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Rethinking The 3km Rule

Andre Greipel sprint

Look at the image above and what do you see? André Greipel’s on his way to winning Stage 6 of the 2015 Giro d’Italia but look again through the gap of riders to the background and the pink jersey sat on the road. It’s Alberto Contador who has suffered a crash in the final hundred metres. What was he doing in the sprint you might ask and the answer is trying to stay out of trouble. The irony is that in a stage race those aiming for the overall classification have to be near the front even in the finish of a sprint stage to avoid losing time but this only raises the risks.

Is it time to rethink the 3km rule and reserve the finish of certain stages for the sprinters?

The Explainer
The 3km rule? Here’s the exact rule in question from the race rulebook:

In the event that a rider or riders suffer a fall, puncture or mechanical incident in the last 3 kilometres and such an incident is duly recognised, the rider or riders involved are credited with the same finishing time of the rider or riders they were with at the time of the incident.

It’s applied to all the fast finishes and waived for summit finishes. The idea is to insure riders against time losses in the event of a crash in the final kilometres. If they crash or have a mechanical in the hustle and bustle of the finish then there’s no time to get up, get a replacement bike and get back. In order to deploy the rule the 3km to go point has much of the same set-up as the finish line with timing mats and a camera to record riders as they pass by.

The History
We go back to the 1937 Paris-Nice race. Roger Lapébie is leading the overall classification as the race reaches Marseille and its famous Stade Vélodrome, then an actual cycling track. At the entrance to the stadium Lapébie loses control on a corner, crashes and loses time. But the officials seem to take pity and decide the velodrome is only there to decide the order of the stage finishes and they stop the clock for the timing of riders as they entered the stadium rather than when the crossed they finish line. More details hard to find but it set a precedent where an incident late in the race doesn’t have to incur a time penalty.

Now we jump to 1972 and Paris-Nice again. Eddy Merckx was trying to win everything and as he fought contested the bunch sprint into St Etienne he crashed and lost 47 seconds. But the commissaires again decided not to dock the time and credited him as arriving with the same time as the others he was sprinting with. From this moment onwards officials applied the rule that a crash or mechanical in the final kilometre would not incur a time penalty. The one kilometre rule was extended to three kilometres in 2005.

The Problem Today
The 3km rule is a good one but it doesn’t solve everything as by definition it only applies in the event of a mishap. The big problem is that the GC riders and their bodyguards get in the the way of the sprinters and their sprint trains just at the time of the race when everyone is fighting for position: there’s little room and no quarter given. This happens because the field can split in the run in and no GC contender wants to give up time to rivals because of something random like this. Take the last Giro d’Italia and Stage 5 where there was a clear one second time gap between the 13th and 14th rider over the line meaning those riders from 14th place down were given the same time as the 14th rider who crossed the line four seconds after the stage winner André Greipel.

Last year Chris Froome finished no lower than 28th during the opening week’s sprint stages, with the exception of Stage 6 where he was 110th after being caught in the same crash that saw Tony Martin crash out of the race. It creates a vicious circle were the GC teams fight to be near the front which makes the front more dangerous so the GC teams have to fight to be near the front.

There’s a chorus of voices saying something needs to change. It’s not deafening and it’s not the sport’s top problem but it’s worth reflecting on. Three recent voices on this: Team Sky’s sprinter Elia Viviani said so on TV during the Giro d’Italia; Bernard Eisel told The Cycling Podcast he was annoyed to see Team Sky crowding the sprint with 2.5km to go; fellow blogger Marc Madiot, cycling’s voice of conservatism, even agrees in his last cyclingnews piece:

“It’s probably time for the UCI to review the rule of allocating one-second difference when there’s a gap between two riders in the middle of the bunch. Bike racing is more and more dangerous. We can’t forget that several riders died this year. In a Grand Tour, two types of riders are under a lot of pressure in the flat stages: the sprinters, of course, and the GC contenders, who can’t afford to lose seconds in a split after having worked so much on marginal gains, as some say. Regulations have to evolve.”

The Solution
The technology is in place already with timing mats and a finish line photo finish camera placed at the 3km to go point to record riders already. So if times are taken at the 3km to go point in the event of a crash, why not take them for everyone at this point? This means the GC contenders can roll in knowing they will not lose time after this point and let the sprinters get on with trading elbows, diving into corners and generally fighting for the win. This isn’t an original idea, it’s been suggested but perhaps it’s time has come.

There are arguments against this:

  • It’s artificial, we are no longer taking the time used to complete the course by the rider but making synthetic adjustments. We do this already by giving riders who finish in a bunch the same time as the first rider across the line and through the use of a time bonuses but perhaps this is just further complication?
  • It shunts the problem rather than solving it as the new finish line for the GC riders becomes the 3km to go point so they race for it and their teams jostle for position to reach this point

There is even a potential perverse effect of the existing 3km rule, at least in theory. If you are an overall contender then you know you can tangle with others in the finale because if you crash the rule will rescue you from your mishap. This is a case of moral hazard.

One idea would be to test the rule in some races to evaluate the outcomes on safety, the storytelling of the race and other matters before deciding whether to make it an official rule or not.

Conclusion
With the speed and rivalry sprints are dangerous enough without the spindly-legged yellow jersey crowd trying to get in the way. The 3km rule already exists in the event of a crash but if it applied to all riders all the time then this could help make sprint finishes marginally safe. This would add artifice to the overall classification but we do this already with the existing 3km rule so any change is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, all riders still have to complete the course. A growing number of voices are calling for this to be explored and a trial in some stage races could be worth exploring.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • EricS Monday, 4 July 2016, 2:09 pm

    So if there is a breakaway that stays away at the 3km mark, but not as far as the actual finish line, who would get the days stage? The leading time at the 3km mark or the sprint winner – seems very confusing. It could even be possible for the time at the 3km mark to change the Yellow jersey, but come the actual finish line the rider may be far back.

    Could you also clarify why there are timing mats at the 3km mark currently. The rule states ‘the rider or riders involved are credited with the same finishing time of the rider or riders they were with at the time of the incident’ – not at the 3km mark.

    • Sam H Monday, 4 July 2016, 2:58 pm

      The timing mats at 3km are there to judge who was in what group at 3km, if you have a crash you get the time of the group you were in when the crash occurred, you need to know who is in the group in that case, if there was a split before 3km and you are on the wrong side, you can only get the time of the first person to cross the line from that group.

  • ocaz Monday, 4 July 2016, 2:13 pm

    Other point is it could be abused too, say there is a climb just before end of a fast finish – rider is struggling after expanding a lot of energy on the climb staying with the pack, knows they’re empty for final run in. Could easily fake a mechanical or take a deliberate (allbeit more controlled) bump into the barrier to take time of rivals rather than lose time.

    Taking times at 3km to go like you say just creates a second finish line which I personally don’t like. Could it not be an unwritten rule just as easy for peloton to come to an informal agreement between riders that those fighting for GC don’t duke it out at the end?

    Froome seems to be very apt at gaining a few seconds on rivals by getting right side of splits in sprints. No easy answer but the peloton itself creates this pressure with everyone fighting for position that isn’t there for everyone. No easy answer but could the final 3 km of courses be better planned to allow for wider roads giving more room?

    Personally I like it the way it is

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 4 July 2016, 5:06 pm

      The rule as it is can be exploited this way too, a rider can fake a mechanical within the final 3km if they get cramp or take a bad line through a corner and lose ground etc. In all cases there are shadows that can be gamed by the participants.

  • Dave Monday, 4 July 2016, 2:25 pm

    The current arrangement might not be perfect, but I don’t think that an ‘arrivée fictif’ on the outskirts of town is the answer.

    • Colin Monday, 4 July 2016, 11:19 pm

      Right, having a separate finish line 3km before the finish proper just brings the problem forward by 3km. Less teams or less riders seems to be the only solution to the safety.

      • Anonymous Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 5:07 pm

        Except that now you just have GC or the sprint teams fighting for position, not both

  • Dr Manhattan Monday, 4 July 2016, 2:27 pm

    I agree on the goal to remove the GC contenders from the sprinters’ arena, but every solution seems to bring another set of questions. For the solution outlined by INRNG: One would want to differentiate between sprints and uphill finishes, but how much should a finish be allowed to rise to the line before it is no longer a sprint? Also, stopping the time at 3K, you might have 75 % of the field sitting up, which would certainly detract from the spectacle associated with a bunch sprint (can it even be called a bunch sprint at this point?).

    Certainly not dismissing the idea of safer sprinting, simply stating the obvious, that there’s no solution without flaws. Makes sense to tryi out different options, not picking the solution first, then regretting it…

  • Richard S Monday, 4 July 2016, 2:31 pm

    The GC winner is supposed to be the best alround rider in the race aren’t they (we’ll just brush past the lack of time trials for now) and so surely avoiding trouble in the finale is a skill they should possess. The alternative is not getting involved in the hurly burly of a sprint and losing a second or two, ten tops. Would this be the end of the world? You either risk everything for the few seconds, or you don’t and gamble that its a loss you can cope with. You never know, you might be the guy who hangs backs and benefits from all your rivals crashing and breaking. Nobody forces the GC men up their, its a choice they make and they get no sympathy from me.

    • Richard S Monday, 4 July 2016, 2:34 pm

      just to add to my above post the drama of the whole bunch hurtling to the line is one of the things that makes cycling worth watching. The alternative is the last stage of the Giro this year where you had about 8 riders left in it for the sprint and it looked down sanitised water down rubbish. Is that how you want every sprint stage? Certain sports can become too safe and end up losing what makes them special.

  • Ken Monday, 4 July 2016, 2:54 pm

    I like to see the GC decided with the contenders all on top of their bikes. I see no problem with, where appropriate, one finish line for the GC (3km out?) and another for the stage. If you want the excitement of finishing within towns, with road furniture, corners etc., that lets the risk-taking sprinters shine and keeps the GC contenders safer. The alternative is to force all finishes onto wide, straight roads, but that is boring.

    Locating the GC finish line will require care, so 3km shouldn’t be a fixed rule. I can see situations where the GC teams all bunch together at the front to avoid gaps, then let up on the gas to let the sprinters’ teams fight it out for the stage win: two exciting finishes for the price of one! In the mountains or other unsuitable terrain, the stage and GC finish lines could be together.

    • Richard S Monday, 4 July 2016, 3:05 pm

      Sprint finished should look to find long straight roads without road furniture. Those are what provide the uneeded danger, not everyone finishing at the same place and time.

      • Sam Wednesday, 6 July 2016, 9:57 am

        Increasingly difficult in a country that – like other European countries – have seen road furniture proliferate at an unbelievable rate over the last 10-15 years in the centres and approaches into its villages, towns and cities

  • ShortsNL Monday, 4 July 2016, 3:12 pm

    Strongly disagreed.

    The 3km Rule essentially semi-neutralizes the race and makes the last 3km a sprinter fest. Extending this rule not count any time gaps regardless of cause makes the final kms, and therefore almost by definition the most important kms, neutralized.

    My issue with this is that it’s an artificial cover up for a two problems and not a solution for their root causes. Root cause problems:
    – High risk of crashes in last KM
    -Small gaps in sprinting peloton leading to time gaps based on first rider in each group

    Root cause solutions:
    -Decrease the amount of riders in the peloton
    -Better course design and less road obstacles/turns
    -measure time gaps in groups not between first rider in each group, but instead last rider in first group first rider in second group.

    I don’t have a problem with the 3km as is, but expanding on it further is a step in the wrong direction and not a solution. I feel exactly the same way with the Champs Elysées stage neutralization, to me it’s just preposterous. Might as well make the Tour 20 stages.

    • BAD Monday, 4 July 2016, 3:38 pm

      The time gap relativity is certainly worthy of more consideration.

      Losing a relatively large amount of time because of a one-second split in a huge peloton is likely to be a primary cause of this constant need to be in the front at the pointy end of a sprint stage.

      As expressed above, it may not be an ideal solution – what is? – but it may be one of the least worst solutions. It would be interesting to know what Viviani, Eisel, Madiot and other stakeholders thought of it.

    • Anonymous Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 5:46 am

      Your third point would be my solution. If you don’t measure the time gap from first to last in a group, then I think it’s unfair to measure the time gap from first in one group all the way through to first of the next group…

  • Anonymous Monday, 4 July 2016, 3:22 pm

    I really don’t care much what sky says. If they would stop being part of the problem, maybe, but till then, I don’t care.
    Apart from that: It’s cycling. Count on teams and riders to abuse this rule as much as they can. I’d rather look for the peloton to restore some order and respect and finally do themselves what they ask from others. I’m totally on Sagan’s side on that. Just because it is a bike race doesn’t mean you have the right to endanger everybody else. It is not war, just sport.
    And I really don’t like this attitude of letting everything escalate till it explodes and then cry for rules and give up a freedom which it seems they can’t handle.

    • Vitus Monday, 4 July 2016, 6:49 pm

      Full ACK

  • Eskorrik Asko Monday, 4 July 2016, 3:36 pm

    I always thought the one-second rule was a bit problematic: if a rider two, five or ten riders ahead of you left a gap, it meant everyone in the same group got a worse time – but if he didn’t, everyone behind him got a better time. And both were equally “unearned” or “unjust”.
    But I think we can live with this, it doesn’t happen too often, at least in a decisive manner.

    Regarding the three-kilometer rule: we could decide that the 3km mark is the finish line for the GC result and the finish line, naturally enough, for the stage result.
    A breakaway or riders caught between the two would be rewarded for the effort and courage. Those not involved in the fight for the stage victory could ease out of the way of the sprinters and their trains.

    Who would lose? Those GC top riders with the ability to stay with sprinters or with teams strong enough to help pull them to the finish line.
    But this is the result of a fifteen-second brain storm. You can probably easily punch holes in it!

  • RikVII Monday, 4 July 2016, 3:39 pm

    As EricS said: What’s about a breakaway finished after after 3K? Rider X is 20 sec in front and he finishes 79th in the bunch. He finishes 79th an wins 20 sec to the others? Com on!

    Or: A rider “finisseur” attacks at 2K – as Cancellara did several times. He crosses the finish line first 5 sec before the bunch. Gains he the 5 sec? Or not, because the finish line is not the time keeping line. No way!

    My proposition: In the event that a rider or riders suffer a fall, puncture or mechanical incident, a physical weakness or loss of motivation or any other mishap, the rider or riders involved are credited with the same finishing time of the rider or riders they were with at the time of the incident. No more 3K-rule. Any mishap finishes the race. Finally cycling would be secure! LOL

  • hoh Monday, 4 July 2016, 3:45 pm

    What’s important in this post is that Mr Inner Ring is not suggest starting the process in TDF right away. Rather this should be tried/experimented in smaller races.

    We can mostly agree that that “taking GC teams out of the equation of sprinting finishes” is a good idea, but does not know how to do it. From a design/lean startup prospective, the surest way of finding that “how to do it” is to experiment with an imperfect solution (eg. 3km time line) and see what happens with different type of finishes.

    Whilst the trailed solution may not be perfect, outcome of the trail (how riders respond) may very well suggest a better solution and one car start to iterate with these solutions.

    Besides, without trail, it’s just very objective “I think…”. The trails will give you real data of what will happen.

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 4 July 2016, 4:36 pm

      Exactly, it could be worth exploring to see if it works or not on several levels.

      • Ecky Thump Monday, 4 July 2016, 7:00 pm

        If safety is the reason for any change, the solution surely is the choice / design of the finish and it’s run-in.
        Some of the finishes are designed with the local Tourist Board / television more in mind than the riders.
        Straighter, wider finishes would clean up a lot of problems.
        And barrier / crowd control and street furniture removal / mitigation could also be improved.

        I wonder, also Inner Ring, if computer simulation could be used to study how a mass of bodies moving at 65kmph will flow through a given route finish?

        But, as Richard S, points out above, it does anaesthetise the spectacle to a degree.

        • Ronin Monday, 4 July 2016, 8:10 pm

          Straight, wide roads take interesting tactical problems and complexities out of the equation, making the sprinting game even more monolithic than some people already think it is.

          This is just a question. Are the bad crashes in the closing kms really due to corners and chicanes? Or, might corners and chicanes be a lot like the rain? They alert riders to dangers and hence led to slower speeds and the exercise of greater caution? It’s not clear to me at all that straight, wide roads would clean up a lot of the problems. A lot of bad crashes happen on straight, wide roads.

      • RQS Monday, 4 July 2016, 8:54 pm

        Maybe the solution is to increase the allowed space between cyclists in order to reduce time gaps. If you know you can leave a bit more space you will.

        The main issue at the moment is that GC riders and their teams are crowding out the finish in order to avoid splits, but if a split doesn’t happen then you leave more space. What that space is, I don’t know, but such a rule is less likely to affect the GC contenders battle. In fact you might end up with more yellow jersey wearers based on count back rules. Win win.

        I think the second finish line just complicates matter and you might end up with two lots of crashes pre and post. And the effect on breakaways would just be confusing. And you’d likely get two sprints with the second just being for show.

        • how Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 4:26 pm

          The “gap” problem can very well be another solution. But without a trail, you don’t know if it is “the” solution.

  • LeoT Monday, 4 July 2016, 3:51 pm

    The root cause of the problem isn’t the 3km rule itself – it’s the timing rules (you get the same time as the person in front of you if less than 1 second behind them). The GC contenders are trying to stay up front so that they can get on the right side of any splits that might happen. So maybe this is where we need to concentrate.

    So, let’s say, in the event of a “flat” stage (where the 3km rule applies) then we should extend the timing gap to 5 seconds. This then reduces the likelihood of a time gap happening. If we still want to encourage a late breakaway (to steal a few seconds) then we could start applying the 5 seconds gap to finishers from 10th place back.

    • Vedrafjord Monday, 4 July 2016, 4:55 pm

      Agreed – I came here to say the same thing.

      • Eskorrik Asko Monday, 4 July 2016, 8:22 pm

        Extending the time gap would indeed be a beautifully simple solution to the problem: no need for long explanations so viewers don’t get confused, no new equipment requirements for the organizers, not much opportunity or point for a wily rider or time to exploit the rulesolution to the problem.
        At 40 km/h 5 s would be about 55 m, though, and perhaps 3 s would be sufficient.

        • SamA Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 7:44 am

          Yes, was thinking exactly the same thing… Two or three seconds should be enough of a change though.

    • Ben Monday, 4 July 2016, 8:19 pm

      Madiot’s article cites rider deaths, which is a big deal. I thought, though, that there were more deaths due to race motos than sprint finish crashes? I don’t recall any from sprint crashes, and Madiot’s article didn’t cite specifics.

      One thing people aren’t discussing is what impact a rule like this would have on novice fans. The sport desperately needs to grow its audience, and this is extremely confusing, and counterintuitive.

      All that said, increasing the length of the minimum time gap to get a split between groups seems like the right method — with computer timing the size of the time gap in the last 3km that constitutes a gap in GC timing could be easily adjusted. 1 seems too short, but five seems too long. 2 seconds? This could be adjusted and experimented with quite easily from video. Also, taking the time gap from tail to nose instead of nose to nose (of the groups!) should reduce the impact of a split.

  • portionofegga Monday, 4 July 2016, 4:08 pm

    GC teams? What of Tinkoff? They would still have Sagan and team up front, as would Etixx and the French teams have a mixture of sprinters, a top 15 GC rider, roulers. BMC have GVA and Gilbert in the past.

    Truth be told only pure GC team is Sky and that’s the problem.

    • Alex222 Monday, 4 July 2016, 4:25 pm

      Yes it’s all Sky’s fault

    • Vedrafjord Monday, 4 July 2016, 5:06 pm

      That makes no sense whatsoever. Firstly, FDJ and Astana are also GC only and had no contenders for the first two stages. Secondly, it’s about the total number of riders. So if (hypothetically) Tinkoff put two riders minding Contador, that’s three riders at the front at the end of a flat stage who don’t need to be there, even if the rest of the team is towing Sagan.

      This problem has been slowly growing for the last two decades, for example Tyler Hamilton was complaining about it 13 years ago, so trying to pin this on Sky is stupid.

      • Donkey Kong Monday, 4 July 2016, 5:21 pm

        Nailed it. Unfortunately, trying to get the stupids not to pin everything on Sky or the UCI is like trying to nail jelly to the wall.

        • Alex222 Monday, 4 July 2016, 8:26 pm

          Absolutely

  • Touriste-Routier Monday, 4 July 2016, 4:32 pm

    While I understand the problem and the suggestions, I think there is danger at looking at this situation in isolation. Is it not better to first figure out how races should look overall?

    What is the spectacle the organizers are after? What are the stories that are going to drive viewership, media coverage, and sponsorship? What drama is going to keep people interested and glued to their seats?

    A lot of the romanticism of the grand tours comes from the golden age, where the racing was much different. There were fewer teams, fewer riders (overall), and the time gaps could be larger, and would often swing back and more widely. Today’s racing is much more analytical, and the gaps tighter.

    The law of unintended consequences often rears it’s ugly head when fixes are implemented without thinking them through in wider context.

    I think a lot of positive things can come about via a reduction in the size of the field, and the size of the teams, not just on a sporting level, but in the logistics as well (including a slight reduction in the caravan size). But will this meet the overall goals of those who make the races happen?

    Having 2 “finish lines” might solve 1 problem, but I think it will cause confusion and will be ripe for abuse, and changes the race narrative. Perhaps re-looking how time gaps are judged, and only clicking the stopwatch at notable gaps could be part of the solution for the bunch sprint stages. Is one truly in a different finishing group when there is 2 seconds between you and the rider in front of you when there are 125 riders more or less “together”? Out on the road these tiny gaps wouldn’t call for the peloton to be deemed separate groups.

    • Anonymous Monday, 4 July 2016, 6:00 pm

      Absolutely.
      First: It will further inflate the many rules that could be totally void, if teams and riders would act with more responsibility. Throwing away litter everywhere is just a symptom of that same problem. We all are responsible for our own actions, I think cycling needs a bit more of that.

      Second: It would further alienate fans that aren’t hardcore fans-how to explain when some just sits up: “Don’t they have to ride the same distance for the race as the others? Sure, they have, it just doesn’t count. Then why do they have to ride it? To finish the race. I thought they have already finished at that imaginary line? … ” Good luck with that

      Third: This is – like many others -a problem created by the riders and teams themselves. They should be the ones reflecting and solving them. Who knows, might do them some good

      If teams and riders continue down that road of WWE- wrestling make believe, meaning having an alibi break with 4min. upfront everyday and this is “the race”, while the rest does a 3km effort near the finish, there is not much sense in watching these races or even holding these races. At least not, when so many people put in a lot of work and money to show that fiasco live on tv. It’s respectless from teams and riders to ride 100km chatting with each other, like today. It is respectless towards the ones making this race happen and towards everybody who spends time to watch them.

      So the real task is to find out, how racing can get back it’s meaning in this time of inequality.
      If in a race only a handful of riders have any chance on anything and the rest is just riding along, packfill, neither the race, nor the riders really have much right to exist. Cycling needs to get alive and real again. Growing, moving homogeneous instead of that artificial crap that has happened the last years. The gap is just to big between a few teams and the rest. I think the discussion about the 3km is the totally wrong discussion to have. Let’s talk about a mandatory number of racedays for riders, so they can’t stay up high all year and just come down to ruin a few races, let’s talk about a WT with only 12 teams (max!) and let’s talk about a WT with a same budget for every team, so that we really get to see who is a good manager and who are the good riders, when all have the same chances.

      • Ben Monday, 4 July 2016, 8:21 pm

        +1 to salary caps.

  • Bill Monday, 4 July 2016, 4:37 pm

    Another potential issue. Early in a race when time gaps are small it could push the onus to catch the breakaway (and minimise any time gaps) onto the GC teams, leaving the sprint teams at full strength to contest the finish. Still too many riders in finish, just a different composition. Especially as, anecdotally, more crashes seem to be caused by tired lead out riders going backwards than by GC teams being in the mix.

  • Paul Monday, 4 July 2016, 4:40 pm

    In the instance of Stage 2 was not Contador was also involved because the Other GC contenders were competing for a finish placing as well as trying to stay out of trouble? Froome being 10th?

  • Tim Monday, 4 July 2016, 4:53 pm

    Solution:
    1 – Keep the 3km marker to prevent crashes from having a GC impact
    2 – Make the time gap threshold something more like 3 seconds on flat (all?) stages to keep the GC riders from having to worry about being on the right side of a split.

    GC riders are then covered in the event of a crash, and aren’t as worried about being on the wrong side of the peloton should it split.

    • Dave Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 1:48 am

      I would agree with this as a simple and workable solution, but require a group to be a minimum size to have the protection of being gapped, perhaps the same size as a full team in the race concerned. If just a couple of riders lose the wheel, let them wear the consequences!

      The racing shouldn’t be artificially rigged for the sprinters, riders should still be able to make a late attack and claim a few seconds. The most thrilling flat finishes are the ones where it doesn’t go to the script, remember Bakelants holding off the pack by one second to take the yellow jersey?

      • Dave Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 1:56 am

        Oh, and for flat finishing circuits with more than a couple of laps, the 3km rule should apply to the start of the bell lap rather than 3km.

  • King Boonen Monday, 4 July 2016, 5:26 pm

    I proposed the same thing on a popular cycling website last year (I think). Seems like a very good idea.

  • Powermetre Monday, 4 July 2016, 5:38 pm

    I think these concerns have been exacerbated by some poor finish line locations.

    If the riders safety concerns are to be treated genuinely, then this would be more favourable than any further amendments to the 3km rule.

  • morten Reippuert Monday, 4 July 2016, 6:24 pm

    Bring back the 1k roule and only for riders who acually do crash – it will cause the GC riders to be more cautious when mingling in the sprint finnishes and ride slower sturdier tires.

    GC cycling is not a power to weight ratio competition – even though team Sky an co would like it to be.

  • trounder Monday, 4 July 2016, 7:00 pm

    The problem with the current 3k rule is that it has been extended to 3k. The irony of the 3k-rule history is illustrative: the same-time concept was intended to help the greatest all arounder stay competitive for the overall in a stage race because he was trying to win BOTH the stage AND the overall. Those days are long past in the grand tours.

    Maybe this rule has actually lost it’s usefulness for the big 3 tours. Unintended consequences anyway you look at it.

    Another great conversation starter Inrng! Thanks.

  • BC Monday, 4 July 2016, 7:52 pm

    Please not yet more sanitation of bike racing. It’s a bike race, from point A to Point B. The fastest rider wins, and there are no victory bouquets for those who unfortunately fall off ! It is that simple. It is not unknown for non sprinters to attack in the final kms for victory or victory attempts. The very idea of manipulating stages in order that one type of rider can have freedom to win over others, will solve absolutely nothing, and make watching the event pretty dull and meaningless. As long as I can remember, there have been crashes in bike races, there is simply no way they can be avoided. Road furniture, radios screaming for riders to move up and Moto’s present far greater risks today, yet little if anything has been done to mitigate against these risks. Sprinting is a dangerous and risky occupation, as anyone who has muscled their way in a bunch sprint will know. GC riders already have the option to lose a few seconds if they feel that is the prudent course of action. Having probably eight lead out trains and their sprinter jockeying for position, whilst GC contenders trail in at their leisure, will not eliminate the risk. On top of all that, who is going to decide who would be allowed to complete as a ‘sprinter’ ? I am not adverse to reducing risk, but is there no limit to the number of strategies being put forward that simply make the racing less exciting, whilst at the same time doing little if anything to reduce risk. Sagan probably got it right when he said there is no respect between the riders. I am waiting for the suggestion that all riders to get off their bikes and run the final 3 km !

  • Stefan Monday, 4 July 2016, 8:47 pm

    Why not also experiment in the other direction: take exact times of every rider on the finish line (instead of the same time for the whole bunch). Maybe the GC contender would then be forced to have a “sprint train” and as result a much smaller bunch would arrive at the line?

    • Noel Monday, 4 July 2016, 10:40 pm

      Ha! I’d love to see Greg Henderson barrelling down the finishing straight at 70kph and then some skinny gc climber attempting to come off his wheel….

  • weeclarky Monday, 4 July 2016, 8:49 pm

    I think there needs to be more thought on preventing injury on accidents. For example [totally random, and admittedly stupid!]

    * Giant Alpecin are using road rash proof clothing – presumably we’re not far from some sort of padded clothing with mini air bags in it [one company makes airbag helmets but they are a long way away from pro level].

    * What about padded road barriers, with a gap to the crowd? at the moment they don’t always cover the legs of the barriers, the crowd can reach into a sprint train etc, which is totally crazy

    * Could a portable road surface be put down? A kind of rubber mat for the last 3k. Like the above it would require new tech to be feasible and portable. Most broken bones are from hitting the ground rather than other stuff.

    * another option is to make the bike deliberately slower – like tennis balls designed to go slow to improve the game. For example, they could use a junior gearing so that sprints are done spinning – so sitting down. Might be safer? certainly amusing to see greipel doing 180rpm…!

    I guess its hard to see what tech will be available – eg the helmets of today were impossible to imagine 50 years ago. But actually thats the only real advance…

    • RQS Monday, 4 July 2016, 9:06 pm

      These are like the best inventions of Professor Crackpot in one solitary post and I have to say I love it. Whatever you’re drinking I want some. But come on slower bikes….?!? You might as well watch golf instead.

      • weeclarky Monday, 4 July 2016, 9:59 pm

        thanks! i have had a couple 😉

      • Vitus Monday, 4 July 2016, 10:58 pm

        Where can I get a patent for inflatable velodromes? The wood is far too hard!

      • T-72 Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 7:57 am

        It is inconceivable to have a bunch sprint without the risk for a high velocity crash with riders piling up on top of each other. This risk will have to be accepted if the event format should stay. What can be achieved in terms of added safety with equipment modifications is relatively minor.

        The FIS (the skiing equivalent of the UCI) have introduced rules on ski design for giant slalom which make it harder to execute a flawless turn, in which all the kinetic energy is conserved throughout the curve. With these new designs, skiers are more likely to slide their skis sideways in part of the curve, which means braking just a little bit. The intended effect is reduction in knee ligaments injuries which put athletes out of action for the rest of the season. Time will tell if that works, but in the meantime we still have ski racing and as long as all athletes have same rules to follow it is fair competition – even though to purists it has lost a little, as the perfect turns are now more rare.
        That goes to say you can modify equipment for safety, but alpine skiing only has time trials. The primary safety precaution is thus to let each athlete crash individually, if they must, not the details of equipment design. This won’t work for cycling road races, the event format itself is the main risk.
        I think the most interesting suggestion here is to use individual measured time for all riders (not group times). That means there will be some time differences always but the intense focus on a few seconds here and there may go away – most a Grand Tours are won or lost by gaps of minutes, after all.

  • Othersteve Monday, 4 July 2016, 10:09 pm

    Less teams in GT’s and one less rider per team complement.

    Less body mass screaming down the road, less road rash.

  • kazan Monday, 4 July 2016, 10:51 pm

    Eh, where are all the crashes caused by GC guys in the final sprint then? Show me the evidence, because there doesn’t seem to be any. Morkov isn’t GC, he’s the frikken lanterne rouge.

    • Vitus Monday, 4 July 2016, 11:02 pm

      Of course not. Putting every non-sprinter away could have the opposite effect, if all sprinter trains think “hey, now there’s nobody else to care about, now we can really have headbutt contest all the way for 3k” Rr as it known in dictionary: to pull a Bouhanni

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 12:11 am

      See the photo at the top for one.

      • Vitus Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 1:30 am

        This finish in Le Havre was an uphill one, where, of course, GC riders always will try to fight for some possible time gaps over contenders. Not quite the best example for a sprint finish IMHO

  • specialist Monday, 4 July 2016, 10:57 pm

    Not my blog but an interesting suggestion from earlier this year:
    http://djconnel.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/proposed-update-to-1-second-gap-rule-3.html
    For small gaps just add the time between groups to the time of the later group, taken from the last rider in the front group.

  • Girona Monday, 4 July 2016, 11:05 pm

    I really think Inrng is on the right path here, it’s definitely worth trying. I don’t find the opposing arguments above fully convincing. Would it make road racing too complex? Come on, the complexity is the beauty of this sport, with different types of riders with different goals, many competitions going on in one race, different leader shirts and so on. Not to mention intermediary sprints that may affect not only points classification but sometimes also GC.
    A 3 km GC-rule could benefit the sprinting and make for a true sprinter’s contest.
    Someone argued that a GC contender who’s tired at the end of a stage might get away easily, let’s say if it’s uphill in the final and his/her opponents manage to pull out a gap (the way Contador lost time on stage 2). But this is not relevant, because the existing 3 km rule is normally not applied in hilly finishes anyway, and a new one shouldn’t be either.

    • RQS Monday, 4 July 2016, 11:51 pm

      The best solutions are usually the most simple and elegant by design. This seems cumbersome. You would potentially have problems with breakaways ‘winning’ at the 3km marker and then teams of sprinters thundering through for the sprint finish – that might add to the confusion with riders coasting in just as the herd are gearing up, with potentially disastrous consequences. Two finish lines is complex and unnecessary.

      The simpler solution is the time gap. Increase this and then suddenly it doesn’t matter so much that a gap forms. The spaces can become wide and easy.

      However, it’s interesting listening to Sagan lambast the peloton. He was saying it is unsafe and that there’s less control. I think he’s just a bit unnerved, and that this is pretty common for the start. I don’t think I’ve seen riders with pumps either.

      One thing that has the potentially to take the sting out of these early days is have a prologue, so the competition for yellow is not so strong. Instead it becomes more about the stage win/sprint.

  • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 12:17 am

    By coincidence this topic has become an issue for some of the riders with tweets from Kittel, Eisel and Dan Martin among others this evening. It turn out there are plans to trial a change in the rules as suggested and to see how it works, probably in some minor stage races only for now.

  • John Liu Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 12:20 am

    Seems like changing “1 second gap” to 5 second gap, or even 10 second gap, would solve the problem. In other words, a GC rider who crosses the 3 km line in the lead group can ease off the pedals, get out of the way, safely follow the sprinters to the finish, and get the same time as the sprint winner, as long as there isn’t a 5 second, or even 10 second, gap between the riders ahead of him.

    5 seconds is a sizeable gap, 10 seconds is a big gap, Froome and Quintana can be confident that their domestiques won’t leave that big a gap to the tail of the sprint trains.

    This won’t solve everyone’s problem. Contador will find a way to crash and Porte will find another mechanical in his bottomless bag of bad luck. But some things are beyond help.

  • AK Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 12:49 am

    Fewer riders and a time gap measured from the last rider in the front group to first rider in the last group sounds like a great plan to me. I don’t think any of the other proposals, wether by INRNG or the commenters, are very attractive.

  • Cormac O'B Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 12:55 am

    I remember a race recently where the organizers said that the time was taken at roughly 3KM to go and it ended with only about 20/30 people sprinting at the end?
    Would be dreadful if all stages ended like that.

    • Dave Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 1:32 am

      It was the Giro d’Italia final stage, where the roads were very wet and so the time was taken on the first pass through the finish line with about 60km to go, not 3km (roughly half a lap).

  • STS Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 1:39 am

    I agree that the problem needs to be addressed. For the rider’s safety, but also for the sake of the race, for the sake of our entertainment which the GC battle can be when all the contenders can take part in it and it hasn’t come down to a two horse race at the start of the first mountain stage due to crashes and mishaps late in the race.
    And it’s already been done in other GTs when inner-city circuits were considered too dangerous for the whole peloton.
    So yes, I’m in favor of this proposal. Let’s go and try with two finish lines with the first being at 5 km because I think that 3 km might not be enough to really separate the two interest groups. Alternatively one could always do a loop at the end of stages like that and take the time when the finish line is crossed for the first time.
    I expect that it will work out fine because there would be no incentive for GC-contender teams to ride at the front after the 5k to go “finish”. If they did they would risk getting entangled into the dash to the real line and increase the risk of getting involved in the crashes of the fast men which will still happen. And they would spend precious energy if they continued to race on when smarter teams have already started the cool-down.
    There can probably be no time bonusses for GC awarded on flat stages with that proposal but those are already very controversal anyway so that’s a minor victim.
    And before the 5k to go finish the sprinter teams can sit tight and let Sky, Movistar and BMC do the work at the front keeping their GC men out of trouble.

  • Tomski Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 3:48 am

    Sorry if I’ve missed this in other comments but would gc teams continue beyond the 3km mark nonetheless on account of time bonuse on offer? I would expand more but tired and off to bed. Looking forward to seeing more comments.

    Thanks for a great write up as ever inrng.

  • Joe K. Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 4:00 am

    Whatever may come of tweeking the 3Km Rule, why don’t they do something about those ridiculous barriers set up along the sides of the final closing stretch of road where surely the sprint will take place? Just go back and look at the finishing crash sprint in Stage 1. The barriers are heavy steel frames with protruding legs extending perpendicularly several centimeters from the upright barrier wall portion. Surely no sane engineer would have designed such a device to be used as a barrier for a cycling sprint event!!! Just don’t use these crazy contraptions and you can immediately avoid half of the sprinting accidents.

  • IanP Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 7:35 am

    Defacto GC taken at 3km, BUT only enforced if a crash in the peloton causes a split, otherwise stage times stand.. excluded from 3km rule if puncture or mechanical requires assistance.

    This would mean the so called poorer bike handlers etc can drop to the back of the group, stay out the way, and the sprinters and their leadouts can do their thing.

    Riders still have to stay alert as to avoid splits, but the GC guys dont need to be at the front worrying about splits caused by crashes.

  • Rik VII Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 8:19 am

    The current rules says that a 1-second-split between 2 riders creates a new time for the next bunch and the times a taken between the first riders of every bunch.

    F.E. 1st bunch 50 rider with “real” time gaps of 5 seconds between 1st and 50th rider. 1 second between 50th and 51th. Result: 1st to 50th same time, 51th a.s.o. at 6 seconds.

    They could limit the time gaps of riders in a bunch wich existed at the 3K-point in the way that only the split between the last rider of a “new” bunch to the next rider of the next “new” bunch is counted.

    F.E. 1st bunch 50 rider with “real” time gapes of 5 seconds between 1st and 50th rider. 1 second between 50th and 51th. Result: 1st to 50th same time, 51th a.s.o. at 1 second.

    That could take away a lot of stress from the GC-contenders. But if a finisseur attacks behind 3K he get his seconds anyway. A breakaway cought behind 3K gains nothing, cause the finish remains the finish.

  • Ferdi Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 9:01 am

    No, this is not going in the right direction.
    There simply shouldn’t be such a thing as “sprinters’ teams”, especially as opposed to GC teams. It proves that the field is way too large, and that there are way too many teams. 12 teams should be enough, and all of them should have GC contenders. If they have some faster guy, then be it. Maybe one lead-out man. But never these ridiculous “sprint trains”. Never a stage should be “promised to the sprinters” or to anyone else. Pure “sprinters’ teams” shouldn’t get invited, they harm and impoverish the race, or, if you must have them, then make all the stages impossible for them to play a role.
    But all of the kilometers of the race should be contested, full stop, or else they shouldn’t exist.
    And the sprinting bubble has expanded out of any reasonable dimension. Never so many sprinters claimed “stardom” status, never so many domestiques were at their service, and never were flat stages more desperately boring and predictable, and irrelevant.
    Of course, I wouldn’t expect that eliminating 100 jobs in the Tour de France peloton would meet the agreement of the peloton (but it shouldn’t matter, as their opinion is the most biased and harmful). But I would expect this excellent site to take a less sprinter-friendly attitude, because I just don’t understand this sprinter-friendliness. When I think of all the times I’ve read “cycling as a contact sport” here…, I shudder.

    • Ferdi Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 9:08 am

      And one more thing. 10-20 seconds gaps shouldn’t matter for GC, if the race and the racing caused gaps, over mountains and TT, that were measured if (many) minutes. Not only it would be much more spectacular and soulful (read “less fast & furious”), it would also be much safer.

  • J Evans Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 9:51 am

    Seems an idea worth trying.
    Another negative would be that at present a canny GC contender can use courage and skill to get himself near to the front of a sprint finish ahead of any possible split. Meanwhile, others have to fight to prevent that split. Without this, an interesting part of cycling is lost.
    Most of these type of problems seem to come down to riders having a DS in the radio telling them to be at the front constantly. It’s mostly unnecessary and without these repeated orders riders would probably sort it out for themselves more sensibly.

    • J Evans Tuesday, 5 July 2016, 10:06 am

      But a better method would be – as people say above – not counting the time gaps as between the first rider in each group (always thought that was odd anyway).
      This 3km finish idea has too many problems: gets rid of big bunch finishes that we all love to see, means a rider who attacks in the final 3km doesn’t gain time (imagine the situation where someone did this, but didn’t get the time necessary to put them in yellow), etc.

  • mjmc Wednesday, 6 July 2016, 7:39 pm

    Another idea. What about having a line painted on the road X metres before the finish line on flat sprint stages so that the officials (and to a lesser extent riders) can easily judge when a rider/group is “gapped”.

    Not sure exactly what gap is appropriate but at 60 km/h:
    – a 1 second gap is 16.5 metres
    – a 1.5 second gap is 25 metres
    – a 2 second gap is 33 metres

    This could remove a lot of the worries GC riders have about being time gapped while still allowing any rider to participate in the sprint.