• Peter Sagan akes part in a DJ set after winning and competing in the 14th edition of the "Natourcriterium Herentals" a post TDF crit. (Getty Images) (Getty)Source: Getty
How could more drama be injected into the three-week grand tours? Stephanie Constand has some ideas.
Stephanie Constand

Cycling Central
24 Aug 2018 - 1:39 PM  UPDATED 24 Aug 2018 - 1:51 PM

It’s a situation even the most seasoned of grand tour viewers in Australia is familiar with: you're propped up on the sofa at some ungodly hour, fallen asleep mid-stage, only to wake up at 3am to a Nordic noir re-run and subsequently discover the dog has eaten your #toursnacks.

The grand tours - especially La Grand Boucle - need some spicing up. Although the forthcoming La Vuelta a España is not usually the somnolence-inducing spectacle the Tour de France can sometimes be, there’s still arguably room for improvement in the race that will see the riders battle it out on the Spanish roads for post-Tour redemptive glory.

So how could some more drama be injected into the racing this August and September?

A combativity jersey

Dan Martin finds out he won the 2018 Tour de France super combativity award

Instead of the inconspicuous red dossard pinned to the back of the most aggressive rider, give greater recognition and status to attacking riding through the introduction of a unique combativity classification with its own jersey, attendant paycheque, and illustrious position on the final podium.

No rider has won both the combativity prize and general classification at the Tour since Hinault in 1981, so it’s clear grand tour contenders are increasingly focused on calculated and predictable racing rather than instinct and aggressive riding. A combativity classification could help re-spark, at least among the rest of the peloton, the panache so many lament is woefully lacking in modern racing.

With a combativity jersey on offer, in addition to the usual ensemble of sprinters and GC contenders, teams would also bring along more attacking riders to the grand tours in the hope of taking out the prize.

The only catch is UCI regulations currently restrict the number of leaders' jerseys at these races to four. Yet surely an exemption could be granted in the name of incentivising more exciting racing?

Encourage the breakaways

WATCH: Omar Fraile won Stage 14 of the 2018 Tour de France from a breakaway

At last year’s Tour, Yoann Offredo was seen angrily gesticulating towards a group of Quick-Step riders from his team bus after the Belgian outfit’s sprint train once again foiled his chance of victory from a two-man break. The Frenchman’s frustration was palpable, and it was presumably a sentiment shared by many that day.

Particularly on long stages, strong riders are unwilling to populate the breakaways, which many see as nothing more than a kamikaze mission. The entire affair is usually a fait accompli. A couple of intrepid riders head up the road and create a reasonable advantage, only to be reeled back in by the sprinters’ teams in the last kilometres. The script is the same, and the script needs a bit more spark.

To incentivise stronger riders to join the breaks, UCI points, or points accruing within a unique in-race competition, could be offered for each kilometre (above a minimum amount, say 5km) a rider spends at the head of the race.

Additional rules aimed at discouraging the breaks from transforming into a second peloton of sorts would stipulate points will only accrue if the group is less than 10 riders strong.

If more than 10 riders join the group, the break will attack itself until the passengers are dropped, providing for yet more action.

Shorter stages 

There are some days on the road when a spectator’s umbrella blowing onto the course is just about the most exciting thing to write home about.

A case in point is the 231km Stage 7 of this year’s Tour, where the peloton finished over half an hour behind the slowest expected time after shooting the breeze from Fougères to Chartres. In the words of Peter Sagan, “it was a boring day. We went pretty easy all day and then raced the last 10km.”

Next week’s Vuelta is thankfully not characterised by such egregiously long distances, with only two stages stretching over 200km. However, even the Spanish race could benefit from the addition of significantly shorter stages, which have a proven potential to encourage explosive racing.

Think back to the 65km, Stage 17 of this year’s Tour, the shortest road stage in 30 years featuring three categorised climbs and a summit finish. Or even last year’s Stage 13, which provided for an action-packed 100km of racing from Girons to Foix. Another example is no doubt the highly dramatic Stage 15 of the 2016 Vuelta, where Contador and Quintana attacked Froome on the 118km-long course and turned the GC on its head.\

Brief highlights of Stage 17 of the 2018 Tour de France

Such instances demonstrate that in road racing, short is the new long.

But on these “slaughterhouse stages”, consideration must also be given to the gruppetto. Particularly on short mountainous days, the riders languishing in the autobus are deprived of the flat roads upon which they often rely to claw back time. However, a simple extension of the time cut will allow sprinters and injured riders to be thrown a much-needed lifeline, while still allowing the climbers to have their day out front.

There are a series of other potential options, such as Primes or a “Golden Kilometre,” an invention recently on display at the BinckBank Tour which consists of three time bonification sprints within a single kilometre.

Although cycling is largely a conservative sport, the introduction of novel concepts rewarding the heroics and panache on the road is certainly worth considering.

Modern audiences, with their increasingly finite attention spans and vast array of alternative television viewing options, will surely appreciate this newly-invigorated type of racing.

Stephanie Constand has worked as a press officer for several WorldTour cycling teams and race organisers. Originally working as a lawyer and in academia, she has written for many publications, both on cycling and a range of other topics, and is currently writing a book. She’s on Twitter at @stephconstand and online at www.creativecyclingpr.com