The Tour’s Team Prize

Nairo Quintana and his Movistar team mates have yellow helmets. It’s because they lead the Tour de France’s team competition and is a visible sign of a largely hidden but sometimes tactically significant prize.

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

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

That’s the rule but it’s worth explaining. It’s based on the best three riders on each stage and not the best three riders overall. So each day you take the times of the first three riders from each team on the stage and add them together to get the team’s time for the stage. Then the same the next day, the time of the team’s best three riders on the stage added together added to the previous total. The lowest cumulative time leads the overall.

Movistar lead the rankings at the moment and at pixel time Team Sky are towing the peloton across the Ardèche during Stage 14 for no obvious reason… except perhaps that Andrew Amador is up the road in the breakaway and can extend Movistar’s lead in the competition? Or perhaps Sky want to soften up the race for the final climb, another hypothesis. What’s more certain is that often team prize makes things tactical going into the final week, teams will attack and chase for this prize and with Movistar’s El Tridente looking rather blunt don’t be surprised to see them racing with this prize in mind and using the likes of Marc Soler to take time rather than opening the road for Mikel Landa.

However the point of this post isn’t to explain the rule, as misunderstood as it might be sometimes. Instead it’s significance is more important in the tactical and commercial sense. You might ignore this ranking but those racing are not.  In a pre-race press release Wanty-Group Gobert announced their ambitions for the first week of the Tour de France:

“Timothy Dupont has the ideal sprinter profile. We hope he can compete with the fast men. Last year we won the day standings of the teams in three stages”
Wanty-Groupe Goberr team press release, June 2018

This explains why Wanty were trying to place as many riders in the top positions, you might have noticed three of them in the top-10 on Stage 4 and wondered what could have happened if they’d united their efforts? Probably a fifth place but thanks to having the first three place highest that that they won the team prize that day and so formally finished the day with a result. If it’s a goal on an early stage, it’s also one for the final week. Winning the team prize is a big deal for team managers and sponsors alike, the photo of the team standing on the Champs Elysées is a big deal and it’s also a side prize, if Team Sky have the GC sewn up then with a bit of craft the likes of Movistar and Ag2r La Mondiale have won the competition in recent years thanks to firing riders up the road in a breakaways.

  • Yellow helmets: it helps the team to get noticed but it’s elective, if they lead the team competition they can bring their own helmets to get noticed. This perpetuates the old tradition of yellow cotton caps for the leading team. Today the official sign of the leading team are the special yellow dorsal race numbers stuck to the jersey

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

Right now the Tour’s team classification seems to be reduced to a contest between Movistar, Sky and Lotto-Jumbo. The Dutch team may seem out but only have to send a rider into tomorrow’s breakaway to take ten minutes and they could be back in it. Look for teams chasing a breakaway for no obvious reason as sometimes the team prize explains it.

19 thoughts on “The Tour’s Team Prize”

    • It looks to me like BMC climbed up to 7th, and Movistar (who had a rider in the breakaway) are still first. Bahrain Merida just shot up to 2nd, thanks to having 2 breakaway riders).

      Inring, this is why I come here. This is a great post that helps clarify something that I have wondered about, and never see discussed. Thank you.

  1. I always wondered why Movistar in particular seem to actively pursue this prize. It certainly doesn’t seem to have helped them win the Tour. Perhaps it’s a competition that’s better to win by accident than design?

    • Movistar do indeed love this competition, it seems to have been a staple of their tour campaigns in recent years, especially if the GC hope is falling flat

  2. I remember the yellow helmets making a splash in 2012, apparently that’s when they were introduced?

    Clearly a good goal for teams without individual GC goals to pursue, and interesting how the incentives conflict with those of the individual competition. That’s a clever way to complicate life for the individual overall GC contenders and their teams. But then you think, how to promote the prestige of the team competition to amplify the effect? The cash prize would have to be very large indeed to get the attention of team Sky (just to consider the current state of affairs, nothing against them), and if they were to win it the problem of team budget disparity might be compounded.

    • I believe Sky would target this regardless of the prize money, if it had a higher public profile: the amount of cash is relatively small, but the bragging rights could be worth a lot… if the public care about it.

  3. I vaguely remember being told there are some cultural differences, with the team prize being not at all important here in the Netherlands and Belgium, but being highly coveted and getting lots of press coverage in Spain.

    But maybe this was mainly a thing when there were still multiple big Spanish teams?

  4. A prize that nobody cares about but the sponsors. The riders are probably also indifferent. Sadly Movistar has probably been looking for this all along as per their usual MO in Le Tour.

    • There would be no racing without the sponsors. Even in the lowest classes sponsors want to see their name presented. So what’s you problem with it?

      • PS: and I’m sure all the team staff also care about it, since there’s price money to win. Not everything an armchair viewer doesn’t care about is unimportant for other people.

  5. Yeah, I do wonder about it – this blog and others have several times said it’s important to teams and sponsors, but other than in these blogs I’ve hardly ever heard any reference to it.

    I don’t remember ever having seen on any website or TV that team prize presentation photo on the podium on the Chaps at the end, though pretty often the pics of the green, polka and white jersey presentations.

    I work in IT and Microsoft have a whole set of awards for Partner of the Year, Inner Circle, etc, etc and there are so many of them, all the companies selling/installing MS software and business applications seem to win one, you get a fancy certificate to put on the wall of your boardroom and a (looks like glass but it’s plastic) trophy, so you can wheel it out as ‘marketing collateral’ or at sales demos to prospects
    – being cynical, is it a bit like that ?
    – the teams can dangle it to prospective sponsors,
    – the sponsors can have it as tangible feel-good that their sponsor-money did get a return, rather than just figures of minutes-of-airtime for their jerseys leading to intangible possible increases in sales or market share

      • Not sure
        – ‘buy the bike used by Chris Froome [or Geraint Thomas/Tom Dumoulin/TBA] to win the Tour’, or ‘buy the bike Peter Sagan used to win Green’ works for me
        – but not ‘buy the bike used by Bennati to come 13th, Soler 24th, Erviti 26th, Valverde 38th, Landa 41st, Quintana 58th, Amador 64th’

  6. In Euskatels final Vuelta they raced hard for the Team prize. It was fun to watch them get riders into the break and use team tactics to position themselves within the peloton.

    UCI rules stipulate every race must have a GC and Team competition. All other competitions are discretionary.

    Albeit cycling originally started out as an individual undertaking, it soon became apparent that it required a team of people to support one rider. Hence, we have a team sport that rewards the individual. In an odd way this explains alot of the idiosyncrasies of the sport. Riders of different teams in the break working together are one example as is the indifferent approach most fans have towards a TTT.

    I firmly believe if cycling really wanted to promote a team aspect they should increase the prize monies for the team competition (TC) as well as increase awareness. A simple solution would be to the podium presentation. Currently, the GC is awarded first and team is nearly last. Somewhere in importance below a minor sponsor prize for best placed local rider. Award the team prize first. Make a big deal of it.

    This is perhaps cyclings weak point. Fans do not identify with a team but with riders or the race. There are many gans of the TdF but not cycling in general. Do you see many fans and riders wearing a team jersey? We wear the MJ, polka dots, green, and individual rider jerseys, but not to often team gear.

    Just one tans rant.

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