More Of The Same

The prospect of a Tour de France rematch this week in Paris-Nice has its obvious attractions. Underneath this though is a trend among many stage races to mimic the grand tours which means they’ve become the preserve of only a handful of riders. Are we having too much of a good thing?

Once upon a time Sean Kelly won seven editions of Paris-Nice, the Irishman was primarily a classics rider and sprinter but had the range to take some week-long stage races. The recordman for Tirreno-Adriatico is Roger De Vlaeminck, also a classics rider with range to take a stage race along the way. Only now these riders with six Paris-Roubaix wins between them would have very little chance at winning because of big changes to the rotutes. Both of these stage races have adopted long Alpine-style summit finishes in recent years. It changes reference points, the likes of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel probably can’t put races on their palmarès that their predecessors could.

Paris-Nice often deployed Mont Faron as its summit finish, it’s tough but a mere four kilometre climb. There have been some bigger climbs, think of the visit to Vaujany in 1994, Valberg in 1999, it had the Montagne de Lure in 2009 and the next year finished halfway up Mont Ventoux. Yet from 2016 onwards a big summit finish has become an annual staple with the La Madone d’Utelle (pictured) and ever since the Turini, Colmiane or Couillole. Likewise in Italy, Tirreno-Adriatico has had a big “Alpine-style” summit finish every year since 2012, excepting 2019. Not that long ago these races were sometimes won by the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Davide Rebellin, Oscar Freire or Franck Vandenbroucke. Now they’re the preserve of grand tour contenders, and in vintages when they’ve not been this can often be explained because of bad weather forcing the big climb to be abandoned.

Other stage races can resemble mini-me grand tours like the Volta a Catalunya, the Tour de Romandie, the Tour de Suisse and Critérium du Dauphiné but since the first one tours a region that contains the Pyrenees and the other three are literally Alpine races, a summit finish of some kind is expected, it’s part of the terrain. That said, Catalunya hasn’t always had a big summit finish stage. Likewise Romandie and even the Tour de Suisse used to be far less mountainous than today’s routes. Again these races have also tilted towards becoming the preserve of grand tour winners.

Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico though, do they need a giant summit finish? Perhaps yes for TV audiences, having one big mountain stage is a crowd pleaser. It provides a satisfying, undisputable result where the long climb helps establish a hierarchy. Yet there’s an inflationary tendency here. The appearance of the Colmiane climb for Paris-Nice 2017 was promoted in part because of the record altitude for the race. Such big climbs can wow audiences but once the public has banked this and expectations have literally been raised, where next? Weather and logistics mean much more is hard.

A route with a lesser summit finish might look soft or diluted, “not as selective as last year” they’ll say. In turn a stage race won by a classics contender or the kind of rider who can finish 10-20th in a grand tour because big climbs are out of their range isn’t as prestigious. Carlos Betancur’s win in 2014 was interesting because it wasn’t a mountainous route but maybe that’s not possible any more? Only best days of Paris-Nice and Tirreno aren’t usually the summit finishes, it’s the stages with shorter climbs, twisty descents and the walls.

Also this tendency to gravitate to a winning format isn’t the preserve of stage races able to venture in the mountains. It’s also the classics season now and many of the Flemish classics have lost their subtle differences as they import more cobbles and the hellingen climbs. Het Nieuwsblad has become a mini Ronde van Vlaanderen by importing the Kapelmuur-Bosberg finish that used to be used by the Ronde. The Ronde itself doesn’t tour Flanders in the way it used to so that it can concentrate more climbs (and VIP tents) within a small area. Gent-Wevelgem used to be the “sprinters’ classic” but that’s too boring if it ends in a bunch sprint, they’ve imported more climbs as well as the “plugstreet” gravel tracks to split things up. It’s not just Flanders. Over in Wallonia in recent years the GP Le Samyn has imported more pavé, and over the border in France the GP de Denain has gone from being a sprinter’s race to a petit Paris-Roubaix. All this helps make these races more exciting, things happen because of the obstacles along the route and a race that’s 200km long and 100% certain to finish in a bunch sprint doesn’t sound that exciting for hours of live TV. Organisers can no longer just put on a race, it has to promise something compelling for TV audiences and absent any giant summit finish, obviously in come the pavé and sharp climbs. It’s great but again, more of the same.

There’s the joke where two diners in a restaurant complain, “the food here is terrible” says one, “I know, and the portions are tiny” says the other. Here saying that races have too many big climbs or a lot of cobbles risks sounding like a complaint the cooking is tasty and the servings are generous. Paris-Nice has supplied some great racing. Yet all the same, if this is good, it’s can be like dining in the same restaurant time after time. Paris-Nice increasingly resembles a mini-Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico a mini-Giro. Other stage races have gone down, and for, a similar route too.

Now a blog named after the gear for climbing in the mountains isn’t going to rant too hard about added mountains. At the time of typing, the first summit finish duel between Tadej Pogačar is Jonas Vingegaard in Paris-Nice is a few hours away and it’s all rather enticing. Yet a little variety in the week-long stage races can be entertaining too, maybe not every week-long stage race has to feel like a mini-grand tour?

50 thoughts on “More Of The Same”

  1. I often think the logic conclusion for all this is sprinters disappearing entirely from the World Tour.

    Do people actually want this?

    • There’s still room for sprinting in Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico but it is reduced and the trend is to spice up the stage with a late climb. If anything proportionally it’s more pronounced in the grand tours. Here it’s something to look at more closely but it’s not obvious, you can try to count the number of sprint stages in the Giro and Tour and on paper they’re down… but not by much. However they’ve got those hills or other things, it’s more a qualitative reduction rather than quantity, it’s got harder for the pure sprinters. That said someone like Fabio Jakobsen or Dylan Groenewegen is always a bankable scorer, just being able to deliver 2-3 stage wins is huge when in the past they could have got double if they were in vintage form.

      • Yes and no. Actually, the Giro, which started in more recent times the trend toward spicing up finales to make bunch sprints a little harder to achieve… went backwards in the very last editions. A choice which I, for one, don’t appreciate much. With so many stages, why not having a mix of sort?

        The athletes you name above quite often aren’t winning more because they aren’t actually so dominant, rather than being limited that much by the terrain. It’s a gaussian sort of thing, extremely rare very top talents tend to have more margin against the competition, when the field is more modest, victories end up being shared and the balance is tilted by the least significant element.

        Another consequence of the above is that the team now very well what sort of athlete they’re managing, so are less willing to go all in on their current sprinters, because the victory would be anyway less granted than in other times.

      • Riders whose qualities make them pure sprinters obviously don’t stop being pure sprinters or training in a manner that best helps them excel in pure sprints just because there are now fewer opportunities for them to win stages.
        But some sprinters may well want to become more puncheur-like, won’t they? And sprint trains in stage races may become a thing of the past.

  2. Too many jump on whatever they think will sell…for today. They forget “variety is the spice of life” and cycling’s no different, but what do I know? I’ve been watching T-A live and P-N via replay but neither has me glued to the screen so far.

    • Agreed. Those sprint stages are nice appetizer until the mountains, and then they become a counterbalance. The slow boil of a tour, grand tour or one-week, is an attractive feature that draws me in to the story of the race.

  3. For me, the most interesting editions of, for example, P-N, have been the ones where you see classics-style riding. But then that might just be my particular bias.

    • Having said that, it is interesting – and unusual – to see the two top TdF contenders going at it before the TdF.
      If I was Vingegaard , I would be doing as little as possible in the entire season before the TdF in the hope that Pogacar will wear himself out more and that I (Vin.) wouldn’t.
      Paris-Nice doesn’t mean a lot compared to the TdF, and it’s not like Vin. – unlike Pog. – would be winning Monuments if he focused on them.
      If I was Pog., I’d have focused on Strade Bianche and the Ardennes classics and not tried to win either of T-A or P-N.

  4. “Sean Kelly … was primarily a classics rider and sprinter but had the range to take some week-long stage races”

    Uhmm, he finished top-10 in the 3-week grand tours in most of this period too, including 4th in the Tour de France, behind Hinault, LeMond and Roche – ahead of Anderson, Delgado, Herrera. And – of course – he *won* the Vuelta. 😉

    • Oh (above comment is mine), and there is of course a strong argument to be made that the balance of the Grand Tours led in that change away from a test of all-round ability – which is the subject of this blog entry, in the context of these shorter stage races. In the case of GTs, focused on climbing performance.

    • Ah, but in those days the Vuelta wasn’t at all like the race today, there were few summit finishes and they were more accessible with gentler gradients rather than the goat path / concrete paved military road that are the hallmarks today. Which is sort of the point here as riders like Kelly could go for more stage races when they’d be stuck today.

      • Nah, I’m rather with Paul J here, partly because of what I posted below.

        When speaking of De Vlaeminck or Kelly, we’re possibly dealing with two of the strongest cyclists *ever*, in absolute terms. You can infer their sheer qualities and athletical skills by considering how they performed *in their specific field* compared with current *specialists* in the same fields; or checking their actual rivals in those other stage races where they stretched their skills and other advantages and so on.

        You could argue, and I’d agree, that, say, Fondriest wouldn’t win a Tirreno today (to pick a name outside the obvious 1998-2008 range), but as I showed below De Vlaeminck was fighting against serious climbers on serious uphill finishes, albeit not a Couillole; yet, besides the easier Monte Livata (against Merckx!), the following year he was *winning* on a Colle San Giacomo, quite a beast of a climb.
        Other elements factor in, like preparation, that is, the organisation of the whole calendar through the year, De Vlaeminck famously played on that to battle Merckx.

        Kelly, OTOH, was battling with the likes of Urs Zimmermann or vintage 1986 Lemond on the slopes of the *Ventoux* (and Mottet, Bernard…), besides shining on the Col d’Eze which as shown by Porte or Quintana isn’t necessarily the rouleur’s home.
        The Ventoux reportedly had featured in a semitappa also when Kelly had eventually beat in final GC the likes of Hinault, Roche, R. Millar, and he didn’t look like they made him suffer so badly uphill, quite the other way around (barring Millar), so, frankly, I really really struggle to imagine him being utterly destroyed by today’s (excellent) athletes on today’s (challenging) courses.

        • With Pogacar’s efforts in Flanders and the pave stage of the Tour, and Van Aert’s Ventoux win and mountain train pulls in mind, perhaps we should remind ourselves that not all riders that are the best in their specialty are necessarily specialists.

          • Exactly. The fact that, say, De Vlaeminck won as many Roubaix as Boonen (an athlete which I hugely appreciated and rooted for, probably the strongest ever *on the cobbles*) should’t force the assumption that “as a consequence” he couldn’t perform on a course which included mountains or even uphill finales, hence implying (against facts, at least as long as I know, i.e., re: mainly Tirreno) that the route didn’t include such features. Same for Kelly. Those two guys also won the hardest Monuments in terms of altitude gain, which, albeit different from today, still selected as the very top competitors those GT men who were strong climbers.
            I believe that it’s precisely watching Van Aert, and being aware of his impact despite a number of big victories which is relatively modest, for now, that we can have an idea of what sort of athletes were the likes of Kelly and De Vlaeminck. The latter, for example, was 4th in the 1975 Giro, battling with Gimondi for the podium, behind the duel between Bertoglio and Galdós. Just have a look at what sort of stage De Vlaeminck won in Alleghe, and not with any morning break. De Vlaeminck was no doubt in incredible physical conditions, but what inrng suggests above just doesn’t mirror historical reality. I must admit that I know better Italian cycling in the 70s than Kelly’s years, but I tend to suspect that what’s true for Roger might be valid in Sean’s case, too. I’m going via PCS now, so maybe people who saw that race can esplain differently tha results, but for instance when Kelly won his Vuelta he stayed with Robert Millar, quite a climber, on the Cerler ski-station uphill finish, which I happen to know: not an Alpine giant, yet a serious climb with a first part of 6-7 km which averages 8,5% and goes often well over 10% (barring a flat moment of rest when you cross the village), then you have some easier 4-5 easier kms at 5-6% which bring you close to 2,000 m above sea level. He was second in the Naranco uphill ITT. The BH team could really put the pressure on Kelly in the hard Brañillín stage, including – after 2-3 other climbs – a tough finale through Cobertoria and Pajares (first part of Cuitu Negru), climbs which are still in use, and considered quite hard, too, in recent Vueltas. However, even in a stage like that he crossed the line in 10th position, what’s more important less than 30″ behind Millar and less than a minute behind Parra. He really lost time only to Pino, partly because of BH tactics. Yes, maybe Kelly was especially inspired, that year, because the race had started in the Canary Islands, who knows…
            Yes, all in all the Vuelta was an “easier” race in pure climbing terms, and probably Kelly wouldn’t win a GT nowadays – and yet it wasn’t *that much easier* as inrng looks to be suggesting, surely not to the point of implying that Kelly would struggle to win a Paris Nice, either (same for De Vlaeminck, of course). Far from.

      • I don’t really remember those days myself (I would have seen some coverage, but not appreciated what was happening), but I have since read biographies and autobiographies of Kelly, Roche, etc. And I think I am basically reinforcing the point of your blog – in that the races have changed. And not just the week-stage races, the GTs have changed.

        They were much more a test of all-round ability in the past, including outright endurance – a strength of classics riders. The power riders were able to tire out the climbers over longer stages. The advantages climbers could get in the mountain stages were better balanced out by long, more punchy stages and /long/ time trials (Kelly was not a TT specialist, but he would still get top-10 placings – and get minutes on climbers). Is my sense, from reading the accounts of how Kelly and Roche (powerful rider himself – good at TTs) raced against the goats in GTs.

        The focus has shifted in GTs to mountain battles, and the careful balance of different types of /testing/ stages that allowed all-rounders to fight with mountain goats for the overall in GTs has gone. And this blog of yours is pointing out how this shift in balance is happening in other stage races.

        • Oh, and I completely agree with Gabriele. It is clear from Kelly’s long career and palmares – including the sheer /breadth/ of his wins – that he was an absolutely *phenomenal* athlete. Sprinter early on, classics, world championships (the one thing that eluded him, but at the pointy end of the race often – he setup Roche’s WC win, when he very likely could have got it for himself if he’d tried – but he was the good friend to Roche and preferred to ensure Roche would win, than risk neither of them winning), stage races, grand tours, etc. 14 years of winning major races, from his first TdF stage win in ’78 to his 2nd and last Milan-San Remo in ’92.

          His record is absolutely amazing. He has to be one of the strongest people ever to ride a bike for sport in the last… 50.. years?

          • Indeed, I agree (again) with you, too, re: GTs 😉

            I think that shorter stage races actually tended to face cycles of sort, like the one I described for Ti-Ad, but I could have easily used the evolution of Tour de Suisse, in several different directions through the last decades. And yet, paradoxically, I’d even dare to say that as a whole, barring certain excesses, they kept themselves closer to what they’ve always been when compared to GTs. There’s still time to change further, as inrng hints, but current Ti-Ad or Pa-Ni are closer to what De Vlaeminck or Kelly won 40-50 years ago than the Vuelta or the Tour. The TDF is shockingly different when compared to mere 20 or 30 years ago. And not just because it has less ITT, it’s that it has… less of everything 😛 Although the lowest point, I think, has already been touched in 2016-2017, now things are slowing, very slowing improving (2018 or 2020 weren’t great, either – let’s make it clear before RantDe or any anonymous friend of him suggests “it’s all to criticise Sky and Froome”).

          • And re: Kelly, to me he’s surely one of the top, say, ten strongest cyclists (no further specification needed) in the post IIWW sport.
            And “the problem” saying as you do 50 years is that you end up with Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Maertens and Gimondi in the mix, but if you said 40 I really can see few athletes over him, essentially Hinault, given that those who can prompt a doubt of sort are so different and often so specialised that 1) the comparison is really impossible 2) if forced to compare, I’d go with the more complete athlete and the more long-lasting career, i.e., Kelly himself – the most obvious examples of this dilemma being Indurain.
            Valverde has an even longer career and is strongest in GTs or harder Classics, but his real “crime” (in sporting terms) is not having ever tried seriously the cobbles, plus he never went full form into Sanremo o Lombardia. Nibali could be the symmetric of Kelly, in a way, but ne never was so impressive and dominant in GTs as Kelly was in Classics (although admittedly Nibali was slightly better in Classics than Kelly in GTs…). Froome is like Indurain but weaker and even shorter-lived. Ditto for Contador, although he lasted more than Miguelón or Froome. Ullrich had the natural gifts but not other factors. Speaking of natural potential, Bugno or Fignon or Lemond were great, more similar to Nibali in a sense, but not as solid in winning terms (Lemond probably due to the well-known external factor of the accident). Jalabert was a similar profile to Kelly from somePOVs, but far from being as strong. Sagan never became who he was or could be. Museeuw, Cancellara, Boonen, Gilbert were huge Classics riders – full stop.
            As I said, I frankly struggle very much to imagine Sean Kelly’s physical body, back young, trained today and on today’s bikes, being “stuck” in current cycling. If anything, I’d even go further and defend that he might have won a couple of TDFs, instead of that Vuelta, and despite the lack of fondo they implied – he’d have put the spark.

          • Valverde is an interesting case. There was a period, 2014-2018, when his dominance of ‘his’ races reached Merckx levels. Its just that his races were a relatively narrow group. Basically Spanish one week stage races, the Ardennes and the World Championships. He was also extremely consistent at the Vuelta. It seems bizarre that he never won a Paris-Nice or Milan-Sanremo or Lombardy. But his career also probably coincided with the height of the hyper specialisation of riders, which seems thankfully to have relented a bit over the last few years. To my mind the absolute peak example of that period being BMC having Van Avarmaet and Gilbert on the same team but hardly ever racing them together, preferring to have Gilbert watch the cobbles on TV so he could concentrate on one week of the year.

          • I agree, Richard S – and complained about it at the time – few things more ridiculous than the way BMC stopped Gilbert from doing the cobbles (and maybe, to a lesser extent, GVA from doing more hilly classics – look how he went in the 2018 TdF and the 2016 Olympics). It’s clear from even a cursory look at Gilbert’s palmares that this did not help him in the Ardennes. Joining BMC turned out to be a terrible move for Gilbert.

          • Great insights in your comments, thanks Gabriele.

            On Kelly and training, he was by all accounts extremely dedicated to training. And he believed in huge base mileage – something which is back in fashion again as part of “polarised traingin”, with modern science having found “long and slow” being a prerequisite for high performance. He also did a mix of training – he incorporated a large amount of running into his winter training, partly motivated by reducing risk of injuries from falls on slippery roads in winter.

            Basically, there might not be /that/ much that modern training could add to his power. Maybe a modern Kelly could get a little leaner… But he was pretty lean already.

  5. Very nice piece, the matter is worth thinking about.

    That said, to put things into historical perspective, I’d say that Tirreno-Adriatico rather went through a peculiar spell between the late 90s and the late 2000s, when it was experimenting with the Classics-like format which Pa-Ni tried in 2014 for reasons which I can’t frankly remember, although I remember well those editions, which were often compelling, indeed, thanks to a great generation of one-day riders like Bartoli, Ballerini, Rebellin, Boogerd, Freire, Di Luca, Erik Dekker etc.
    Further back in the past the race was already a terrain for the GC riders, and pure climbers, too. And we shouldn’t underestimate the fact that a GT isn’t only about uphill finishes, it’s rather about having *three* weeks and multiple mountain stages (i.e., fondo and recovery). I think that we could all recall several potential GT riders who just “didn’t have the 3rd week”, as well as heavier riders who couldn’t cope with a mountain marathon but nonetheless could be brilliant if it was all about a single uphill finish, albeit quite hard – yeah, maybe without much previous climbing.

    That’s also why “one-week stage race specialists” have always existed, or, better said, athletes who perform better than you’d proportionally expect when riding for GC in shorter stage races rather than in GTs. Klöden or Spilak or Richie Porte easily come to mind, but one could easily argue that in a sense Valverde belong to the category, too.
    Or Valverde could also be that sort of Classics-man who can stretch his skill and come close to winning a GT (or even winning one, sometimes): this sort of athletes can find a friendlier terrain in short stage races, even today, and can collect multiple titles in these races as did Valverde, or Purito, or Di Luca, Vinokourov, Dan Martin, or Jalabert some years back.
    Add to the mix those cyclists which are harder to classify and pick something here and there, the Rui Costa, F. Schleck, Fuglsang, Luisle Sánchez…

    Did really things change so radically? Not sure, of course taking away from the picture those specific periods like the late 90s-late 2000s decade at Ti-Ad.
    During the last three or four years in one-week stage races we saw winning or finally podiuming (with every possible caveat, as I myself wrote elsewhere) riders like Schachmann, Van Aert, Benoot, Higuita, Kwiatkowski, Dan Martin, Marc Soler, Lutsenko, Richie Porte, Dani Felipe Martínez (he’s still got time to become a GT rider, but yet…), Fuglsang, Rui Costa, Gino Mäder, Rohan Dennis, Ion Izagirre, many of whom would fit perfectly in the very traditional categories sketched above (in fact, some names already appeared above, whatismore then referring to a full perspective on their whole carrer)…
    Surely, many victories eventually went to the big GT names (by the way, should really Simon Yates or Geraint Thomas be considered “big GT names”?)… apparently: but how many of those were actually relative to… Roglic (!), who in a sense could even be considered a one-week racing specialist, only he’s so good he can shine in GTs, too – maybe it’s not by chance that he especially shines at the Vuelta, which holds many similarities to short stage races.
    If we look a bit further back, just a few years, it’s really about the nature of the courses or rather the impact of some big teams approaching in a novel manner mainly the *ASO* races?

    At the end of the day, if we look at thing with historical perspective, Rominger, Zülle, Indurain also liked some of their shorter stage races, and so did Robert Millar, Lemond, Moser, Saronni, Fignon, Hinault, and Gimondi, Merckx, Tarangu, Ocaña…

    Perhaps, just as when we see Van Aert name above we might tend to say “oh, yes, but he’s Van Aert, you know?”, well, that’s what could happen, in proper scale, with huge riders like Sean Kelly or De Vlaeminck. It’s that they were just so good that they could stretch their qualities to the point of being able to beat the traditional GT riders, under the right conditions – which didn’t necessarily mean courses more similar to the Classics, perhaps just not having mountain marathons, three weeks and that sort of things was enough.

    Some serious delving into the history of the races should be needed to get a better grasp of the question. For example, when De Vlaeminck beat Merckx at the Tirreno I’m pretty sure that at least one decent uphill finish was involved at Monte Livata (French style of climb), and Merckx did indeed win, but De Vlaeminck was second beating some pure climbers and then taking back the time he needed in the following stages, always battling closely with Eddy but also Moser, Baronchelli etc., with the ITT, Classics-like stages and so on. From the very ealier years of the Tirreno the purest climbers like Italo Zilioli or Vito Taccone were battling for the final win.

    And although it’s true that many of the early editions of those races, like Catalunya named by inrng above, didn’t feature uphill finishes, we should also remember that those weren’t common during the first GTs, either, which didn’t mean that they hadn’t their good share of hellish mountain stages. It’s more about finishing in cities or towns because of logistics (and of course ski stations weren’t such a factor!). However as early as at the beginning of the 70s the Volta was actually finishing its stages in places like Puigcerdà or Bagà…

    Finally, we shouldn’t forget, either, that in the WT now we’ve got a good bunch of “new” races (some of them not that new!) like Benelux Tour or Tour de Pologne which can offer a decent terrain pretty much favourable to Classics-men, as did ye good ol’ 4 days of Dunkerque 3 days of La Panne etc.

    Obviously enough, all the above doesn’t mean that I’m “favourable” or “against” any of these approaches, or inrng’s piece, or whatever ^__^
    Just adding information and POVs on a very interesting subject.

    • Re De Vlaeminck and Kelly… when they we’re winning their Tirrenos and Paris-Nice’s they were also winning (especially in De Vlaeminck’s case) loads of stages. So was it a factor that as both were such good sprinters they banked a lot of stage bonus’s that they then defended or even expanded on?

      • Yes, I think so. Then it must be added that especially but not exclusively in the 70s the situation was partly similar to women cycling today (perhaps that’s where men cycling will now also go back to?), with a good number of top competitors sharing similar physical characteristics and all being quite good on several different terrains, which on turn shaped the race itself through tactics, team composition and so on. Plus, what Paul J highlights above which also holds true.

  6. There are plenty of topographical and atmospheric alternatives in France. The Massif Central where the race finished today, is just one such area full of challenges with endless climbs and ‘sticky’ road surfaces, as anybody who has ridden there will verify. Further south the many winds, especially the famous Mistral, Alpine foothills and other massifs such as the Esterell offer everything for a tough bike race.
    Mountain top finishes are fine, but in my view a one week event should have more of a daily ‘classic’ feel than a three week event.

  7. Liked today’s PN stage but think summit finishes don’t often meet the hype. Best stages in PN and TA have been mid mountain stages where you get classics guys and stage racers all going for it.

    • Very much this, it widens the cast of characters. I think this is why the final weekend of Paris-Nice is really all about Sunday’s stage, the big summit finish on the Saturday can shape the GC but it’s not dramatic to watch. Those wall stages of Tirreno are legendary with Van der Poel and Pogačar on the attack together, or Nibali, Sagan, Pinot etc all going for it.

  8. The problem is not the big mountain, it’s the lack of TT kms and time bonuses to balance it in favour of the Van Aerts, Van der Poels, Gannas and Alaphilippes. But the same goes for GTs. Kelly did win the Vuelta aurviving it’s climbing.

    • Agree. Maybe not for everything but a Grand Tour is supposed to go to the best all around rider.
      There is no reason there can’t be at least a 1 hour TT. As it is it’s a climbing contest.
      One thing I always like about cycling is that most any body type can be good at some part of the sport.
      I’ve seen 45 mi TT in the Tour. Now that’s enough TTing for 3 Tours.
      And agree that there’s few opportunities for true sprinters.
      It’s all watered down and whatever looks good on TV goes.

    • This balance though has changed. In recent years adding more TTs has just meant Froome, Dumoulin etc have extended their lead even further. See the last TT stage of the Tour de France when Vingegaard and Pogačar rode faster than Ganna too.

      • That’s because there seems to be another unwritten rule that TTs have to be the last or penultimate stage. By that point your Ganna’s are on the ragged edge and desperate to get home, whereas some weird robot like Pogacar is still fresh. Put a 35-50km TT in the first week of a GT, or the first couple of days of a Tirreno, and then see the difference.

        • “…weird robot like Pogacar is still fresh” Robot? WTF? Perhaps you are confusing a guy who seems to race a lot of the time for the sheer fun of it with someone else… that guy I describe as a cadaver? Or perhaps robot is more accurate for him?
          OTOH I do agree that race-against-the-clock finales for stage races are too common these daze.

          • haha, I just meant that he doesn’t seem to get tired and is just as fresh on the last day of a GT as he was on the first. It was not a reference to his racing style, which is anything but robotic. So probably a bad choice of word.

        • Quite so. Notice that I also included (substantial) time bonuses as part of the balance (a healthy regular dose of cobbles and unpaved roads would also add to the complexity and balance). Froome (in his prime) happened to be both a monster climber and TTist, but Dumoulin was vulnerable in the mountains, and that gave us a thrilling Vuelta and a great Giro. Of course, if you have a demon multi-tool all-rounder, like Merckx, Hinault or probably Pogi, then the balance only works to their benefit (and kudos to them). But that doesn’t mean we should accept stage races as pure climbing contests and give up the quest for balance. I think the first GT or one-weeker that allows WVA to really contest the GC will hit a jackpot and led the way back to the Kelly vs Herrera kind of challenge.

          • Worth bearing in mind that Merckx would easily lose *minutes* to the pure climbers in the high mountains. Just watch some of the films on the Tour or Giro from the Merckx era. Fuente destroyed Eddy Merckx on the climbs – even on shorter ones. Merckx’s tactics were to grind Fuente down on the flats and rolling terrain, especially before longer climbs – Eddy’s strong team helping with this.

          • Yep, I always thought GT’s were supposed to find/reward all-round excellence rather than just be watts/kg contests but perhaps the organizers think watts/kg is all the viewers want to watch? I’m not saying it’s easy or simple to find/reward all-round excellence but that’s the course designer’s job, no?

        • That depends too, I can see your point but Ganna was able to “rest” while the GC contenders were trading attacks in the Pyrenees. You’d have to have a very long TT on a flat course to suit the TT specialists, and early in the race.

          • But do they really get to “rest” ??
            A climber can go up a climb easy…
            But sprinters and big guys can barely get up the climbs at all. They’re dying just to get over them and then they have to charge down the descents and through the valleys.

      • True, but if we’re looking at it from the specialists POV there are lot less opportunities for a good TTer to shine these days. Cancellara holds the record for days in yellow among those who never won the Tour and we all know how he achieved it. Ganna just doesn’t have the same opportunities.

  9. I for one would love more classic type races although i think without excessive length stages it would be harder to implement today then the past where training is so much more regimented and the teams have a lot more depth to control a race.
    Races that don’t have big finishes also have a tendency to get panned for being to easy.

    Its a hard line to tread but i would prefer a race that splits apart like a classics race.

  10. Strade Bianche seems to be pulling in another direction … return to roots sort of thing … but you need the terrain of Tuscany to have this sort of race.

    • Yes, it’s a unique race. Perhaps this is part of the attraction, it is just so different visually but it is also open to a wide cast of characters with grand tour contenders, classics kings but also some specialists who just thrive in this race a bit like some do so well in Paris-Roubaix (which is also an original race and isn’t changing).

  11. I think you hit the nail on the head with the bit about medium mountain/hilly stages/races being more interesting than one big climb. A long climb can be monotonous and boring in my opinion. More often than not riders look at each other and huddle together and nothing happens until the last km or so anyway.
    It has definitely become a thing since I started watching cycling that only hills matter. Genuine sprint stages in any Grand Tour are pretty rare now. Every classic has got or has tried to get hillier. The time trial is largely an afterthought, and if they put one in its usually on some novelty course. The Belgians have homogenised most of their races and the Italians have had a go too. An Italian race that doesn’t finish at a ‘santuario’ or ‘rigugio’ is something of a novelty now.

    • One of the most enjoyable one week races of the recent past was 2021 Tour of Britain. A WT round of similar profile would be my ideal.

      • Agreed, but aren’t indeed the Benelux Tour (old Eneco) and the Pologne a bit like that? Not exactly the same of course, but sort of a similar idea. Both are WT and have become fine races through the years, surviving some terrible editions. A serious WT ToB would be great, too.

    • Re: sprint stages, enjoy next Giro, then. I don’t agree much about this subject, as I said elsewhere. Of course, compared to Leblanc era or Petacchi 2004, we have less bunch sprints. Yet, the TDF has been having consistently 6-7 obvious, easy, flat bunch sprints for the best part of the last decade. That’s more than enough for me – a third part of the whole show. Admittedly, a couple of recent editions (2020 and 2022) went down to 4-5, which might generate the impression you report, but it’s too little to speak of a trend, especially given that the Giro, on the contrary (and just as it does with ITTs or middle mountain stages) has brought back many pure sprinting occasions – which doesn’t mean you need a full flat (not even Leblanc’s were such, quite the other way around), it’s normally enough that a very large final part of the stage is flattish and easy to control. Surely the Vuelta has reduced quite much the sprinting occasions, still they sit consistently at 5 obvious ones each year.

  12. From some softer-sounding stage previews I found myself wanting Michael Matthews to win up Loge des Gardes. He’s been up there in some sprint points and there ought to be scope for him to have battles with say, Mads Pedersen, Matej Mohoric and many other puncheurs rouleurs for the week long races.
    Yes, these riders target the one day classics but it’s a loss to the sport they have had their options reduced.
    OTH these sting-in-the-tail profiles do provide a sequence of activity through the day and that’s what the media companies need to pay for races.

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