The time gaps grow. Sprint teams or the squad of the yellow jersey assume position at the front of the bunch and that’s it. Settle in, it’s going to be a long day.
Of course the riders who attacked dare to dream. It could happen. One day they may stay away. But it hasn’t happened this year, not yet.
When a sprint is on the menu, that’s usually how we digest the racing.
For commentators, it provides a challenge. What can they do? Talk about the time gap that varies slightly over the span of five-and-a-bit hours… tell a few anecdotes, consider a bit of history and, of course, talk about the scenery.
For years many have been calling for stages to be broadcast in their entirety. That’s how it is in 2017. You can watch it all – but there’s often a long void when it comes to actual action.
Okay, cycling creates stories and the Tour generates a wide range of experiences and exposes a wealth of spectacular locations so it’s fine for the peloton to roll along teasing the escapees for hour after hour. It doesn’t always have to be racing on the limit of what’s humanly possible for it to be interesting.
But surely something can be done to prompt a little more of a dynamic script, something that extends beyond the escape/chase/sprint routine that’s been such a feature of the opening week in 2017 (and many editions before this year).
The riders and race organisers can’t be blamed for the predictability day after day. Even when the racing appears to be a little dull on the TV, the peloton is still speeding along and doing things most ordinary humans could never possibly achieve.
And Christian Prudhomme is always creative with his courses. He has included many innovations during his tenure as race director with his course design.
Furthermore, when a race has the history that the Tour does, it is important to respect tradition and include elements that have made the event what it is.
Still, surely a counter-attack – just one – isn’t too much to ask for. It is? But how do you prompt any action when the riders are already doing something so extreme?
At the end of the opening week, I’ve asked a few people associated with the Tour for their take on what could be done to change the formula. Now is the time for cycling to evolve and modernise. If the Tour leads the way other events will take heed...
• Luke Durbridge
“Put the intermediate sprint within the first 20km so sprint teams go full for it to get maximum points. Then only make stages 150-160km max. Then the break will go and have more of a chance. Also, within the first week, give the chance for the yellow jersey to change a few times, so give bigger time bonuses throughout the stage.”
• Ciro Scognamiglio
Journalist, La Gazzetta dello Sport
“These are certainly not boring stages for the sprinters [but] the Tour has tried to organise a first week that was more interesting. For example, a few years ago when Nibali won the Tour there was the pavé, there was the finish in Sheffield which was a classic…
“The solution could be to introduce some little climbs not far from the finish… on these climbs they could introduce a little bonification that could be an incentive for the riders to chase.”
• Brecht Decaluwe
“Maybe have more points for the polka-dot jersey might attract other riders to join the breakaway because now they get one point, maybe two points. That’s not really worth battling for…
“There are so many teams coming here with a good sprinter. They want that sprint – they need that sprint. And there’s a few teams which have no chances in the sprint and want to have a go in the breakaway. How do you change that?
“Cycling is like balancing between culture – the way it’s always been done on the road through France, from city ‘A’ to city ‘B’… I’m not sure if we’re going to head towards circuits.
“Perhaps it’ll all go back to kermesses, the Belgian way.”
• Yves Perret
PR officer for AG2R La Mondiale
“What we have seen since the beginning of the season is that the most interesting races and stages are shorter. Maybe 200km is too long...
“Sometimes long and boring races can have an influence; the attention of the riders is low and sometimes there are crashes.
“Two years ago, Jean-Christophe Peraud had a big crash and he was injured for the rest of the Tour because he was not paying attention. Someone slowed down, he didn’t see it, he touched the wheel and he crashed.
“For the peloton there is also a risk because it’s so boring; not all the riders are concentrating all day long.”
So what can we take away from this?
It’s the Tour de France. It is exciting but there are inevitably times when the script could do with a spark. There are options: different points allocations, additional bonuses, circuit stages, shorter stages…
Of course, the other solution is to simply keep it the same, cheer the escapees, the chasers and the sprinters when they do their thing and appreciate that the formula exists for a reason.
What’s your take? Does the Tour need to rewrite the script to make it interesting?