching Sky win over and over with their great “British” rider Chris Froome feels a lot like watching that great “English” cricketer Kevin Pietersen lead the Poms in the Ashes.
At least KP was an entertaining player to watch and had emigrated to Britain from South Africa (has Froome ever even lived in the UK?).
Standard sour grapes from the Aussies 😉
Sour grapes?? Guess again. I’m South African and I had to laugh when Chris Froome said he feels British because he likes fish and chips. From Kenya, educated in South Africa and now lives in Monaco. He has never lived in the UK, he certainly doesn’t pay tax in the UK. He spends all his off season here in South Africa with his South African wife.
Yes he is very ‘nice’ but that downhill attack of his and his Ventoux jog don’t change the fact that he has all the charisma and personality of a damp tea towel. Thank goodness the sport still has personalities like Dan Martin, Geraint Thomas and Sagan because Chris Froome is as dull as Indurain and that is a fact.
Sky isn’t the problem we just don’t have a difficult, stubborn, eccentric, brilliant GC leader like Hinault, Robert Millar, Lemond, Fignon anymore.
Look at the Classics, from Merckx, Sean Kelly, Museeuw, Tommeke, Sagan there have always been proper hard bastards out there smashing it, every one of them a character.
Who would you rather drink a pint in a pub with Wiggins or Froome? Wiggins of course because Froome would be a total anorak in a very nice polite way…. It isn’t Froome’s fault, just like Brian Cookson he has a rather insipid, aneamic personality.
There have always been periods with a dominating team/rider and intermediate periods without one. Sometimes these intermediate periods were more interesting. Was the 2014 tour without Froome and Nibali as winner more interesting? The “freed” Sky racers didn’t do very well that year( 40 minutes behind Nibali).
Lets not tweak too much and wait for the next period. I don’t mind a dominant team/ rider, you still have to pull it off, and stay upright for 3 weeks. There are enough other things happening to keep me interested.
See, that wrong with you nationalist. You see everything through a nationalist viewglass.
I couldn’t care less if the guy is from Kenya, Colombia, Scotland, England, Russia or Madagaskar. I care that he came out of relative nowhere and has just the worst riding style I’ve ever seen in last 50 years and it’s a pain to watch him. Being in Murdoch’s all money can buy team makes it only worse. An yes I also don’t care where modern days Hugenberg is from.
All good but I still don’t understand what is your opinion? Should they do this or that?
Leave Le Tour at the mercy of Sky or tweak the competition for the sake of spectacle?
I agree that it is the riders and the team management that influence how entertaining the event is for us non-paying spectators. Undoubtedly Sky plc’s sponsorship will end one day and at that point things will change. In the meantime, breaking up the Sky train must surely be a key goal for any team intent on winning the Tour.
Sky seemed to give up on Richie Porte after his Giro fiasco in 2015, and this could have blown up in their faces. He could have been the spark that lit the competition in this Tour de France, but for dumb luck. Surely pointing out his opportunity this year might for a vital part of the story if a competitor wanted to prise individual Team Sky members away for their own glittering prize.
Failing that, perhaps trying to poach Brailsford away might be a good strategy now that his involvement in British Cycling is so diminished ? he might be able to have his win with a french rider at another team, albeit probably not a French one for tax reasons…
And if all else fails, start watching other races! Team Sky don’t seem to have the same luck in many of those despite telling their uber domestiques that those are theirs for the taking?
One of the great merits of this website is that it is skewed towards discussion rather than opinion. There is no consensus on what spectacle we wish for anyway I suspect.
Absolutely agree. An opener for the discussion is great by Inrng, we, the followers can them discuss as we’re fit and Inrng lets us get on with it for the most part. Salary caps are difficult not because, in my opinion, regards taxes, but because it might be against some freedom of trade or movement or something, and lawyers will be all over that. Throughout the Tour there have been multiple winners, this should be celebrated, the next generation may soon catch up to Froome.
Did you see the interview with Geraint Thomas on the ITV4 show when asked the question as to whether or not the TdF was interesting?
His response – ‘We’re paid to win, not entertain’
That’s what being a professional sportsperson is all about.
True from his point of view, not from the vast majority of other people’s.
That must be why more fans pay to watch winning teams and individuals in professional sports than entertaining ones.
In this year’s TdF, the most watched stages (in Italy, France, Spain) were those in the first weekend, then the audience didn’t grow anymore through the following two weeks. Something pretty much unprecedented. Apparently, cycling fans want something more or something different from just “watching a winning team”.
The German public TV is already trying to use the *stable* viewing figures in order to get a cheaper price for the future… imagine that they’re already paying a hard discount price.
@gabriele – remind me, how many stages did the Italians, French and Spanish win before stage 19? Wasn’t it one less between them than the Germans won? Do you think this had no effect at all on the viewing figures in those countries?
Yeah, I think it had a barely relevant effect, since you had similar situations in terms of stage winning during other years, while the audience *curve* never changed, going up more or less steadily through the three weeks.
The winning of stages doesn’t affect much the audience (not at all, I’d say), unless we’re speaking of sort of a winning streak, whereas the audience is indeed affected by the presence of a GC top rider. Anyway, the effect observed normally concerns total numbers, more than the audience curve itself.
And the Germans apparently had a similar problem, this year, even if I didn’t see the stage by stage data.
Vast majority of spectators maybe
Am totally with you on that. I too would like to read an opinion in the end, instead of only observations. The lack of it personally bothers me a lot and you can see that people try to work out, what was said with “If I read this right…” comments.
But others like it this way. And in the end of course the writer always does, what he/she thinks is right. And that’s a good thing anyway.
It’s because there’s no obvious solution, changing the whole structure because one race didn’t come alive seems a lot of work with no guaranteed outcome. As said above the Tour lacked Contador, Quintana, Pinot, Aru, Nibali, van Garderen, Barguil and others, if these riders had been as good as last year or as hoped for the contest would be very different.
Perhaps the day to really explore the stuctural issues is when Sky or another team dominate the entire season, steamrolling stage races and spring classics alike. That would be dull.
Agreed – this year’s apparently boring GC battle was because of Froome’s dominance, which in my opinion was because the competition was weaker than in the past.
If you take Froome out of the equation, does it make sense that Quintana was getting dropped by riders like Bardet (no offense to Bardet)? Quintana peaked too early this year so by the TdF he was struggling big time.
If Quintana was Quintana, he could’ve attacked Poels and Froome. If Contador didn’t have those brutal crashes, he would’ve attacked too.
This year’s race was processional purely because the top competition couldn’t hold it together.
Quintana rarely attacks. His gains over CF in previous editions have occurred when CF was tired. Another occasion I recall him riding away from the field was at Tirreno. These instances are few and far between.
He rode away from the field in both the WT races whose GC he won this year, only in the last couple of kms in Catalunya, but way further from the line in Romandie.
He went on a break more than 100 kms from the finish in this year’s RdS, but perhaps that doesn’t matter so much.
Speaking of TdF, he obviously attacked Froome last year (nobody else from the field was up there with him), and in 2013 he was attacking on the penultimate climb on the Pyrenees (something which most riders don’t even know how to do, Froome included, unless they’re allowed to), then again he was on a lone attack 12 kms from the line on the Ventoux… on Le Semnoz it was Froomey who tried to go hard for the stage even if he had the jersey and had already won stages, something quite silly if he was so *tired*, but he simply was beat by Quintana and Purito.
In 2012 he won Vuelta a Murcia, RdS and Giro dell’Emilia always being on the attack before the last 15 ksm… he also won the Morzine stage in the Dauphiné attacking alone 17 kms from the line and holding back the Sky train both uphill and downhill.
The 2014 Giro is too obvious a reference.
What’s sure is that he’s been less attacking in this year’s TdF, and last year one could notice a change in attitude, too.
Yet, I still prefer a couple of serious attacks like what we saw in 2015 on Alpe d’Huez and La Toussoire than no serious uphill attack from *anyone* like what we had this year, when those who “tried” were offering – at most – multiple short bursts in the last couple of kms (Bardet the only exception with his solo ride up Le Bettex), putting 10″ or so on the chasing guys…
However, imagine that Froome rarely attacked when the finish line was more than 15′ away, especially uphill. Three or four times at most – in his whole career.
Echo Gabriele. To claim that Quintana doesnt have a history of going on the attack, is erroneous.
Agree with that.
There is no obvious solution in changing rules and route (I think this years route offered interesting alternatives) and if you put the riders cited above (Quintana, Kontador, Aru, Nibali, Pinot,…) in a good year with good shape and no crash, the whole story would certainly have been different.
You know what they say about opinions – everybody’s got one and most of them stink. Considered observation and discussion is much rarer, especially in the blogosphere. Inrng is a treasure.
Thanks for this Inrng; am I reading correctly that, if you were king of the (cycling) world, you would change nothing?
I would probably cut the teams back by 1 to 8 – not so far that being in the yellow jersey is almost a disadvantage, but a tweak away from the power of the team – I think this could help lift the chance of breaks sticking on some of the flat stages (a little).
I’d probably limit TTs to 1 day too – not so much for the contest, but just because it’s not interesting to watch and seems like a waste of a day’s racing!
As an aside, I think 10 years ago I would have enjoyed this Tour much more. But, as I have become a watcher of more and more events, the comparison vs races such as Flanders, Roubaix, many of the Worlds or even the Giro is unflattering – and probably unfair!
The way I read is that INRNG doesn’t see any panacea here. A lot of what have been presented as solutions might not be and/or have unintended consequences. With a salary cap, if you look at how it operates in others sports, the top teams still rise to the top, the bigger names will still get the pay checks but the guys lower down the tree might end up with a rougher and even more insecure deal than they get now.
Plus, we are looking at fixes to make a more competitive Tour which will have ramifications for the much wider calendar you rightly mention. A calendar which has just so much variety that if the Tour isn’t your thing, then will be races which are. Speaking of which, the final stage of the Tour de Wallonie yesterday – an absolute cracker!
What about short team TT plus shorter stage race on same day? Use a loop course like a WC course. Must use same bikes for both. Stay in same town 2 nights.
Split stages were common in the 1970s / 1980s, occasionally even three short stages in a day. The organisers liked them as they could increase the income from host towns; however, for riders they were unpopular as they increased the length of day. If you think about the total time to ride a stage from signing on to the end of podium formalities, (not just the riding time), then riding two fifty mile stages takes far, far longer than a single 100 mile stage, and is no doubt more draining for the riders.
I don’t have a magic bullet to make the Tour more interesting, except to note that mountain stages with steady climbs tend to play into the hands of strong teams in a way that other terrain doesn’t. Crosswinds, cobbles, gravel – all of those become more difficult for a team to control and increase the likelihood of a leader becoming isolated from their domestiques, or at the very least, needing to populate a team with more than just 8 riders displaying maximum W/kg. Putting in a couple of tough stages early also requires a rider to hold peak form for longer, making it more likely that someone could be vulnerable to a third week collapse, as happened in this year’s Giro and almost happened in last year’s Tour.
Even then, you might still get the same winner. Sky’s team this year had plenty of climbing talent (Poels, Henao, Nieve, Landa, Thomas) but still also contained a solid group to protect Froome in tactically complex areas on the flat (Stannard, Rowe, Thomas again).
There is also the risk that if you include some “random” terrain the Tour could be over for some contenders even before it started, as happened in 1999, when the traverse of the Passage du Gois in the first week put Alez Zulle six minutes behind overall, from where he could never mount a challenge for the overall. (I realise subsequent events have invalidated those results anyway, but the point stands). Even so, I’d like to see Tours built that way, as I think the winner should, at least some of the time, be the best all rounder, not the best skinny climber-time triallist.
An excellent read, thanks.
Your points have me asking is the TDF’s influence over road cycling just too powerful (and I mean the event rather than the ASO)? Yes it is the biggest race, but it isn’t the only GT and is three weeks in a January-October season. Yet a blunted GC battle in the TDF seems to cast a shadow over all else, even amongst diehard cycling fans who proclaim a preference for one-day races, Giro or Veulta.
Spot on. That’s really the key.
Tour de France is the only race so big and prestigious that the richest team organizes their entire season around winning this race. When they arrive at the race, their only goal is to win the yellow jersey. No sprinters, green jerseys nor polka dot jerseys come in their way.
Second richest team come with aim of both yellow and green. Sagan takes €5mio meaning less money for domestiques and other performance improvements. How many of Contadors domestiques could qualify for the Sky squad in the tour? Maja? Maybe Kreuziger. Anyone else?
In a way, Tour de France is a victim of it’s own success.
You’ve hit the nail on the head with these 2 comments. Riders more than happy with a top 10 as they can then command higher salaries in the next couple of years. Sean Kelly said he thinks that sponsors get around 65% of their exposure for the whole year those 3 weeks. Therefore teams and riders are more than happy to consolidate their positions going into the last week.
It’s long been the most boring and predictable of the Grand Tours, but I still love it!
Living in and mainly reading the French press, the sentiment is that 2016 was a boring tour. I don’t agree despite the close time gaps and continued absence of a French victor. Reduced time gaps are a logical result of standardised training and nutrition, and the absence of extreme doping. One can’t expect major differences in performance between athletes who all train at altitude, have a similar programme for a similar objective, eat the same or similar, control effort with power indication… One should maybe be more surprised at the sudden failures in the cases of Aru, Mollema and TVG.
Interviewed after the tour Bardet suggested a tour based on 25 teams of 6 riders. A clear example of self interest for a fairly modestly funded team – “chacun voit midi à sa porte”. 25 teams when the gap between, say, Sky and FVC is already massive, and 6 riders would surely just increase the tendancy towards specialisation with even more just stage or just GC teams.
As for shorter stages and reduced TTs. Please don’t touch. “Usure” with distance and the requirements of time trialling are part of the history and charm of the sport.
And thanks to IR for making my summer so much more interesting.
I think we have to be careful about making rule changes on the basis that this year there was a dominant rider and a dominant team. Last year, with a similar set of riders and teams, we had a very exciting final mountain stage where the race might have been won or loss. Yes Sky was stronger this year, but Quintana didn’t come out to play for various reasons, and Contador was unlucky, just as Froome was a couple of years ago.
Illness, form, and luck always come into play, and if we had a dull yellow jersey race, then we had some excellent racing elsewhere with some of the most exciting sprints for years no longer dominated by long trains, breakaways, and crazy descents. It can’t be a classic every year.
To me the biggest failure this year was that of the other teams not being tactically as smart as they could have been, and behaving too conservatively. You can be sure that had Contador survived into the mountains, he’d have made a go of it – not waiting until the final mountain only to discover that everyone’s strung out on their threshold.
Today, the with the Tour’s importance getting magnified ever more, the value of a top ten place seems to too important to too many riders to risk all or nothing on a big move that may come off, or go down in flames. And that means us fans being happy that a rider finished 17th rather than 7th because they tried something spectacular that didn’t come off. For sponsors of course that’s harder.
So instead of paying Foome not to show up they ought to pay Contador and Nibali to race and be in absolute brilliant form.
Is the problem the number of jerseys available / competitions within a competition. For example, if the only thing that mattered was getting as high on GC as possible then Majka with Sagan’s support would still have been targeting the yellow jersey competition. As it was they had different objectives. Basically the yellow jersey contest is diluted because only a handful of racers have that as an objective and when you get to the key mountain stages over half the teams are not interested.
I’m not proposing getting rid of those jerseys, but stating that if someone believes that the race was poor because the race for the yellow jersey was dull, then they are missing the point that the tour is about more than yellow.
How about a handicap system on team sizes?
Teams with riders who did better in GC the previous year to be allowed fewer support riders than teams with worse GC riders.
re smaller teams, I recall Orica a few years ago lost 4 or 5 riders in the first few days, and were at one point at risk of not being able to finish the TTT with the required 4 riders. So smaller teams of 6 riders could lose 2 or 3 in a crash and that’s their tour over.
Or there’d be no Team TT. Is there a minimum team size for any of the other stages?
I’m okay with smaller teams and no TTT. Or, put a TTT in the beginning.
Separately, the almost perfect telemetry is a problem. Uncertainty in the peloton makes the racing less predictable.
With reduced teams comes also a reduced requirement for TTTs so that would most likeliy even out.
Cycling is one of the few team sports without the ability to substitute or interchange during the event – perhaps one of the options to consider is a team size of seven but with two additional reserves ?
Whether you would allow the return of a rested member (interchange) or only replacement (substitute) could be explored over time.
Personally I’m ‘hanging out’ for the #smilingassassin at the 2017 TDF!
This isn’t insinuation about Froome or any other recent winner, but one big reason to reduce TT would be to limit the effect of doping. Almost every big doper in history dominated TTs, for obvious reasons, and a good example was mentioned above, ‘Monsieur Chrono’ himself, Anquetil. I remember the Armstrong and Ullrich TT strength all too well too.
If it isn’t possible to stamp doping out (and I’m quite convinced that it isn’t), then it’s at least interesting to reduce its advantage.
Indeed. I also think that we are used to accept the “all around great in everything”-rider is a product of us being used to see doped riders. In reality I don’t think there ever was or will be such a thing as a great allrounder in cycling without doping.
You can not be excellent or even great (or good?) at everything. Climbing needs different things from the body than time-trialling or sprinting. It’s like the different skiing forms:A slalom skier is no good downhill skier (I think?), because downhill needs bodymass, which is harmful for slalom. Hope I didn’t get it mixed up!
On reflection then, how come Chris Froome can do both?
This isn’t exactly true. You think that Pantani, Heras, Virenque, Rasmussen etc. were clean?
One additional complication for a potential salary cap is that cycling is not a league with shared revenue. Salary caps in sports with that structure are often fixed at a certain percentage of the overall revenue. Why would any highly funded cycling team ever agree to cut their use of sponsorship money that goes towards ‘salary’? After all, they are not in a truly shared business endeavor with the other teams. No league = No salary cap
That’s why cycling needs a salary cap via a luxury tax, rather than a NFL/NHL/AFL style ‘hard’ salary cap.
If Dave Brailsford and James Murdoch want to keep on buying the yellow jersey they should be free to do so, but they should be forced to invest in the sport as well.
Separately from the above point, it seems obvious that Froome was obviously the strongest rider, uphill, downhill, TT, classics-style, anything. It wasn’t a victory because of a “Wiggins Tour” course or a victory where his team patiently looked the other way and worked on as he floundered in their wake. Froome won because he was easily the most powerful rider there.
“Why was Froome so much stronger than everyone else?” seems a better question than “Why aren’t there rules to stop strong riders winning by large margins?”.
I don’t buy the idea that teams should attack more either. It seems silly to waste a rider off the front, only to either be reeled in or be broken the following day. Processions are dull, but they’re the best response to a maillot jaune that can match or beat every effort you throw at him.
I’ll preface by saying I’m only partly serious but Perhaps we should take the logarithm of finishing time gaps between each rider on the big mountain stages. This would still reward those who seek to make gaps but would avoid penalising too harshly someone who tries something but blows up and gets spat out the back. explaining logarithms to the average fan might have educational side effects too!
A Dutch blogger proposed something I had been thinking of too: what if Grand Tours start working with substitutes. Say a team can field 6 or 7 riders on each stage but can have another 2 or 3 on the side which they can use to replace riders depending on the type of stage. Of course to be eligible for the GC you have to compete the entire race (on your bike). Maybe even the team size per stage could be made adjustable, let’s say you have to have a minimum of 4 riders on each stage and a maximum of 7, this would add a whole other dimension to the racing tactics.
I think these ideas are really something that deserves to be tried out. It would mean a profound change of the whole concept of stage racing and cycling teams but might also provide a (partial) answer to many of the challenges that the sport, especially GT contests, is faced with.
Proving that there are no completely new ideas, this was actually tried in the 1928 Tour.
From the Tour’s site:
Trying to give weaker teams a chance under the individual-team start format, race director Henri Desgrange experimented with the idea of allowing teams to substitute fresh riders for those who were exhausted or injured. The concept, however, was quickly abandoned as it made strong teams stronger and weak teams weaker.
One of the great things about a grand tour is that everybody rides the whole thing – and that in itself is a huge achievement (look at Sam Bennett).
Also, some riders are stronger towards the end – that is there advantage – e.g. Kristoff is much better at the end of a GT.
And the big teams would benefit the most: Sky’s substitutes would be a lot better than Ag2r’s.
interesting concept but i never like the idea of teams that change throughout a contest.
how about this for a variation though: currently you have 21 race days, 9 riders per team, giving 189 man-days. how about reducing that to say 150 or maybe even less. still a 9 rider (or lower) set team, anyone who can’t continue is not replaceable. each day, the team can decide how many of their riders start. you get penalised on gc for any day you miss so if you want to contend you still race every day.
sprint teams will race on the flat and largely sit out the mountains rather than riding in the autobus but run a full team on the flat. no real change to the race there except that the big guys have to worry less about being able to climb. this will make the pace higher in the sprints.
gc teams will go with less riders on the easier stages to save their domestiques for when it matters. however this opens them up to attacks and given that the sprint speed is so high, there is an increased possibility of splits in the finish and the gc guys have less protection so are vulnerable to this. or etixx could have used a full team of their classics guys to split things in the wind and pulled dan martin away from the other gc guys floundering without support.
i don’t think i actually support this as its such a corruption of the nature of cycling but it would likely creating some interesting racing and really enhance the team tactics aspect
Le Tour is well acknowledged as the big event in cycling. 100% so for the casual observer, if not for the majority of keenos as well. With that much focus and pressure and riders whole careers based on their capabilities in the Tour (proven or potential), no wonder you end up with conservative riding and the protecting of positions.
I don’t feel much sympathy for the organisers, they operate one of the most successful sporting events on the planet and they use their huge influence in the sport to set the agenda, boo-hoo that teams come up with a plan to try and crack it every time, what else are they supposed to do?
It’s now almost the inherent nature of the tour that it will pan out like this. It’s up to some of the other riders and teams to come into it better prepared to challenge. A great rider can level a playing field if they are good enough. Fact is Froome proves once again he is the best at this type of racing.
Sporting legend is about seeing the best take on the best at their best, but it doesn’t always pan out like that in each era. It’s a constantly evolving drama and that’s the beauty. Some day soon we may get the dinger that everyone seems to lust for, but which individual riders will serve it up? Or is peoples argument that we will never get that whilst Team Sky is in existence?
‘Fact is Froome proves once again he is the best at this type of racing.’ – True. But wouldn’t it be much more interesting – and much more of a feat by him – to see him do this without such a crushingly strong team behind him?
The debate over team sizes or routes overlooks a bigger problem in cycling that has nothing to do with Sky or their budget. ASO are happy that the Tour is the biggest race on the calendar by some margin, and while this remains true, then there is incentive for some teams to focus their attention on this goal above all others.
In the case of this year’s event, other teams had split priorities. Many of the other major squads weren’t wholly working for the GC competition. While Contador’s presence would have made a difference in the mountains, Tinkoff were as interested in the Green Jersey as they were in yellow.
BMC has no clear idea who they were riding for, and the same could be said for Movistar and Astana. Filling a team with big (expensive) names isn’t the problem as we have seen – it’s that those big names aren’t necessarily working towards the same goal for the season.
Sky does a superb job of expectation management in their team – they make it clear that all their big names are focussed on one goal for the season – to win the Tour for Chris Froome. I’m sure they were delighted that Wout Poels won LBL, but would they have cared if it hadn’t happened and Froome had still won? Doubtful.
Great piece, as always.
It feels like that as long as there’s a strong team willing to have a single goal in Le Tour (as Sky with the GC), controlled races like this will mostly be the rule. Specially when the captain can deliver a strong performance like Froome.
Some other teams bring a mix of sprinters, stage hunters,Top 10 GC contenders, Polka Dot chasers… it looks to me that it is difficult for them to focus and re-shift plans during the race.
I wish TDF was the first GT of the calendar. Maybe it would change the resource management a bit?
I wonder how much of this is down to the freakishness of Froome. What if he didnt exist and Landa was Sky’s top rider for example, would it be closer then? I think the main rivals would be more evenly matched.
Some of the racing we see this year is the result of changes:Once a great or good palmares was something to dream about for riders and teams – today the “stars” get money and adoration without that. So they race a few days each year and train the rest. And that is where money matters. In the training.
Luckily we still have riders like Nibali (and many others), who still have emotions and dreams for and in the sport, but like the rest of the world, the riders change and have different objectives than before. Objectives that make for bad and boring races. And one additional point bad for cycling is: The most teams have to/want to attract fans/sponsors worldwide, so they have a worldwide view and try to race everywhere. sky doesn’t care so much about that. Their funding and PR is solely focussed on UK and so it happens that they don’t send one british rider at the second important GT, the Giro. Unbelievable! At the least usually you have a token homecountry-boy for the papers to have an angle! And this is bad news for cycling.
If we want to see riders and teams to honour the races and racing, we have -for now-“force” them to with rules. This is normal, the rules always are a tug of war between the interest of the sport and the teams exploiting the sport (to put it simplistic to make a point). To change the rules for the Tour is to change things at the wrong end. Like INRNG writes, a race consists of so many elements, and some, like rain or a rider feeling good, can turn it around in a minute. No, we must change the things that lead up to the races, not the races.
Of course, every rule has not only the desired effects, but also undesired ones. So they are a living, breathing thing, to find out, what works good and what not. Right now, they work not so good in many areas (a stronger UCI-president may change that in an instant). I would favour the canging of rules so that
-riders must race a minimum of racedays or better:the intervall between races can’t be weeks or months for a healthy rider
– you need a certain amount of UCI points to start a race:This way teams can’t save their riders for two or three races, which is totally unfair towards other races
– the weight issue MUST be tackled. Make it a minimum BMI. I think ski jumping did this, after many of it’s athletes had eating disorders, burn out etc. and made that public and after the public was fed up seeing skeletons
There may be more, but to me these are things that have to be done immediately, to make it more equal. Because the real difference money makes is in the time where the teams are not racing. You can buy the best athlete, but if you have no money to train him and he has to race every second day, like the smaller teams, he won’t be able to make a big difference.
Oh, and one last point: One thing where we as fans can do something is that we demand more. And are not so easily played and satisfied. If we as fans think a good rider should have a good palmares, then this will have sooner or later consequences on the racing. But when we are happy with a rider winning always the same two races – well, there is not much incentive to change that.
-riders must race a minimum of racedays or better:the intervall between races can’t be weeks or months for a healthy rider
– you need a certain amount of UCI points to start a race:This way teams can’t save their riders for two or three races, which is totally unfair towards other races
– very much like these two ideas, especially the first one. It’s good to see some people coming up with actual ideas – and sensible ones that won’t ruin the races – rather than just saying ‘What to do?’ (or ‘This is how it is – the best win’, etc.).
With the second one, do you mean points by team or by rider? The possible flaw with this is that a team like Fortuneo might really struggle with this.
And I agree on the last point too.
Not sure about controlling riders’ weights. Seems like it is their right to do what they want with their bodies (and BMI is too inaccurate), within legal constraints. And if they’re too thin, they get sick more easily and pay that price.
I must read up what skijumping did, but they did control the weight per rules, so that riders can’t come into areas, where their health is threatened. I think this has to be done to protect the riders from teams and themselves. Look at Landa or Kwia. It can’t be, that good riders are forced to do unhealthy things (forced means either by teams or by their own will to fulfill expectations). The UCI has the duty to protect the riders. Plus I don’t want a young kid to look up to someone who can’t really sit on a wooden chair, cause he is so bony.
With the UCI-points: I think the best way would be a mix between required indiv. points for riders and overall-team-points. I think there are many ways to really fruitfully (! cute word) use a point-system, but cycling never got it right till now. Oh, forgot to mention one part of my idea: For Wildcard-teams there would be different rules, for example they would be excluded from that or so.
One general point for those that – boringly, but expectedly, if you look at some parts of the world- draw the nationality card: This has nothing to do with being french or the french wanting a french winner. Take me as an example: I am from Germany. My intention is not to engineer a german Tourwinner, I simply want good racing and a sport I can continue to love. I feel bringing up the nationality-card is insulting and a very wrong way to go and think.
Good points on Landa and Kwia. You may well have a point.
I guess you’d have to give a bye to riders who had been injured for the early part of the season? But then they could just claim to be injured whilst riding up Mount Teide. Hmm…
And I completely agree with you about the nationality card.
“You need a certain amount of UCI points to start a race.” I like this idea, or something like it. Make it a big deal to qualify for the Tour.
This would need a complete overhaul of the points system though, to ensure that UCI points are awarded to every member of the squad that started a race rather than just the rider who crosses the line with his hands in the air.
Minimum race days per year is probably the best way to go about it rather than points, because one of the great things about the Tour is when a young rider in their first year springs a surprise while the big names are watching each other.
What is meant by “boring”? It’s very subjective.
The Tour is one of the longest endurance events in the world. It’s got to be more about survival, last man standing etc. etc. It’s very formulaic – it’s relatively easy to predict what might happen on each stage – where will breaks happen etc. etc. as a result of that. I’m pretty sure all the riders were trying as hard as they could.. there aren’t many pro events where it is considered an achievement just to get to the end of the race. One thing about this year, highest number of finishers ever. Was it not hard enough? Were hotels too comfy?
Maybe we should ban nostalgia instead. Is it a coincidence that the most “boring” event is the one that receives that most TV coverage, and is the most accessible? We have had quite a few stages shown in their entirety for this race. In those long ago days we had less TV coverage, and relied on journalists to write it up as an entertaining story; which they need to, as the more entertaining a story is, the more it sells.
Why do we have to knock Sky down to size? Why can’t other teams find better sponsors, take a more organised approach or whatever it is that Sky do.
I think contador was missed. Quintana and Aru didn’t have the form that they should of had. Pinot too – especially as one of the few of the top 10, apart from Froome, to have really worked on the time trialling.
+1 If there had been those 4 contenders, all fighting fit and able the race would have been “more” exciting than it was.
I’m in the JH camp, I suspect. The Tour was fine, and had some elements that were down right exciting. Also, it might help if your cycling perspective weren’t so limited to GC riders and climbing stages, because this year’s sprinters contest was mesmerizing. The most disappointing element of the Tour this year for me was Cavendish’s withdrawal.
The Tour will never be a World Cup futbol match. It’s a 23 day contest–TWENTY THREE DAYS–that has always, always produced a lot of languid, lazy race days. Look up “a piano”. (I just did and nothing came up but pianos. Nevermind.) I enjoy this about the Tour. I put the Tour on and do something else at the same time, like take apart my bike and clean it. Or, I clean up the house, and come back to the TV now and then until the sprint finish. I love the television shots of French chateaus. Now, part of my Tour viewing experience involves going online and researching them. In fact, I’m thinking about a cycling/chateau Tour of southern France, I’m sure ASO would be happy to hear. I love good, relaxed commentary on the Tour in it’s slow moments that ranges over a wide variety of topics in cycling. I enjoy being baffled by French pronunciation, a life-long bete noire of mine that I indulge by not learning French. I love it all, even when Sky has already won it.
It has just not been the case that the Tour has frequently had a scintillating GC battles. These do not happen often. One of the reasons they are great when they happen is precisely because they do not happen often. Maybe I’m not a good Tour historian, but from my recollection, it is usually the case that the Tour starts with two to four pre-race favorites. On either one or two mountain stages, or one TT stage, one of the favorites busts out a lead, and the GC race is largely over. We watch to see if anyone can figure out a way to surmount the lead, but it doesn’t often happen.
Maybe the problem isn’t the Tour, but cycling “fans”. This frantic rush to find a solution for the Tour, in my view, doesn’t say as much about the Tour, as it does about these “fans”. They seem like people who don’t lead demanding lives and hence can’t enjoy a retreat to a Tour that has a slow, less than scintillating pace. They seem to be people who spend too much time online and require constant stimulation and novelty. They seem to be the sort of people who are always dissatisfied with everything around them, and are arrogant enough to think they could fix it all if they were King of the World. Not until there is some clear evidence that trying to appeal to these sorts of people is necessary to save cycling generally or the Tour in particular will I support or join their self-indulgence. And by that time, I’m probably no longer a fan of the Tour any way.
A nice piece.
All very interesting, but seemingly the sub text is all about ‘how to beat Sky and Froome’.
Salary caps simply won’t work however they are worded and implimented, unless people want the return of underhand and secret shenanigans. And we all know where that mentality led the sport in the past.
Laurent Fignon made a very valid point in his book ‘ we were young and carefree’ about the failure of organizers of events from one day to three week tours, to rise to the challenge of designing courses to compete with the advances in technology and training methods. Some one day races, after 250 plus kilometers still finish in large group sprints, or three week tours with the top ten within single digit minutes. As IR will well know, there are countless potentially challenging road/off road options available in France – if organizers are prepared the think out of the box.
I would be a supporter in reducing the number of team riders from nine to eight, BUT if the riders are still radio controlled I don’t really see one rider less making too much difference. With one rider less it will simply not be possible to give riders a rotating day off. Six man teams would certainly negate radio control and potentially create chaos and havoc. Fine for one week races, but probably not a starter for three week Tours. With six man teams a few more wild card teams could be added to enhance the anarchy. Potentially exciting stuff, but we will probably end up with best rider not wearing yellow in Paris !
Time trials I personally hate and find boring in the extreme. However it is worth going back forty years to note the drastic reduction in total and individual time trial distances. Time trials have been part and parcel of the Tour for many years, and their reduced distances don’t any longer result in unmanageable time gaps.
The bottom line is that teams need to rethink their approach and strategies if they are serious about being in contention for the win, and the organizers need to come up with new models for exciting courses. If neither of these options are taken up, then the modern trend of team controlled and somewhat unexciting TdFs will simply continue.
Froome is the best current three week rider and Sky are the strongest team – like it or not, so the winner this year should come as no surprise to anyone.
The problem with roads that challenge the riders more is that they are often too challenging, voire dire, impossible to ride for the caravan, the motorbikes and the teamcars. This simply rules them out for le Tour. This is a topic INRNG has tackled plenty times before, of course a little bit more out of the box thinking won’t hurt but I wouldn’t imagine that a very drastic change of parcours is possible.
I realise that geography has a lot to do with it, but given the way the modern cyclist rides I think they seriously need to look at the course design. A lot of riders were saying that nothing much would happen on the first mountain top finish because it wasn’t that sort of climb – nothing happened. On British television David Millar was saying not much would happen on mountain stages the day before time trials because the riders would be too worried about paying for it in the time trials – again that is what happened.
If you are going to have a stage with multiple climbs, nothing will happen on a stage where the final climb is over 20km from the finish, with valley roads included as part of that (rather than just a sharp descent). If you want riders to potentially do something before the final climb you cannot have large sections of valley roads between climbs (it needs to be up-down-up). No GC rider these days is going to be willing to do 20km alone on valley roads before the final climb.
This year we had time bonuses on the line, which given how close the top 10 was outside of Froome, you’d have thought it was in the interest of teams to bring breakaways back. Instead they left it all to Sky, who of course weren’t bothered. Maybe something completely different like three time bonuses on a final climb (at 1/3, 2/3 and the finish) would encourage more attacking riding.
The difficulty is, I think, that aside from Quintana and Contador, everyone else knows they are fighting for the podium (or even just the top ten), and thus are afraid to take any risks. I suspect at some point even Quintana knew he couldn’t unseat Froome, so he had to just ride within himself to maintain second place. Of course, for these riders and their teams, it makes perfect sense to ride this way: good exposure for the sponsors, a nice result on the palmares. But it makes things pretty uninteresting for the rest of us.
I also think that many of the loyal readers here came of age during the heyday of doping, so watching riders routinely attack each other on the climbs made us expect exciting racing. If we only knew at the time….
agreed, its not always about the course but its generally clear what courses do and don’t encourage attacking. packing 4 tough stages in at the end ensures that everyone is hanging on rather than attacking. you need to have each selective stage followed by a sprint stage so that anyone attacking has a chance to recover rather than paying for it the next day. sure have the occasional double up to test endurance but mostly give the riders a chance to put on a show without destroying themselves.
bigger time bonuses would be required to really make a gc contender fight for them. 10 seconds (or 4 over 2nd) is pretty small for the effort it will often require.
There can be no doubt that it is the focus of the year for cyclists and fans and casual fans, so you want the best riders on the best form etc..
To do this the Giro will suffer, i don’t include the Vuelta as we all know its the naughty boys club or last chance saloon and even that gets used as a prep race for the Worlds.
I think our hope is that all of the other teams follow Sky’s model for the tour, 1 competent leader and 8 committed domestiques, we know there are only a few riders capable of the win, so it wouldn’t be detrimental to the race, Astana, BMC, Tinkoff and Movistar, SKY go with the stated aim of winning, but only 1 team went with a team fully committed to the cause. The other teams can stage hunt etc.. plenty to go around.
There is no true answer for us all to agree on, apart from misfortune for an overwhelming favourite or 2 opens the race up for all….. and then we complain that it would have been different if XYZ was present.
Fickle fans we are 🙂
Great work INRNG as ever.
Indeed we are fickle, but for us, hard core fans, the Tour seems even more boring in comparison to an absolutely thrilling Giro. If you saw the story of this year’s Giro in a Hollywood film you would most probably think the screenwriters went too far with the script, but in fact it was true!
It’s not about trying to stop Froome, or Sky.
It’s about trying to encourage at least some hope in the others, so that they attack. Trying to make it an actual race – this year’s Tour shows that small gaps in GC don’t make it a race.
It’s not the parcours – it’s the riders.
However, a wider variety of stages would be good: from before the Tour it was obvious that this edition lacked puncheur stages and a long stage (~230km) over many mountains. Then, as a rider, you need to cover all kinds of stage.
Reduce teams to 7 (this’ll favour smaller teams as their leaders rarely have anyone with them in the final anyway, and certainly not 4 or 5). The downsides IR has mentioned would be there, but maybe it would encourage riders to join smaller teams – and be a leader there with a guaranteed Tour start.
Take off their powermeters, get rid of radios too (except for race radio). These two wouldn’t have a huge effect, but would introduce a greater random factor and leave the decisions down to riders on the road. Powermeters is a very simple one, because there is no downside.
I’d also try a salary cap – there are many issues, but it’s worth a go: it might level things a bit.
Of course, this is all just talk. The UCI are in charge and are in league with Velon, so they’ll do what the big teams want.
And besides, the UCI never does anything effectual (I’ll spare you the list).
Teams should never be in control of the sport. If the UCI is stymied by the teams, it would be better if race organisers took charge.
I don’t like the various ‘wacky’ ideas – we don’t want to make it a false race (I don’t even like time bonuses for this reason – and because they encourage more short sprints on mountains and discourage longer attacks).
None of this is ‘the answer’, they’re all just things to try. But nothing will be done – unless ASO forces the UCI, and then it would only be down to 8, which would have a very limited effect (one less mountain domestique for Sky, for instance, and they had plenty).
Agree on the point that we now see teams almost in control of the UCI and the result is desastrous. As we saw with the shameful Tirrenno-events, teams and riders are not good with having responsibility. Everytime they had some, they abused it to the detriment of the sport. Besides: To expect that the teams or riders can objectively see and decide what is good for the sport is just crazy and wrong. Their own interest in it are far too strong. We see that with vaughters and tinkov.
That is why we desperately need a new president (I’ll say it so long, till it happens).
Agree. And if that new president is French and heavily linked to ASO that’s probably a good thing – better for ASO to have the power than the other options.
What about the idea of a “luxury tax”? Something that works by setting a threshold, say 20 million euros, and then takes the tax payment from teams like Sky and distributes it to all the teams under a threshold of, 10 million euros.
Are we sure this isn’t a good problem? Ie: if the measured/controlled pace of the race isn’t because the peloton is cleaner than it has been the past few decades. Not to say that it is 100% clean but…
A cleaner peloton would:
-Witness fewer attacks, and repeated attacks on the same mountain. We’d likely see more of the boomerang attacks, as riders now pay for their aggression in real ways
-Show fewer long range moves as riders need to conserve energy and can no longer hold the same sustained power over multiple mountain passes.
-Favour defensive, and measured riding, as each pedal stroke must now count for more
It seems to me then that the solution is a shorter overall race so that an attacking style is better suited to overall race strategy. Whether this is having fewer than 21 stages, or shortening all stages to ~130kms, I’m not sure.
Have read this a lot, but have yet to see any evidence of this non-doping correlation with non-attacking.
There’s no more proof for that than there is for Sky all being micro-dosed to perfection, so that no-one can get past that threshold.
The train tactics with well-rested domestiques riding hard up the mountains is the obvious explanation for why there are fewer long-range attacks. Add to this Sky’s superior line-up and the result is what we all see.
A shorter race would make it not a grand tour and so would shorter stages. It would devalue the race completely and, as we say this year, short stages do not equal exciting stages. Longer mountain stages can produce more attacking riding – especially if you don’t have long flat sections between the mountains.
As INRNG so eloquently points out, all this angst over the Tour and ways to nerf the advantage Sky enjoys are largely moot. Aside from handicapping Sky in someway they will simply adapt to whatever new situation arises. I think the responsibility has to be with other teams to raise their game and look at their priorities. Sky came to the Tour with a single leader, and single goal: the GC. No sprinter or puncheur for stage wins, no-one in the breakaways, no-one hunting the lesser jerseys. BMC had two leaders, and GVA looking for stage wins, Tinkoff brought Contador and Sagan for a twin assault on the yellow and the green, Movistar Valverde and Quintana, Astana Nibali and Aru. Sky had a structure and a purpose they others lacked, even given their doms days off to do nothing if they were fatigued. If other teams want to challenge Sky then they need to ape that single-minded drive to win overall, rather than also be looking for stage wins and other jerseys.
Also another major point is it is interesting that Froome provokes this debate and not Sagan. Sagan is nailed on to win green every edition, lets face. Even if Cav had finished in paris and took his stage wins to 5 he wouldn’t have beaten Sagan, Cav himself saying it was privilege just to wear it and the clock was ticking once he won it on when he would be handing it back to Sagan. Without drama in the green and the yellow, you are just left with the polkas and the white, both of which are much less predictable. I enjoy Sagan and appreciate his precocious talent, but the green jersey is his for the rest of his career and personally I find that more depressing than a 31-year old Froome winning a few more Tours.
I also think there is a huge danger to tinker with a sport or race to try to break the dominance of certain teams/athletes. Don’t reduce the number of riders in a team because of Froome, do it because it would be safer for the peloton. A GT for me is like a mini-Olympics of cycling, various skills and abilities tested during the course of the three weeks, and at the end of the day you want the best riders winning it, not riders that wouldn’t have done without some beneficial rule change. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the lack of the TTT, a discipline which Sky aren’t dominant in. I think each GT should have an ITT and a TTT to test the riders.
lots of great comments up here, but Jimmyfingers chimes the most with me.
Other sports seem to cherish dominance (Woods, Nicklaus, Federer, Moses etc etc etc) but I guess we still have a nasty armstrong taste in our collective mouths.
Part of the problem is a modern one of constantly needing to be ‘entertained’. Personally I love the slowburn of a 3-week race, and if it has a few exciting bits, then I want to be surprised by them rather than be able to tune in to some predetermined moment in advance.
Change very little, vary the route year by year (as they do) and have a little patience, and enjoy excellence if it is demostrated (Sky) , and greatness if it appears once in a while (Sagan and Cav)
+1 to Noel and to JimmyFingers
Sky makes a single jersey in Le Tour the priority of its year and the other contenders were not up to sparkling standard in 2016. On this point of rivals, for me the moment when the last chance of a credible rival vanished down the road, was when Quintana was languishing behind Froome, Porte and Mollema on Mont Ventoux: even this mountain territory was not giving hope for another contender for yellow, albeit the expected TT gains for Froome made the bulk of the final time difference.
Let us appreciate and enjoy sporting excellence. Is it a wonderful thing or boring, in past years to witness Usain Bolt winning by a large margin in the 100m or 200m?
Once on the track it’s down to Bolt as an individual, no team of very-nearly-top-tier athletes in the discipline to help him win except in the relay, but unlike track sprints, a 3-week cycling tour has scope to reduce the dominance of an athlete. I am often surprised, how little is said about the continued attempt each year to make the event more difficult for Froome and Sagan to claim their yellow and green jerseys. In many other areas of life, this would bring cries of unfairness. But it seems they both just get on with trying to win despite, and with little to no complaint of, all the tinkering in favour of their rivals. Their continued dominance is a testament to their diversity of strengths in each respective jersey competition.
On the subject of major changes beyond the yearly revised route: it’s Le Tour and I would accept it for what it is. There are many other races in the year that give the excitement and unpredictability that cycling fans wish for. I also agree with Inrng about the many knock-on effects that would come from the more significant attempts to change things, such as reducing team size.
These are excellent points, well made. Even the Froome/Sky organisation won by half the margin Nibali managed in a similarly uncontested tour in 2014. Changing the rules because one rider and team is way ahead in one event for a period is never ideal for any sport.
In real life cries of unfairness are usually ignored by those setting the rules. I suppose this is the same in cycling.
Great points. I think there remains a difference in opinion on the dominance of Sagan and Froome for a few reasons, though.
1. Sagan is incredibly popular. He is charismatic, daring, explosive, exciting to watch, extremely popular in the peloton, and so forth. People love to watch him and relish in him winning. The imagine of him winning the World Championships and high-fiving riders as they crossed the line really underscored his popularity for me. On the other hand, Froome is much more calculating and careful (this year, notwithstanding his descent and his breakaway with Sagan). He is very polite and very PR-friendly in interviews. He isn’t a charismatic personality and doesn’t inspire legions of fans in the same way.
2. The yellow jersey is still the primary competition and the points competition, while prestigious, is not the reason we turn out to watch the TdF. The action is always on the yellow jersey group.
I am also in agreement that races should not be re-engineered to break the dominance of an individual. However, I do think that the TdF could be made more exciting by designing and maintaining an element of chance into the race. This can be done with the inclusion of cobbles (a unique skillset and many classics specialists will not be 3 week contenders, but it injects elements of unpredictability, chance, as well as bike handling skills into the mix – all of which are exciting to watch), the inclusion of gravel/dirt (a la Tro Bro Leon), varying stage lengths, etc.
In summary, I think that the Tour could be made more enjoyable to watch by being a true tour of the countryside (road surface, terrain, wind, weather) and maintaining that element of luck/chance that makes a race unpredictable, but also gripping to watch.
I totally agree with you on point 1:
During the last stage I saw more riders chat and take pictures with Sagan than Froome, before km zero. OK they paid their respects to Froome as tradition and courtesy demands, but they smiled and joked with Sagan.
We are living in the convergence of a couple of forces that are driving the discussion. Most importantly, we are deep into the Froome era and the peleton is riding for seconds while he get the main course gets delivered daily by his super team. La Vie Clarie was dominant in ’85 and ’86, but now that talk is dead and only the memories of the victories remains.
Secondly, ( and I would love to read Inrng’s opion on this) is that rumors aside, I believe that we are witnessing a cleaner peleton that is less capable of creating the type of spectacle that many seem to be craving. This discussion is a double edge sword. Smaller teams, and more spectacle will require a greater amount of human strain. We all loved watching Pantani, but that took a little extra beyond just knowing how to suffer. For years the dicussion has been, how to clean things up?
Maybe we are seeing cleaner cycling, but many have realized it’s not all it cracked up to be? Be careful what you wish for. A Grand Tour is not a single day monument.
Dammit, can’t edit. My final point was that if Contador had stayed on his bike, had Quintana not been below par, had Aru not been below par, if Nibali had showed the form that won him the Giro, we might have not had such a dull GC battle (because the rest of the Tour was fantastic). In 2014 Froome and Contador crashed and Nibali won much more dominantly that Froome ever has, yet it didn’t provoke this sort of hand-wringing
Nailed it as far as I’m concerned. It’s up to everyone else to compete, Sky will simply revise their aims.
Everytime the discussion of boring races comes up, it gets said:It is because of a cleaner peloton. That was the case in the armstrong-years, as it is now and inbetween (don’t forget, that 2000ff then was hailed as renewal of clean cycling, even when in looking back, this can be easily forgotten). It was discussed so often and debunked as humbug (even on the comments of this blog the last few days/weeks many times): there is no correlation between clean=exciting racing. If anything, doping made for more boring races, see armstrong, Indurain etc.., because everybody thinks he can relie on his strength etc.. We still have the long escapes these days (we had 2 recently, see Cummings and who was the other, who raced 100km alone? Help me out please).
Please, let’s put this simplistic view once for all behind us. Please:
Doping does not and never did make for exciting racing. In fact no one single thing does or can that!
This is a really nice piece of writing!
More than the clarity and well crafted wordmanship, the really excellent topic handled in a really clear, thoughtful, and fair way. THIS is the kind of article that keeps me coming back to this blog every morning, thank you!
As to the topic – if this were the only sport or business where people found ways to adapt to the competitive landscape to win you might have an argument for change. But what have we seen? Any rules that you put in place are the catalyst for someone to find a way to leverage them to win. In every human endeavor.
What are our choices? Mine is to include the overarching strategy as part of what I watch and enjoy. From the end of July each year there are very bright people trying to figure out how to make the next Tour boring. For me watching them do that is just as interesting as watching a peloton preparing for the cross winds. It is now a year long competition, and we can revel in it.
The next Tour starts August 1, I am going with that.
Before the race the consensus was that it was a battle between Froome and Quintana, with Contador maybe adding a bit of excitement but past his best.
So if one of the two supreme stage racers of the period is not on form or ill then a one sided race was surely to be expected.
Let’s face the facts – as a sporting contest LeTour is boring more often than not. It’s also a victim of impossible hype. I don’t know how you change that. Specific prescriptions for Le Grand Boucle don’t make much sense to me compared to the sport in general.
Overall, I’d like to see some sort of incentive to encourage the big stars to race more, spending less time secreted away at high-altitude training camps. Ditch the electronic gizmos including TV’s, earpieces, power meters, etc. Reduce the World/Pro/whatever-it-is-this-year Tour to a dozen teams, opening the races up more to wild card teams of local/national interest. Get rid of most (if not all) TUE’s…guys sick enough to need drugs are too sick to be racing.
Beyond this, non-Froome fans will just have to suffer through his era, just as we did with BigTex, BigMig and those who came before us did with Merckx, Anquetil, etc.
Firstly apologies for not addressing the main thrust of this piece but remembering is helping me fill the post Tour void.
This years example was a particularly bad combination of circumstances – it was a three horse race where one horse fell and another never had the form to challenge.
Once Contador had gone everyone looked to Quintana to animate things, which he wasn’t capable of doing, and everyone else (Yates, Mollema, Bardet) were understandably just happy to be riding around the podium.
The great thing about GT’s are indeed the sub plots, whether that be stage wins, jersey battles (however short lived) or battles back from adversity. Thankfully there will always be these fascinating sub plots because, as you say, making the GC compelling on a regular basis is more than a little challenging.
This year I loved:
– De Gendt’s constant attacks and win on Ventoux
– Pantano going up and down and somehow hanging on when he looked down and out
– Sagan’s brilliance throughout – sprints, crosswinds, breaks and as domestique
– Cavendish’s renaissance
In terms of a salary cap I would want it to be what you would logically assume one to mean in sport. An upper limit on the amount you are allowed to spend on paying your riders – including bonuses. Endorsements or whatever have nothing to do with it. Also, I have no issue with Sky spending millions on living on top of Teide or Mount Etna, or spending a fortune on fancy skinsuits and Mustang team cars. What I would be aiming to avoid is one team having a leader supported by several riders who are good enough to be leaders themselves. As a fan, or organiser, you want the best riders to be racing against each other. You want Froome to be up against Landa, Thomas and Poels, not using them to chase down his rivals or swap bikes. Imagine if Cavendish was led out by Greipel, Kristoff, Bouhanni and Demare leaving him only Kittel to beat. If Kittel isn’t at his best you have no contest and a walkover. I don’t have a problem with Sky monopolising rider talent if they allowed them to race against each other, but they don’t. Using Formula 1 as an example, as we often do, nobody was bothered about McLaren being streets ahead in the late 80’s with two of the greatest drivers of all time and the best car, and engine, because they let them race against each other and didn’t impose team orders. Conversely in the early 00’s Ferrari had the best car, the best engine, the best designer, the best strategist and the best driver but it was all geared towards Schumacher. Barrichello and Irvine were subservient to him and never allowed to do anything, even forced to let him pass, on the rare occasions when they were up to speed with him. The result was predictable results, you knew who was going to win before you watched the race. Nobody likes that.
An antidote to the smaller teams problem, if that was the road we were going down, would be to allow national teams. Like for the RideLondon (not so) Classic this weekend there is a GB team containing Dowsett, Blythe and McClay who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to take part. So if BMC were all in for Porte say you’d still get to watch Gilbert and van Avarmaet stage raid for Belgium. Imagine the support someone like Alaphilippe would get racing in French colours!
I think national teams are allowed in all Cat X.1 races and lower but I don’t think they are always invited. A few years ago Jan Bakelants won the GP Wallonie on the Citadelle de Namur wearing the national team’s jersey, because it was the year the Leopard team refused to race any other races than the WT races.
I don’t think we need to tinker too much. It’s clear that the tour is Team Sky’s primary goal for the season and all nine riders were focused on this. The other teams needing raise their game. I don’t see why Movistar, Tinkoff, BMC, Astana can’t come up with strategies to compete more closely with Sky.
The bottom line is that Froome is clearly the strongest rider around so he should be winning the GC…if we’re not careful these measures will seem like applying a handicap.
“we” – like I’ve got a stake in this!
‘I don’t see why Movistar, Tinkoff, BMC, Astana can’t come up with strategies to compete more closely with Sky.’
Great bike races are made by the riders not those who design the course. What might seem like a great stage beforehand eg the Joux Plan stage can turn out to be predictable whereas a predicted 2 hours of tourist shots plus 10 minutes of action , the stage to Montpellier was possibly the best stage of this years tour. For me the most memorable stage of recent years was Cav’s win in the crosswinds a few years back, again supposedly a stereotypical boring transition stage.
It is the interaction of the course, the weather, the riders and plain luck that combine to produce the result. Run the race over exactly the same course with the same participants and there will be a very different result each time (though if a rider is much stronger than the others, like Chris Froome, they would win more often than not).
I can see the attractions of a squad salary cap though I can also see the practical problems. Disparity of money available to teams and the whole financial structure of professional cycling is a problem but no one has come near to a better way forward. Reducing the squad size would make little odds, it might even mean more structured racing as there would even be less attraction in having multi talented squads. Three week stage races are a team sport, they are never going to have the variety and changeability of one day races. That is one of the main attractions, it is about endurance and wider ability, not just being able to grab an opportunity on the spur of the moment. You can come back from a jour sans or piece of bad luck.
This year the other teams were comprehensively out thought by Sky. Everyone expected Sky to defend on the flat and attack in the mountains, instead they did the opposite. The other teams really need to up they game, lower budgets are no excuse for muddled thinking, BMC & Movistar being prime examples. Tweaking the rules to try to disadvantage one team to the benefit of others really isnt a good idea
Interesting that a lot of people here think that cycling should change to how Sky do things, rather than having rules that might not only level the playing field a bit, but may even force Sky to focus on more than just this one race (albeit, they do have some focus on the classics).
I strongly suspect that this is a very much more popular point of view amongst British fans and very much doubt that similar feelings are prevalent on cycling websites in other languages.
Why are Sky dominating the Tour? It helps that they bring their best squad and their best rider, in peak form for the same goal every year. The issue isn’t the team or the rider, it’s the Tour and the calendar. Sky haven’t won either the Giro or the Vuelta and have struggled for years to win a classic. They haven’t even come close in the Giro. Has Froome ever even ridden it? The calendar is so unbalanced, that they can be called a success even if they win no other race that season. Quintana, Contador, Nibali, Aru have all raced other 3 week races to win them, not as a consolation or afterthought. Froome has no reason to do so though with the season as it is. He can continue to base his season around this one race and build his career around it. If he were given a reason not to, we might see more interesting racing.
Agree. Sky were set up as a team with one goal and made a big thing about it; ‘to win the tdf with a British rider in the next 5 years’. Thy have done this and then some.
If other teams want to win the need to be have the same philosophy. 1. Target one race, 2. Get the best rider, 3. get the best team.
A simple formula that works every time. But is unfortunately not in line with the history and spirit of cycling.
I don’t think there is much you can do to alleviate the single-minded focus on the tour. It is too important to the teams and their sponsors. Once a rider shows they can contend for the tour win, they almost always focus their season on the Tour.
By the way, Froome has done the Giro a couple of times. I think he place in the mid 30’s in 2009 and was disqualified for holding onto a motorcycle up the Mortirolo in 2010. I might be off on the years though.
Lots of interesting reading and ideas but not all viewers are readers of IR. It needs to be understandable to non-specialists. This must rule out intermediate time bonuses on climbs, bonuses on n-1 summits and the use of substitutes. For many cumulative time and the ability to win without winning a stage is already hard to understand. We need to accept that not all tours will be fascinating to everyone and we don’t want a manipulated 20-20 style TdF.
Not much time, I’ll copy & paste something I’d commented on the older TdF post when it was already a bit outdated:
“Has been the Tour boring?” 😉
I’ve got a personal (while at the same time fact-based) opinion, but let’s give a look at the sensations of the wider public…
In France, Italy and Spain we had a once-in-a-lifetime situation: the best audience ratings were recorded during the first week-end (the Andorra stage). The data then remained pretty flat.
Note that the GTs typically present a steady growth in viewing figures throughout the three weeks, to the point that less significant stages in the third week might produce an audience similar to very interesting first-week stages.
Now the German public broadcaster is using audience data to try and push down the rights price (2.5 M/y – already rather cheap IMHO). Sad. I hope that ASO is able to make something of the Düsseldorf move, but I’m afraid that they’ve been showing several signs of weakness this year, whatever the reasons.
I’d just add that I hope it has been just a bad edition.
The course wasn’t good, anyway, and such a situation hugely raises the chances for a bad race, even if it’s not a deterministic thing.
They’d better work a little more on that factor.
Not even *one* really hard mountain stage is a serious limit, IMHO (multiclimb, KoM combination near the finish, long climbs, long distance, that is, about 200 km, being in the third week… the most similar thing we had this year were Andorra and Emosson, both with evident faults).
A lack of challenging tricky stages was another problem, the most similar thing were “easy mountain stages”, but it’s just another thing.
Too many pure sprinter stages.
Too easy a start of the race and, globally, two weeks too much “flat-oriented”. Hence, the climbers were tamed and the global lack of fatigue prevented serious selectivity on the final climbs, were more explosive riders became able to stay with the best. It’s Movistar’s fault for not exploiting enough the Pyrenees or even, say, the Perthus but the course design didn’t make it easy, either.
A “Vueltian” Tour (I’m being hyperbolic, but things ended up like that). And we’re about to have an ultra-Vueltian Vuelta…
All that said, bad editions happen. See the 2012 Giro, which had a decent course, all in all.
This Tour was worse than most Tours (which can be generally a little boring), but the good news is that it probably is just a low point, let’s pray for the good ol’ regression towards the mean…
I think that there are some intrinsic dangers to things like salary caps and reducing team sizes that in the end will just harm the so called weaker teams.
I think that remedial changes that would help the sport as a whole have to do with impact of the
Firstly, one has to design stages that promote racing (as has been mentioned by other commentators). Avoiding mountain stages before TT’s, avoiding mountain stages that end with a 20km flat etc. There were a number of stages in this year’s tour where only a irresponsible DS would have told his team to attack.
Secondly, one has to increase the importance of competing in other races. This is epitomized reflexively in that as long as we consider Team Sky as the dominant team ( when all they did was dominate one race) there’ll be every reason for teams to throw all resources at achieving that singular goal. We need to collectively fall in love with racing and out of veneration of the TdF. The current thinking would have the winner of the TdF as better than someone who wins 2 Classics, the Giro and the Worlds in a single year, and until that changes the current team tactics won’t change.
It always amuses me when this discussion pops up, as it has with boring regularity since the tour started to get far greater global TV coverage. That I believe is the crux of the issue. The tour was originally designed to sell newspapers and throughout the ages the action has been incredibly described in print. As TV coverage has become greater with more and more live coverage becoming available to an ever wider audience, people pay less attention to the flowery, breathless descriptions in print, sat in front of the box and got bored by the lack of action. I am pretty certain that if the same level of live and/or instant press coverage was available in the days of Merckx or even Hinault we would have the same moaning going on.
Frequently this year, the ES commentators took twitter flak because nothing was happening and so there was banter on air. But this is the reality of a stage race – there are only so many superlatives that can be thrown around on hours 2 and 3 of a flat stage. Personally I treat this in the same way I use test match special – I have it playing in the background, listening to the increasingly bizarre ramblings of the commentators (in the UK, either ES or ITV), only stopping to watch when something exciting happens – and it does. I will never forget watching the man who apparently couldn’t descend go on the attack downhill in the most incredible style putting a chunk of time into his competition. Watching the yellow jersey form a superstar breakaway with the green jersey while his opposition looked at each other mystified as to why he would do such a thing and barely reacting because it was a ‘sprint stage’ and therefore those teams responsibility to attack. Watching the yellow jersey first attack and then run up hill on the stage that had previously been flagged as the moment that his opposition would decisively attack, but didn’t. On the sprint stages, listening to an apparently has-been sprinter being written off due to his interest in the Olympic track pop up and start winning again. Listening to the commentators call the moves that Steve Cummings was telegraphing ahead of his winning attack. Bardet attacking unlike most in the top ten (and even the choreographed sliding of Froome and Nibali – a heart in the mouth moment considering how many others have broken collarbones and worse in similar situations). Kittel having a Parisian meltdown – enthralling. Every stage had moments like this but also travelogue observations of an incredibly beautiful country
Was it boring as a TV spectacle if you watched it live or even on the extended highlights, absolutely. Was it interesting and exciting if you observed it in a different manner – personally yes
I think ultimately the sport may need a salary cap, but at this point, to increase viewership and fandom i think its good to promote a dominant team, makes for good press and easy understanding for the casual fan. And unlike other team sports, the smaller budget teams’ fans aren’t completely alienated as they are for city/region based teams in other sports. Cincinnati fans aren’t disenfranchised from cycling anymore than New York fans, unlike stadium based sports. So I think its much less dangerous to have some teams outspending others right now. Let’s build the sport now and not discourage investment from deep pocket sponsors.
I enjoyed stages of the Tour, but agree that the GC battle was a let down. And that Sky’s Death Star tractor beams meant that there was little excitement about the breakaways in the mountains.
I’m know I am going to get shouted down, but fundamentally the issue is more about ‘preparation’ in the medical sense that anything else. The controls on doping are as high as ever, but it is a fact that it still goes on. I don’t blame the cyclists really – if you undertake something which forces your own body to feast upon itself you’re going to feel like you need something to get through it, nothing has changed since Pellisier from that POV. The point is that while a lid is kept on the doping it still means that with the best doctors etc you guarantee a certain level of performance and really this is the thing destroys sport. It doesn’t matter what sport you do, the ability for top tennis players, top football clubs, top athletes to maintain form is has become very predictable and while we love our winners, it makes everything a procession. You just hope for a gremlin to supply the drama (and the weather almost did).
Anyway it’s not the course that needs changing its that doctors should be banned from pro sports. Before anyone says I hate Sky, I don’t, I just believe they’re all up to it, but money buys you better doctors and more resources. The system is rigged towards doping – the walk around the tests, though that journey gets harder and harder.
You just have to look at Lance and Sharipova to see what can be gained by being at the top of your sport and what is at stake – that’s why pure racing like Froome’s attack on the Peyresourde and his escape with Sagan are to be treasured – they instil the unpredictability back into the race.
I’m sorry, but do you have any evidence for this? It’s easy to say, ha, it’s bloody hard and they must be on something, but cycling is partly about the cyclist’s capacity to suffer, and so it follows that a champion ought to be expected to be the best at suffering. Without anything to “help”.
And medical preparation – diet, optimised recovery, sleep etc under the supervision of a medical professional – is not the same as doping.
Impossible to give proof of this. A healthy skepticism is not a bad thing however. Remember, everyone said that Lance and Miguel Indurain were clean too.
There are very clear rumours about what is going on, but I don’t want to get into that because Inrng would definitely not appreciate that on this forum.
Where can I hear or find out about these very clear rumours?
I shouldn’t have said anything – I’m not going into this anymore. What is pretty clear is that the race is a lot cleaner than in the past, and it is even more gruelling, with longer climbing stages, plus “easy” flat stages that are constantly up and down rollers, have crazy cross winds, or other difficulties that make them just as stressful as the mountainous stages.
The race this year was so gruelling. The only real way that the GC battle could be opened up would be to make the stages shorter, make the flat stages easier than they are, etc. The GC riders, if they’re expected to attack all the time, plus be completely clean, need to recover before lighting up mountain stages.
It’s really hypocritical to punish all riders for doping, but then give them harder and harder stages and then complain that they’re not aggressive enough. The riders have to be razor-thin skinny (even more than in the past), which makes them on the edge of being constantly sick, and we as fans want them to attack all the time and organisers create more and more climbing stages. I think we need to help the riders make exciting races.
‘everyone said that Lance and Miguel Indurain were clean too’ – they really didn’t.
Reducing the team size to 6 or 7 is the way to go for the attractiveness of the Sport. The argument that some riders will not be able to compete at the TDF does not count, because if this is applied to all races, these riders will look for another team to race at the Tour, which would make these teams attractive for sponsors, as they have a chance to be at the Tour (smaller teams=more teams for the same size of peloton).
Just an example (not too far fetched when you think of it): RUGBY. Classical Rugby is played with 15 players and the game has become quite static over the last decade or so, with less and less tries deciding games, rather penalty kicks and mistakes in the defense. Some leagues now have 13 player games, which already changes match dynamics. Rugby with 7 players (the new olympic discipline) has a completely different dynamic. This is a good example how changes in the rules have made a Sport more attractive.
In cycling, you only need to look at U23 or women’s races, which usually run with smaller teams and which are much more open and dynamic compared to male professional racing.
So yes, team size WILL change the dynamic of the sport, making it more open, less controllable and thus more attractive for the public. But as INRG pointed out, I fear the team owners and managers are too scared to loose power and will sacrifice the attractiveness of the sport for their own benefit.
But rugby 7s is completely dull after about 5 minutes… And invariably quite one sided…
What changes should they make to the 100m to stop Usain Bolt winning all the time? Of course it’s a stupid question but that is what people are debating for Le Tour. Leave it as it is, you never know next year may be completely different.
+1 totally agree. I could say so much and end up probably being banned from this site if i said what I really want to say to those repeating the “change” or “boring” mantra. Probably the same people proclaiming darkened skies after Brexit.
I think we should employ Baseball Card Handicapping. Kids in the US once used clothespins to stick baseball cards in their spokes, making their bike sound like a motor cycle. How about, for every minute you were ahead of, say, the 10th place rider, you had to attach one baseball card? Vrooooommmmm! 😉
Baseball cards? We had to make do with the flaps off Corn Flakes packets, etc. etc.
My idea (a sort of inverse pedaleur de charme) would be to require the most childish or petulant rider on a stage to haul a child trailer the next day.
What system of handicap would have been necessary for TJVG to win GC?
Track events in the UK have recently include a slow bike race. Perhaps the concept could be extended.
Actually handicapping the other riders.
Inrng – interesting article: And I agree with your points about a salary cap. In cycling this would be extremely difficult to implement. There are so many details that would make it virtually impossible to enforce.
Unfortunately, cycling is an unfair game on a handful of levels, and there is virtually zero cooperation between the key stakeholders to fix this.
It is impossible to please all of the fans all of the time.
My impression is people were calling the race boring because Froome dominated. Well, he’s the strongest GC rider by far right now, so like Lance, Indurain, Hinault, Merckx and Anquetil before him, he’s going to dominate.
I wonder if the perception of the race being boring is because we build the race up in our minds. Think about it, all year long we expect this massive battle with attacks all over the place. Then, of course the reality sets in and we think it is boring…
No. It was boring. And technically bad.
Comparing this Tour with Indurain’s era (sometimes boring, but sometimes *hugely exciting*), not to speak of the following names, means forgetting about the lot of things that *were happening* during those races. I could make a very long list…
Anyaway, that isn’t a good reason to change the rules, especially since a lot could be tried just drawing a better course.
Froome raced better than ever, this year, but he sure can win a better race (like he did last year).
And I can’t see the point in defending a bad race.
Cycling is all but harmed by the idea that this Tour is a fine or even *normal* example of cycling… unluckily it is one of the worse race you could have, one of the worse we had in years (and in an era of not-so-exciting Tours).
All the same, it’s decent enough, I can agree about that… since cycling is a great sport, which in a GT delivers *something* more or less… whatever the conditions.
Yet cycling is *usually* a lot better, and it’s simply fair to be aware of that, and to hope for better races in the future.
I very agree with your comments. No politically correct opinion: this race was absolutely boring, one of the worse edition I remember. But it is no reason to change the rule, cycling is usually much better than that (even if think that the Tour is by tradition the most boring of the GTs, most of them are more entertaining than this year’s).
Froome’s downhill and cross winds attacks were really exciting.
Get ready for another boring edition, because Froome is untouchable for another few years!
But the problem here is not froome winning nor him being dominant. The issues are the race being locked down and the passivity/lack of form of froome’s opponent.
Froome downhill attack is for me just an example of that. He went clear because Quintana sat tight for an unexplainable reason. Next, the rush to the line was well interesting to watch, but it only delivered 15sec. It is not that the Tour was being put up and down by that action.
I agree, but there’s no way to legislate or plan to change that. The form of Froome’s opponents is purely down to their preparation.
We should just add weights to the back of Froomey’s bike
I hope more GC contenders just skip the Tour and concentrate on a Giro/Vuelta double. Both races are way more exciting and unpredictable. The courses are better and every stage is enjoyable to the audience. Just let Team Sky bore everyone to death competing with a few French hopefuls in July. The likes of Contador, Quintana, Aru and Nibali should ride in Italy and Spain instead.
I can’t imagine what the comments section on Inrng would look like during the Merckx era. Probably calling to ban him for life for canniblaism. What’s happening is not a problem with Sky or the design of the TdF. It’s on the other teams to try to raise their game (honestly) and decide how deep they want to go to challenge Froome and Sky. Too many riders are overhyped and under repeatedly under deliver. This is why sports is best reality show, lets not try to engineer the result that we want. Or lets turn the TdF into a giant 3 week Kermesse and everybody will be happy with a compelling show. It’s one or the other.
It is demonstrably not one or the other.
You could have teams of 7 riders and thus the best rider would have to do more himself because he’d be able to rely on his superior team less.
And you wouldn’t just do it for the Tour, you’d do it for all races.
Thus, smaller teams could attract better riders, because they could guarantee them leadership in big races, including the Tour.
And more riders would choose to do this rather than be at a bigger team and being unable to compete in the races of their choice.
Nobody is trying to hinder Froome – and clearly he’d still have won this year in a team of 7. It’s just that he’d probably have to do more of the racing himself.
A few more suggestions, none of which are serious (I hope)
1 – Everyone has to use the same bike manufacturer
2 – Tag-team time trials
3 – One stage to be ridden tandem
4 – Bonus secoinds for panache (increases French riders’ chances, penalizes Froome)
5 – Mid-race transfers between teams
6 – Substitutions for injured/sick riders
7 – Bonus seconds for KoM top three after every stage
8 – Penny Farthing / unicycle / obstacle course prologue
9 – Random feeding stations / pot-luck musettes
10 – TTTs to be based on average time of all finishers
We definitely need a lot of thinking outside the box and try out many ideas that seem crazy at first sight, but could turn out to be very positive, especially if they increase randomness.
It’s not all about Sky’s 9 man team. Sky were a non-factor in 2014, and Nibali walked away with the tour. In 2012, Sky lost Konstantin Svitsov in week 1, plus they also had Cav on the team that year. So, even with just 6 guys supporting Wiggo, they still ran away with it.
It’s up to the cyclists to make stuff happen. Look at stage 4 from this year’s race. The cyclists decided amongst themselves that they couldn’t be arsed, so they just ambled along all day.
Correct. Mess with rules all you like but, like Sagan and his green jersey collection, the best will just find a way to win anyway. Sky have now won a number of different kinds of Tours and not just one. You move the boundaries and they adapt accordingly. If they are that good then let them win. Its up to the participants to stop them not artificial rule changes.
I completely agree.
We should be aspiring for the rest to raise their standards, not bring the best down several levels.
Imagine Orica / Australia with a €30m budget – that would be some team. They’re brilliant as it is. You’d think their own country would know a good thing when they see it?
Who has a solution to the Tour?
Its like The Life Of Brian for gawds sake.
Leave TDF as it is. Watch the Giro. Chris Froome please don’t ride the Giro. Thanks
The first 2 sentences are music to my hears, the 3rd much less. I remember good vuelta stuff with froome Vs Kontador.
Or put in another way, what if Froome tries the double giro/tour? It would spice up GT season a lot!
Such terrible sour grapes from a lot of people. Change the rules because the result was “boring”? Which, by the way, is a subjective point of view. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Should we change football’s rules because the game I went to the other day was 0-0? As a fan of entertaining football I demand that every game be 4-3.
All this fiddling and meddling will be the death of all good sport which, like it or not, is often predictable, boring or all over bar the shouting. That is real life. Don’t mess with it.
My POV couldn’t be further from RonDe’s on a lot of subject but, although the Tour was *really* boring 🙂 (as a measurable condition), I’d agree with more or less everything I’m reading in this comment.
It always strikes me Gabriele that even with those you fundamentally disagree with there are always some points of agreement. I’m sure that, like me, you just want a proper race free from interference or an artificial result. I wish you a good day.
It’ not about this one race. It’s the way the whole sport has evolved over the last 2-3 decades that is under trial.
Froome is just the complete GC rider. Even more so than Indurian. The best rider mostly wins.
Froome is, at the moment, the best TdF rider. If you want to be the best Grand Tour rider, you have to win more than just one of the three. Even The Shark beats him on this front.
Excellent piece as a conversation starter – as the equally excellent comments demonstrate. There’s nothing to add – other than to appreciate your nod to Jonathan Swift.
One obvious method to equal up the financial playing field – move away from “teams” that are in reality commercial entities (insurance / flooring / media etc) to a proper geographical-based team.
Are you then telling me that ‘Team Paris” or “Team Flanders” or “Team Australia” wouldn’t be able to raise €30m in sponsorship?
Don’t cut back the funding, explore ways to grow it!
If salaries were capped, it would just create a cheaper method for these commercial entities to advertise themselves whilst at the same time reducing the living standard of the very people that do it all. That makes no sense.
Screw more money out of the companies, but just find a better way in which to do it?
The French cycling federation have been trying for the last 3 years to find a sponsor to back a road team, their track squad, and a development set-up, a la Sky. They announced their grand vision and the launch of their search, around the time they opened the Paris velodrome IIRC.
With no success.
The appeal for national backing isnt the same from country to country.
I could see how finding sponsors for a youth / development-type squad may be challenging, but I was talking of, for example, two French teams of existing stars.
I find it difficult to get emotive about a cycling team representing an insurance and pensions company. Rather than represent a commercial concern, make it represent a place and its people and I feel sure that those people would back it.
Euskadi euskatel Basque national team went bust.
A short reminder, because to some it may sound strange to change the Tour de France concept:
Henri Desgrange tweaked and changed the format of the Tour on a regular basis. The Tour in it’s history already had almost every imaginable form:It was a contest for nations, a point race, a race with substitutes, a race with everybody using the same equipment and so on. It always was (and hopefully continues to be!) a work in progress.
As much as to us the Tour de France may look like an old, unmoveable institution, it is also a bike-race, a sporting contest. Therefore it has to evolve to keep up with the changing athletes and equipment. That’s just normal. Although I personally think changing the race in answer to one team would be counterproductive, the race has to, and surely will, evolve further.
Hey here is my idea:
The team with the previous years TDF GC leader accepts a “ Team Handicap” the team handicap consists of a 5-10* Kilo static weight addition, in addition to the mandatory UCI bike weight.
The kilo TH maybe distributed in whole or aggregate to all or at least two riders per stage, the ratio or spread is at the sole discretion of team management, and can be changed for each stage.
The 5-10 kilos must stay with that rider or those riders assigned for the whole stage.
(in the event of a bike change the “TH” is reestablished within 5K of the change)
If the team loses a rider do to injury or withdrawal the TH is halved for the rest of the tour.
*weight can be debated by our cycling watt quants!
The main reason the GC was boring was because Quintana underperformed compared to previous years. He was the only solid rival expected to challenge Froome. With Quintana at his best, it would have been a different story.
Trying to engineeer an exciting battle for the yellow jersey is bound to fail, as many here have pointed out. What is a good idea is trying to make the other stages interesting on their own, and gravel roads, cross-winds, cobbles, hilly finishes etc could do that
To me, it seemed the only part of this years race that wasn’t “the best ever” was the yellow jersey contest. And that didn’t seem to be a lock until well into the 2nd week. The yellow jersey jumped around on many shoulders for the early part of the race. And the green and mtn jersey’s were great action, neither was claimed early on. The white jersey was thrilling to the very end.
So I have a question about the yellow jersey contest: Was it ever locked up early in the race by Big Mig, or Eddie, or the Badger? Weren’t those dynasty years? Froome hasn’t won consecutively, and the ’14 win by Nibbles seemed locked up early, but nobody seems to be complaining.
I didn’t know they paid Binda to sit out the race, shouldn’t they have paid Merckx also? Is there anyone who rides a bike that doesn’t look at Mr Merckx as a hero? But Froome is a pariah to the sport, and we need to legislate against him?
The year Merckx won the Vuelta and the Giro he was asked not to do the Tour. It was the year Ocana won, 72 or 73 probably
*Now* people look back on Merckx fondly, but when he was racing “the cannibal” wasn’t a particularly complimentary epithet.
Lots of good comments, stimulated by a very good INRG post.
I share the wariness over tinkering as a ‘solution’. In every field, not just cycling, unintended consequences bedevil tinkering. Also, as someone pointed out above, in cycling, clarity for most followers and viewers is important. And budget-related ‘solutions’ would only work if there were standardized, independently audited accounts for all teams (and even then there would be boundary issues). Although if something like that were possible, the luxury tax approach (i.e. redistribution, as Newb suggested above) would be more likely feasible than salary caps; e.g. ASO could charge a budget-related fee to participate in the TdF, with proceeds redistributed to teams in reverse budget order. But that may be pie-in-the-sky too (pun intended).
That aside, what is the experience with time bonuses, INRG and others? For instance, would bigger time bonuses for stage wins and placing stimulate the top riders to compete on more stages or help more riders achieve podium competitively, over the course of a three week race? At lest time bonuses for stage placing (not intermediate placing) are relatively clear. And there must be experience to consider; and it would be easy to experiment without shaking up fundamentals.
Thanks for a really interesting piece and discussion.
Isn’t it the nature of many sports that there are eras during which individuals or teams are dominant : think Borg, Sampras, Federer, Djokovic in tennis, the AllBlacks in rugby, Harlem Globe Trotters in basket ball…just a few amongst many other examples.
In the face of a dominant individual or team, surely the ethos of sport is that rivals should strive to meet the new standard, rather than for the dominant to be handicapped to favour the others?
It has been pointed out that low budget cycling teams cannot compete against wealthy ones. Of course money helps, but the thesis that big budgets = victory doesn’t necessarily follow: Cavendish wasn’t on a big budget team this year. Bardet is from a low budget team and yet arrives second. Froome made most of his time gains on the ITTs, ie in the absence of his expensive (and very talented) team mates.
I think the principle of introducing handicap is flawed. Let rivals meet the standard being set.
I wouldn’t change anything, and I wasn’t bored for a minute !
Adam mentioned the 1928 TdF with substitutes allowed. Le Ride is a new movie about that tour. Featured at the Auckland Film Festival and its premier is tonight in Christchurch. It was a joint production so should get a wide release. I missed it at the Film Festival but assume it features the joint NZ/OZ team including the great Oppie
PS Go the wrong dates and now have tickets for Sunday 31/7. Will give you my review.
Part of the problem is a lot of the racing takes place early on off camera as the teams battle to ensure the “right” break goes. This version of motopaced mileage saps the space and energy to allow some of the visually dramatic racing people shout for
Team Sky aren’t forevermore and things will change
Personally I don’t think we should mess with the rules, if one rider is stronger than the others there isn’t much you can do, without sticking lead weights under their saddle. Also there will be unintended consequences of any change, just like F1 has become more about tyre changes than drivers actually racing; what’s that about?
Rather than a salary cap which I don’t think will work, could a draft system be implemented like in the NFL. That way the weaker teams get to strengthen although it couldn’t just be based on the outcome of the tour. I get my enjoyment from cycling over a whole season, not just one race.
I’ve got the feeling that there’s a certain confusion between “domination” and a “bad Tour”… the two things might overlap, but the true problem this year was essentially the latter.
Though, an *exceptional* (in statistical terms) prevalence by a *single team* – not by a single athlete – might constitute a specific trouble, too.
However, that can be partly prevented by an intelligent course design; conversely a bad course design – like this year’s – can’t but make this peculiar trouble more serious than it would really be.
Moreover, I’ve got the feeling (but this isn’t anything more than a very personal opinion) that this year several political factors were affecting the heat of the competition. Which is what usually ends up producing bad cycling.
Interested, gabriele – what are you thinking when you say political factors? (this isnt a leading question from me, I am genuinely interested)
Sorry for the late (and short) reply, but I’m having little time day-in-day-out… a bit like some gregari turning policy 🙂
First of all, I’m thinking about the Olympics, which always had a huge influence on cycling (not in racing/sportive terms, I mean)… on every sport, I guess, but I know better about cycling. This year the OG will be paramount, as it’s rather obvious if you give a look at what’s happening around’ em. It’s a bit as if it was all about Latin America being BRICS or USA’s good ol’ backyard.
Besides, there’s the peculiar ASO situation… they just sort of ended a war with the UCI but now they look as if they were at more conservative moves and compromise solutions, even if I’d say that they more or less “have won”. I’m wondering if they’re prepraing themselves for some sort of a *leap*, going for monopoly, and thus are now trying to calm the waters down and reinforce or build up alliances with countries, teams, groups of power etc.
It really wasn’t that boring! However I agree that reducing team size would help. As mentions by others, this could usefully be done in football, rugby etc too, but it’s difficult to change such entrenched sports.
Women’s cycling has a great opportunity to tweak the rules so they are better.
Great article as ever – no obvious solution to the “problem” (if it is a problem?). Sky won’t sponsor forever and Chris Froome won’t be the best GC rider in the world forever…the sun will rise and the sun will fall. Some thoughts though…
– I like the idea of time bonuses for mountain categories (5/10/15/20/30 secs or more for 4/3/2/1/HC?). Plus it could be first past the post rather than awarding time to 2nd/3rd etc.
– What about changing to 8 riders and each team must have a designated sprinter in the lineup? Subjective I know and à la Olympic designations, teams would argue round it, but in the case of Sky someone like Viviani/van Poppel/Fenn might be picked?
– longer term (and this may earn me a lynching) but implement a draft-style recruitment? I know teams fragility means it is difficult to plan long term but the worst team the previous season gets the pick of the best U23/neoP rider and so on. A certain number of places would have to be reserved for such riders obviously.
– I think banning race radios would make it more unpredictable but a) WT teams wouldn’t go for it b) it may just lead to more cautiousness and confusion.
Back to my first point. The TDF is still special. Dominant riders don’t last forever. Whilst GC might have been predictable, boring it wasn’t… Ventoux anyone?
Sorry just saw Macca’s point earlier r.e. Draft. Agree that it is worth a thought
Bi-annual draft would help solve problem of uncertainty perhaps?
Vaughters proposed something akin to a draft each season, could be a little shaky to get in place but a interesting concept.
Can I say the idea of managing a riders weight is worth pursuing. IMO the best idea here! What won’t a rider do to try and win? He’ll dope. He’ll hang-on to a car. He’ll catch a train! He will very definitely turn himself into a skeleton, especially when his team demand a ‘liquid diet’ leading into the event. Looking at Froome and other Sky riders from the past few years and I am aghast at how gaunt they look. As a father of a young aspiring GC rider I am shocked to think that my son is going to have to starve himself (he already watches what he eats now) to win… or think he’s going to have to after seeing what Sky asks of their riders. There is a red-blood cell count minimum (for rider health) why can’t there be a minimum BMI (or similar) introduced? Let’s see how 6’2″ Froome competes then?
Henry, if you haven’t already have a look at the gallery on cyclingtips.com there is a gallery which shows some vein bursting shots of riders including Froome and Daniel Tecklehamanot (spelling).
What do you think of how Bardet looks? And do you know Tom Dumoulin is the same weight as Froome? and only 1 cm shorter (if that?)
I’m no Sky fan, believe me, but this Sky-weight obsession that some have is a bit silly.
Froome looks particularly bad because he’s so gangly and awkward looking, and his arms are ludicrously long.
Talking of another Sky rider, people go on about Poels skinniness as though its something new. Its not. Photos from his Vacansoleil days show him looking exactly the same.
Lets face it, pros at this level ARE borderline unhealthy. Their BMI – especially climbers – is probably the lowest of any sports’ elite athletes. And they are always hungry.
But that’s not a Sky thing.
Funny you mention Bardet, I was reading how Raphael Germiniani considered that Bardet had the right temperament to be a winner but said that his “arse” is too small and lacking power and that he needed to do strength training. Not sure when this advice was given or if the instruction was taken! ha ha.
‘Arse too small’! Oh that’s too funny. Makings of a top coach right there 🙂
Read that.gem knows a bit about cycling. His comments are that the tour is too easy: I could ride 8. In a year (this from a guy who finished top ten in all three in one year).fignon reckoned stages were too short in his book too. Made me wonder whether they should make the current guys race over a pretty 1990 course. How would froome do over the full circle of death – aspin tourmalet Aubisque peyresourde plus a superbagneres finish. Could sky control that all day?
It’s kind of funny that we are talking about how to level the playing field in a sport so critically dependent on how mountainous and hilly the terrain will be. Also, the Tour is “boring” only in hindsight, after it is all over. It’s exciting at the beginning of each stage, for sure. Also, other sports face the same dilemma when it has a dominant player in its ranks. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with the structure of the race.
The pro cycling season is long and varied. Some events are spectacularly boring and formulaic whilst others are pulsating. If the TDF tends toward one end of this spectrum more than the other then so be it. Just leave it be. For the broad minded fan there is much more to the event than the GC contest.
No other top team seems to come with that ultra specific goal like Sky, which might make a difference. They dont care about stage wins, sprint finishes or the domestiques’ plans for the rest of the year; all 8 are utterly in the service of Froome for those 3 weeks. Cant think of a challenger’s team like that
Astana – spot given to Nibs, who wasn’t in peak form and despite doing some work for Aru, had one eye on Olympics
Movistar – Same situation with El Bala.
Tinkoff – Sagan obviously takes a spot and gets support, but again can you have both if you want to win yellow?
What about a minimum combined weight of Bike and Rider….say 80kgs…..it would bring a lot more riders into contention in the mountains, which is where the organisers seem to pitch where their winners will come from.
My heart sank when I read that Froome would be starting the Vuelta. Chances are we will go from what might have been a closely contested, exciting race…to one that is likely dominated by Sky.
I agree with one of the earlier comments – it’s not necessarily anti Froome/Sky – it’s a rejection of the predictable. I’m a Brit, I should in theory be a Sky fan, but I’m generally indifferent. I just want to see close, exciting, unpredictable racing.
Yet again the best GT this year (unless we have a surprise at the Vuelta) will be the giro d’italia. It’s surely no coincidence that Sky had a bit of a shocker there?
I don’t think he’ll dominate in the same way, simply because he won’t have that same hyper focused, ultra strong domestique support (see my comment a few above).
Not saying he won’t be up there and in the mix, but, whilst they’ll have a strong lineup, I’d expect it to be the likes of Boswell, Roche etc, so don’t think they’ll be able to lock the race down like they do in the Tour
Is the possibility that a rider might win 2 grand tours for the first time for years not an exciting prospect? No one seemed to be upset when Contador tried it last year.
Yet Froome can race. He’s been in some good Vueltas.
And the Vuelta didn’t work out for Froome last year, so it’s not even like it’s a done deal. (Shame Dumoulin probably won’t be there, though.)
I wasn’t thrilled one bit by the GC non-battle. But I enjoyed various stages and the myriad of personal stories that make up the soap opera on wheels that is the Tour.
Trying to change the biggest race on the calendar cos of one rider and team seems OTT. Riders and teams rise and fall.
It now strikes me that actually the race people really want already exists. Its called La Vuelta a Espana. This year it looks like we might get Froome (the tired version, not the Tour version), a fresher Contador, an Aru who has disappointed all year and who knows what kind of Quintana. La Vuelta is not the Tour. You get riders and teams in all different kinds of form and levels of fitness. It adds…. unpredictability.
That’s the race you want, right?
I love the Vuelta, always have. Love the long stages through the scorching plains of nothing much, I can sit there for hours watching it quite happily and this years race could be another vintage. However, I will not cope with moaners, wingers and change fanatics who undoubtedly will drift from Le Tour to spout their undiluted and ignorant nonsense. I may give up the internet entirely, as i have read most of it now.
I am looking forward to being bored by the Yates brothers dominating the tour.
We are passing too quickly over the “low-tech” options. If banning power-meters doesn’t eliminate the need to pace oneself (something that is of course in the nature of cycling), it doesn’t mean that banning power-meters wouldn’t make pacing significantly more difficult, and would cause certainly more pacing mistakes, which should also be in the nature of the sport, and which is the cause of some of the most thrilling moments in cycling.
More than that, the burden of proof is wrongfully put on the “ban devices” camp. It is the promoter of devices who has to prove that a device improves the race (from a spectator/organizer POV, not from a rider/team POV), not the “low-tech” camp who has to prove that a device harms a race.
But, by all means, explore it! There are many possibilities to try to improve the sport by limiting equipment. But we won’t know their effectiveness until they are thoroughly implemented. ASO, be brave! Infuriate riders and teams if you must, but put into operation the idea that the TdF has become too easy, too “trainable” and too data-rich.
Just a thought (I haven’t scrolled down the comments so it may have been already mentioned).
Shouldn’t we be criticizing (or suggesting) that the big French teams (and especially sponsors) be braver and more ambitious in terms of committing bigger budgets? Surely the ROI for a big French sponsor would be off the charts in terms of bringing home a French tour winner as part of a ‘super team’ taking on the might of Sky. I suspect only in France with their TV ratings would this spend truly be justified rather than a vanity project (Sky / Tinkoff) …
After all, team budgets are small compared to other sports. Or should someone approach the owners of PSG to do the same? Surely that will be one way to win over haters of the PSG ‘project’ (i.e. fans of every other team!).
Or (which I suspect is the case) Froome is just the strongest rider at the moment even when teams are on an equal pound for pound footing and the same result would happen?
Maybe have all teams start with nine riders
Then on each rest day they have to reduce by two
So max of seven in the second week and five in the final week.
Smaller teams may have riders target stages in the first week or two and then narrow their focus for week three.
This could create some interest/speculation as to whom may be ‘sent home’ at each rest day.
Some teams would have it pre-determined whilst others let it be settled ‘on the road’
And of course injury/illness may intervene or unexpected form may cause a re-think
I would like to see a rule that to ride the Grand Tours you had to have finished a certain number of World Tour Race days. At least that way we would see the stars out on the road against each other more than just once a year and it would prevent the boring USPS/Sky etc moves to focus everything on the Tour.
I would also massively shrink (or even eliminate) the timetrials. They are really boring to watch on the day and have a knock on effect of making the race really boring when they have allowed riders to lock down grand tours. This is an old problem, not limited to Sky.
On the other hand, two long flat TTs may have given Tom a large lead which would have forced the climbers to attack.
If all the (GC relevant) stages suit climbers then the strongest climber will probably get a lead and defend it to win the race.
Am I imagining it, or did the race get “boring” just at the time we seem to have made real progress on banning drugs? A clean race emphasizes training and conditioning, things you bring to the starting line every day. In the bad old days, a lagging rider could just up their dosage and hope not to get caught. I prefer clean, but there’s probably a period of adaptation for training and tactics.
Boring or not surely Sky’s dominance is due to the fact they they bring the A Game every tour, no plan b, the whole team dedicated to one aim and doing this with one rider?
How many of the other big players can say that?
Look at other Teams
BMC 2 leaders
Astana 2 Leaders (by default)
Movistar 2 Leaders (by default)
The answer to this is so simple, just introduce a rule that every team has to have a rider as good as Froome
Oh my…!! That made my day….!!!
In my point of view, the real problem is the excessive importance of the Tour de France versus Giro and Vuelta, that accentuates the diferences of budget (and focus) between teams.
Obviously, the Tour de France is The Tour and gets an ahead start against Giro and Vuelta, but that partially happens because of the calendar slot that the Tour has. Europe is on vacations and July gets good weather so audiences pick up on tv and on the roadside.
Change the calendar between Giro and Tour and probably in less than a 10 year period the importance between races would be more even and the competition between cyclists more even as well.
Easier said than done because this idea would naturally cause a huge war in cycling, and it’s logistics is not also easy because ASO has a lot of other races to organize.
The proposal would be to create a rotational system between those three races for example.
Ban the team cars to where each team has to be self-sufficient without their team cars. This would make mechanics more of a star to prevent breakdowns, and teams would either have to change a flat quickly on their own or trade bikes. This would certainly make the race more interesting.
Thanks for a great article that has generated a lot of interesting discussion. But most of all for your “stochastic” reference. I often tell my wife that everything in life can be understood by reference to cycling. Now, I have added probability theory to the list.
This is an interesting article about the 1981 Giro which gave large time bonuses on all stages:
Now imagine if you implemented that 30-20-10 time bonus on all stages of the Tour, threw in two long flat time trials, more medium mountain stages and two really big summit finishes, as well as a couple of other mountain days with more normal finishes. Suddenly somebody like Valverde or even Alaphilippe are right in the mix and Dumoulin, or any strong time trialist, suddenly has a 5 minute advantage over the climbers. Now the climbers have to attack and a much broader range of riders are in the mix. Also, no team can bring an excess of one specific type of rider – as in 6 climbers. That’s what I’d do.
Also, just to add to that, you could make the first week almost completely flat, or at least flat stages mixed with rolling classic style stages. This would also help eliminate the possibility of one team fielding numerous strong climbers as ‘bodyguards’ for the flat would be needed.
Absolutely. Spot on. That’s it.
Richard S – and this was such a great idea the Giro repeated it how many times? It allowed Giovanni Battaglin to win fresh (really fresh, just days later) off his Vuelta triumph despite being a course and scheme set up to benefit Giuseppe Saronni. Not so sure a race like this would be an improvement over the current Tour.
Let’s get rid of trade teams and include the first 50 of the world cup standings in the Tour to race against each other without any teammate support. World cup races should allow the best climbers, time trialists and classic specialists to score points.
This will not happen, but it sure would be fun to watch.
Agreed. Also the football World Cup should be a proper unseeded knockout until the last sixteen, which could be held in smaller nations from Morocco to Chile, Egypt to Scotland etc. That won’t happen either…
all this focus on froome and sky… i don’t think they are the problem. sure they are immensely strong and single-minded about le tour and it would be great if the season was more balanced, recognising that there are plenty of better races then TdF but that doesn’t seem like happening anytime soon.
the issue is not the result – best rider won, as it should be. how we got there was dull. no attacking, just riders losing time when they couldn’t keep up with the group.
i think the issue is the 4 day block at the end of the race had everyone scared. that is just to big and hard of a course at the end of 3 weeks, everyone knew if they attacked before stage 20 they would pay for it later. then stage 20 was too wet for anyone to risk a move when they were on their knees already. we need alternate hard and easy stages so there is a chance to recover after attacking. maybe double hard days on the weekends to pull in the viewers (with rest days following) but otherwise you have to accept that if we want action one day, the riders need to be allowed a flat cruise and sprint finish.
i’m also in favour of big time bonuses at the finish to encourage attacking for the win rather than just finishing in the group.
Speaking of a re-engineering, I recall your posts on how Sagan might do when they changed the points system to try and reduce his green jersey domination.
In a recent CyclingQuotes article Aldag, current DS at Dimension Data laments that the points changes introduced in 2011 for more points at the intermediate sprints mean that no one will be able to touch Sagan for the foreseeable future (I was hoping for a bit of a challenge this year from Matthews, who on paper should have at least been close, but he had a bad Tour it seems).
The article states:
“Under the previous system, with fewer points in play in the intermediate sprints, the green points competition was one of the most contested of the Tour. Sprinters would fight and scrap for every point they could, and the jersey sometimes was not decided until the final sprint on the Champs-Élysées.”
If one applies the 2010 rules to this year’s sprinter-friendly Tour, how would Sagan have fared? What if we assume Cav stuck it through to the finale as well (and would that have made a difference?).
Love the content, keep up the good work.
I have it figured out, just have three weeks of alternating between cobbled stages and medium mountains, now that would make for exciting racing!
Why not create an incentive that offers a bigger prize than the maillot jaune, something like a golden jersey (or so) awarded to the best gc-racer over a season, accompanied by a huge cash prize. The winner can wear the jersey over the next season. Or a jackpot that gets awarded to the rider who wins all three gts. Every gt gives 10 percent or 5 of its prize money to this jackpot for every edition of the race. The jackpot fills up with time and the incentive to win all three gts gets ever greater with time. Rcs and aso would have to work together for this, that does not seem so likely atm. But it could create a stronger overarching story for all 3 gts
Sky need to be swayed away from targeting one race per year. Sure it’s the biggest race of the year (by far) but their almost single focus is in stark contrast to the other teams. For the money they spend this should NOT be financially rewarding for them.
I like the idea of riders on a TDF squad needing to qualify by way of meeting a set number of racing days.
In fairness they’ve had a good year across all races. Good classics campaign and took a proper team to Giro, just didn’t pan out with Landa. And they’ve hit the usual PN TA etc. They’ve been strong across most races
Re Team Substitutions
Just seen Le Ride http://www.nziff.co.nz/2016/christchurch/le-ride/
Great doco/movie about the 1928 TdF which allowed substitutions. Sir Hubert Oppenheimer was voiced over by Robbie McEwen.
Booked for a couple of Film Festivals but no distribution yet
Only 230+ comments, so what have we come up with? don’t tell me, a Camel.
203 for “The moment the Tour de France was won”, 235 and growing for “Reengineering the Tour de France” 😛
All interesting, none doable, I’ll add mine (which doesn’t require changes in budgets, team size, route, etc,) and I will guarantee will make for a more interesting race: have ASO (or whomever) announce, on the races eve, which jersey gets the final yellow jersey at the end of the race. I for one see no sense in always making “this years tour de France winner” the guy who finishes the race in the shortest time. Needs to be tweaked, maybe not the best young rider, maybe add some more categories – most dominant sprinter, most difficult races with no climbs greater than cat 2 – but make it a race any team has a chance of winning.
I read some of the comments, many Were dedicated to Froome and team Sky.
This piece is about a boring race. No contest not only for the yellow jersey, but also for the podium, for the 7th place, etc. Quintana was 3rd without a single move. I remember enjoying Wiggins tour, I like races that are battled. And battled for miles. 1 stage of this year Giro makes it for 10 last km mountain sprint at the Vuelta. The Tour was boring. Processions of sheep, a flock. Somebody mentioned La Vie Claire dominating in 1985 and 86. Are you kidding? Attacks from the Tourmalet, miles of breakaway with Roche and Lemond, Hinault dramas… Those were dominated by a team BUT FUN and with Poels (hinault) running against Froome (Lemond). I like Froome. I hate the sport I’ve seen in July.
Perhaps make each rider’s Grand Tour eligibility contingent on some level of success or at least completion of the previous twelve months’ WorldTour races, using a point-based system based on prestige and results. Perhaps wildcards for the previous year’s podium/jerseys.
This would reduce the bifurcation of stage race contenders from one-day specialists thereby making GTs less predictable. Resulting transfer market would likely spread career domestiques more equitably, as everyone would need current results to ride in the big show. It would also ensure that yellow jerseys are steeped more in the broader traditions of road racing rather than in mere lab perfection.
Would be more sporting.
Another thought, which doesn’t require team changes, rule changes, and is already being done each year – just tweak it: on mountain stages, put the mountains FIRST. Raise your hand if you enjoy waiting for the final 15-20 minutes in a 4+ hour race. Instead, we have the mountain goats putting 10 minutes to the peloton, then trying to stay away.