Format, rider, or both?

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This years Tour is incredibly close after 2 weeks, the top four are within 29 seconds of each other, with the next 4 within another 2 minutes from 4th place. This is unheard of at this stage in a Tour, after 60 hours in the saddle the time gaps are minuscule, without Porte’s crash involving Dan Martin & the time he lost there, he would be up in 2nd place @ 11s. This is a tight race, but why?

There’s several reasons, which have conspired together to reach this point, it’s not solely course design, other factors had to come into play in order to make the standings this close. A huge factor is who is not there, team leaders such as potentially the strongest rider in the race, Porte, but also protagonists Izagirre & Gesink. The non-mountain stages were also shaped by a missing Sagan, who’s presence would have changed tactics, even yesterday, would Sunweb & BMC have worked so hard if Sagan was there, meaning Aru may not have lost time?

Of great interest is the impact of missing ‘super-domestiques’, Thomas would have strengthened Sky, allowing them to more easily revert to their tried & tested (but fan-boring) mountain-train strategy, Fuglsang, fresh from Dauphine victory would have provided back up for Arg in the mountains. More interesting & potentially a huge impact is Valverde, he crashed due to his commitment, meaning that he thought he wasn’t just here for back-up, he meant business, and probably quite righly so after Quintana diluted his performance by racing the Giro to win. His team leader Quintana is hovering around the bottom of the top ten, Valverde was as good as ever, likely would have become team leader by performance.

Finally, we have the course. Fewer mountain top finishes to focus all GC contenders attacking on one type of effort, favouring riders like Froome. Less time trialling early on, again favouring strong time triallists like Froome who then command a seemingly unassailable lead early in the race. The short mountain stages also provide the springboard for opportunist attacks, which probably wouldn’t happen with an extra 90 to 100km in the legs.

All these features have conspired to produce a close race, which in turn produces attacks. If the gaps are small riders think they have a chance to take the jersey. If the gaps on GC are 2 or 3 minutes, the riders go into damage limitation mode, being realistic that they are unlikely to gain more than a few seconds. If the gaps are a few seconds, anybody who’s still within those margins can realistically take the jersey.

What we can see from this, is that by designing a similar course next year, we probably won’t see a similar Tour. As usual, it’s the riders that make the race, injuries, dropouts, crashes & in some cases performance reducing naturally with age (Bert). I’m looking forward to the next week, I don’t believe we’ll see as close a finish as 8 seconds in 1989, but I do suspect we’ll see do-or-die attacks from the likes of Bardet & Uran. If the Colombian can pull something off, he can time trial very well, having won a TT over 40km in the 2014 Giro, with Froome not looking quite as strong as usual, he may not have to pull back as large a buffer as most imagine in the final TT. An interesting week ahead.

 

Sagan – The Combine Harvester

SaganCombine

The 1989 Tour was memorable for the incredible victory of Greg LeMond over Laurent Fignon in the final metres of tarmac in Paris. But something died that year, something that had a special charm to it, a jersey that the Tour de France could really benefit from re-introducing, sitting quietly on the shoulders of Steven Rooks, it would never reappear. It’s been won by giants of the peloton like Merckx, Zoetemelk, Hinault & LeMond. It was distinctive, yet a patchwork of the other jerseys, some didn’t like it, but there was something very special about it. There’s one man in the current group of riders who would really embrace the flamboyance & daring of taking this jersey from the hands of the Tour leader, I bring you the perfect partnership, Peter Sagan & ‘The Combine Jersey’.

The combine jersey been introduced & reintroduced several times since 1968. In its initial guise the combine jersey was pure white, it finally emerged as the patchwork styled jersey in 1985, but built quite a following in the small number of Tours it was present in. It represents the rider who’s doing best in all three classifications, with points awarded for general classification, mountains & points competitions. So to win this, you’d have to be reasonably well placed in all classifications, you’d have to be a strongman. There’s currently no rider who could be described better than a ‘strongman’ as Tinkoff-Saxo’s one man army Peter Sagan, he has more impact on the race than some entire teams, and he does it relatively all by himself while also helping out his team leader.

I’ve been hugely impressed by him during this Tour, it’s almost a blessing for the cycle fan that he’s not won a stage so far, his exploits off the front may be blunted if he stops hunting that win. If a jersey like this was up for grabs, we could have riders like Sagan sprinting for cat 3 & 4 mountain points, desperate to get into breakaways & then hanging on for as long as they can to the GC men as the altitude gets higher.

This is our 26th Tour without a Combine Jersey, maybe it’s about time that ASO thought about bringing it back. I’m sure Sagan’s a bit bored with the Green Jersey now, he needs a new goal. It may also allow them to focus the Green Jersey even more on sprint stages. I can see plenty of other riders with very different skills who could really challenge for this, among them Kwiatkowski, Teklehaimanot, Rolland, Gallopin etc. It’s an opportunity for the Tour to re-invigorate itself, to give the good all rounders something to fight for, or a consolation prize for former GC hopefuls.

The young rider jersey is won by a rider who can stay with the front group in the mountains, the same for the mountains jersey, so all we have left is the green jersey. The combine can be a goal for teams who’s best rider is a classics star, other than occasional stage wins, this gives focus on a day-to-day basis for these teams, adding another dynamic to the race. Lets get this one back, it looks great on Sagan’s shoulders.

(Thank you very much to my excellent photoshopper, I’m in no way talented enough to make Sagan look any good in the jersey, great work)