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.