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August 20, 2017
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  • Gabriel Nogueira

    It’s a good point mate, but don’t forget Spaniards love for tuff grueling long climbs… :) The national tour should please the local spectators too, right?

  • “Rowan Dever juggles a career as a Chartered Accountant while competing as a national-level road racer in Australia. He is also the former Editor of Ultimate Cycling magazine.”

    He also doesn’t know how to spell “Eddy Merckx” properly … nor apparently do his proofreaders/editors.

    • That’s my fault. I proofed it and didn’t catch it. Fixed.

      • Some of your competitors don’t fix their errors when they’re pointed out. My feeling is that just because news is on a cycling-related website doesn’t mean it’s not journalism. For me, quality of editing/proofreading is a key factor in determining the credibility of the publication.

    • Rayzor

      Do you have anything material to add to the conversation?

      • It doesn’t matter if a news site is cycling-related; their reportage should still be held to journalistic standards. As for Rowan’s suggestions; I agree with them wholeheartedly.

        I just wish the Vuelta never moved from spring to fall, because to me that’s when it started to decline. It was a goal when it was positioned before the Tour, but its fall schedule over the past 21 years has definitely made the race more of a fallback or afterthought. Very few races scheduled after the Tour have any real importance except to the most die-hard of fans.

        For example, the Clasica San Sebastian was just held 2 1/2 weeks ago, but how many people can tell me who won off the top of their head, without having to look it up? (This is a rhetorical question, by the way, we don’t need a bunch of comments saying that Bauke Mollema won the Clasica this year).

        So yeah, if changing the format of the Vuelta to make it winnable by a non-GC specialist raises its profile and makes it truly a race worth targeting, then I’m all for it.

        • The Rabbit

          You omitted the accent over the ‘á’ in Clásica de San Sebastián.

          • a) I’m not a working journalist/editor/proofreader being paid to catch mistakes before they are published. I’m an amateur; these guys are supposed to be professionals.

            b) I copied and pasted the spelling and formatting of “Clasica San Sebastian” from another cycling-related news site. It even has “cycling” and “news” in the URL. See what happens when you don’t have professional proofreaders? Errors get compounded. If I were acting as a journalist, I should have gone straight to the source (http://www.klasikoa.eus), and used the race’s proper name(s) in its proper language: “Donostiako Klasikoa” or “Klasikoa Donastia/Donastia”. Mea culpa.

            I still agree with Rowan’s suggestions wholeheartedly.

    • James_Casper


      Must be fun living in your house.

  • Tim Ashton

    Good article with some really interesting concepts. I would certainly like to see come changes that open up the race to a wider range of potential winners.

    • Ride4fun

      3 possible Tours:

      Tour of Italy’s Mountains….for skinny climbers
      Time Trial de France…for power men
      Rouleur de Spain…for, well, rouleurs

  • Michael Sproul

    Change Vuelta for le Tour and I’d have been nodding all the way through that.

    • Alex McGregor

      Every grand tour should try a course like this, maybe rotate every three years? I enjoyed the TDF route the year Nibali won, especially the first week.

      • ebbe

        Sounds like a good idea, but I don’t think it will happen in the Tour. It seems like in recent years the Tour is purpose built to be predictable. The only exception being that one Tour (or specifically: that one stage) you talked about, and I don’t think they even expected that stage to be as influential as it turned out to be. It says quite a lot that we haven’t seen anything even close to that one stage in the courses for 2015 and 2016.

    • ebbe

      Best comment! Completely agree with this

      In all fairness, for the last couple of years the Giro has consistently been the best Grand Tour, very very closely followed by the Vuelta. The Tour is the one that’s severely lagging, and only makes up for this by the massive but largely undeserved extravagant media attention.

      To me, the real question here is: Is it the failing identity (including planning/course/etc) of the Vuelta that explains the lack of media attention? Or is it the lack of media attention that explains the perceived lack of identity. the former. For the general public it’s clearly the former. For the casual cycling fan it’s probably a bit of both. For hardcore cycling fans it’s the latter: For them, the Vuelta is easily the (first or) second best Grand Tour.

    • duanegran

      Agreed. The tour gets all the attention but strip away the media hype and objectively speaking the race dynamics and route is less exciting than the other grand tours.

  • NY’er

    Great piece Rowan. While reading, I found myself daydreaming (on topic!) of just how exciting this race could become, just as you intended. As one of my mates often reminds me, the true stars of this sport are those that understand that they’re in the business of entertaining, not just bike racing. The Vuelta could become an awesome spectacle and not just an add-on.

    • Rowan

      Thanks NY’er

  • claude cat

    Why change the Vuelta? It’s provided the best GT racing in recent years.Far more exciting that the TdF.

    • But except for the true die-hard fans, who knows about it?

      • James_Casper

        And that’s a problem because????

        Aside from die-hard fans, who knows about MSR, LBL, or Lombardy? In Australia (at least), most casual followers would think Monuments equal just Ronde and PR.

        Should the other 3 monuments change?

  • Pete

    Just swapping the Tour and Vuelta dates might create a better “season narrative”
    (lead-up stage races realigned to suit)

    Otherwise, reducing the Vuelta to two weeks might be the way to go, along with ideas from the article

    • J Evans

      Reduce it to two weeks and it’s ruined. It’s no longer a grand tour. GT’s are three weeks long because that provides the ultimate test of stamina. Plus, you do that and all the history of the Vuelta is lost for comparison. Plus, the trifecta could never be done (however unlikely it is now).
      What positives are there to reducing it in duration? Most people – e.g. Cookson – who suggest this (I’m not saying you) are only doing so to free up more time for money-spinning races in places where no-one cares about cycling.

      • ebbe

        Agreed! If any Grand Tour deserves to be cut to two weeks, it’s the Tour. In recent years, that’s been decided in the second week anyway. No need to do the third week ;-)

        But as things stand now, all the UCI is doing is adding more events to the World Tour. Nothing else. I don’t see that working out sustainably to be honest.

        • J Evans

          The WT is a shambles: most of the new events are not worthy of the stature. The WT was always fairly meaningless, now more so.

          I have been somewhat critical of the Vuelta above, but it still remains far more interesting than the Tour – in recent years, at least.

          • ebbe

            Indeed. The only addition that really deserved the promotion is Strade Bianchi. But did Strade Bianchi really need to be promoted to WT for any specific reason? I honestly don’t think so.

            But my main worry is not so much about whether the events deserve to be WT. It’s about the additional obligations (in many respects) for the teams.

          • Dave

            The UCI has proposed to make the new events compulsory for only a minimum of ten WorldTour teams each but without specifying the regulatory mechanism to make that possible. The teams have objected to this, and it was no coincidence that they suddenly arced up about participation fees for the World Championship TTT despite having been fine with the arrangements in previous years.

            As far as I’ve read, it is only the UCI that has approved the expansion events for 2017 and not the vote of the Professional Cycling Council which is also necessary. The UCI could be in hot water if they have signed contracts with race organisers before the other stakeholders have approved it.

            • J Evans

              Hilariously typical if they haven’t.

      • Rowan

        Agree J Evans. I think talk of reducing it to two weeks only serves to mask the underlying identity and brand issues for the Vuelta, without addressing the more fundamental issues

    • Dave

      Swapping the Tour to August, the Vuelta to May and the Giro to June-July would be even better.

      There needs to be more work on it than just swapping the grand tours though. The national championships window needs to be held at a more sensible time (perhaps after the cobbled classics, with the Ardennes classics shifting back a week) rather than the current sub-optimal slot where Giro riders are too busted to put in a credible race and Tour riders are benched by their pro teams.

      • Rowan

        Good points Dave. The timing of all three grand tours was not something I addressed. While your ideas are sensible I’m not sure we’ll ever see such wholesale changes to the calendar in the near future.

        • Dave

          Certainly not while the promotion of elite road cycling is overseen by a corrupt Swiss-based sporting dictatorship which is unaccountable, rather than a private sector company like ASO which will have to face the implications if it fails.

  • Spartacus

    Great opinion piece Rowan, once again the sort of content that sets CT apart. A few thoughts to put in the mix:

    – ASO owns the Vuelta and so is unlikely to have any commercial interest in seeing it rival the Tour. It may well have been a defensive rather expansionary move on ASO’s part to acquire Unipublic in the first place. So your suggestion of radical differentiation is actually likely to be more interesting to ASO than incremental closure of the gap to the Tour.

    – To many the Vuelta is a far more exciting event than the Tour. Indeed, I was at the Tour this year and it had a decidedly lacklustre feel of overall pre-determination, even though individual stages were exhilarating (eg GVA, Sagan, Bardet). I have to say I am looking forward to the Vuelta with real excitement, especially knowing that Contador has every chance of using his amazing race craft to turn back the clock, while new rivals like Chaves come of age.

    – Yes the mountain stages of the Vuelta are ridiculously hard, but they have led to recent moments of high comedy – JJ Cobo and Chris Horner’s overt glowing; and also real mano-a-mano drama – the stages to Lagos de Covadonga and Ancrares in 2014 saw Contador, Froome, Valverde and Purito duking it out in their own various styles, with Purito and Contador’s incessant attacks, Froome effectively ignoring them and riding a mountain TT based purely on watts and Valverde valiantly hanging in there. So very different from the recent Froome/Sky show at the Tour.

    – As you say, the Vuelta has a history of reinvention. I remember when it used to be held in spring in April and was the race at which many riders started to build post-winter form. A few riders, like Tony Rominger “prepared” especially for it, but most didn’t. Most stages involved a breakaway of Spanish pros and piano, piano, piano until the final hour or so of racing. At the time of the shift to September many commentators, particularly in Spain, were aghast with doom and gloom. Of course, life went on.

    – Weight loss wasn’t the only thing that saw things turn out alright for Big Mig ;)

    • Rowan

      Really interesting views Spartacus. Diversifying the image/brand of the Vuelta as something unique to the Tour should be a key priority for the ASO. Any business strategy would at least consider it in this instance, so hopefully ASO does just that. In terms of a common response I’ve seen being that ‘the Vuelta is the most exciting GT all year and the Tour is boring’, to me there’s a difference between top class GC riders fighting it out in a semi-boring Tour vs semi-fit GC riders fighting it out in a more exciting Vuelta. I still prefer the spectacle and mysticism of the Tour, even if the racing can be more formulaic and predictable.

      • Spartacus

        The fully fit GC guys at the Tour v the semi fit GC riders at the Vuelta is an interesting point. Its effect is probably amplified by fully fit teams v semi fit ones as well. Sky, Tinkoff, Astana and BMC (and now OBE in 2016) really do bring their specifically peaking A-teams to the Giro and the Tour, whereas the Vuelta teams, as you point out in the article, can include guys prepping for other races like the Worlds and Il Lombardia, opportunists who are trying desperately for a new contract with a different team and so not-fully committed to the team’s GC goal, and newer pros being blooded in their first GC. Tales of riders being strong-armed by their DS into attending the Vuelta to make up numbers and then pulling out with “illness” or “injury” in the first week are legendary.

        One interesting observation is that the occasional allrounder used to win the Vuelta (Kelly, Mauri, Olano, Zuelle) and so the primary point of your article is not so radical if one looks back far enough. By contrast, Hesjedal is the only rider with questionable climbing ability to win the Giro in decades and for the Tour it’s been even longer. Before someone says “what about Indurain?”, I suggest they view one of my favourite Tour stages of all time – 1994 to Hautacam in the rain when Indurain towed Luc Leblanc all the way to the line. Obviously this was during the ‘full-retard’ doping era, but Big Mig could nonetheless outclimb any contemporary other than the Carrera duo of Chiappucci and Pantani.

        Final point, for all those commenting on the UCI and it’s hard-to-fathom approach to calendar and team administration, remember it is ASO (a French private company) and not the UCI that is the decision maker on the Vuelta course. ASO’s disdain for the UCI could not be higher, a level of haughtiness that only Christian Prudhomme could pull off with a straight face. ASO holds most or all of the cards here – more money, ownership of two of the three Grand Tours, PR, Paris Nice, LBL, the Dauphine and a swag of others, and of course a conviction that their role is not just to run a highly-profitable and globally popular race but also one that gives to the people of France a sense of national pride. I was at the Mont Ventoux stage on Bastille Day this year and the sense of French pride (and of course anger and horror that evening, albeit for entirely unrelated reasons) was off the charts.

        • ebbe

          Hmmm, ASO did clearly lose the most recent big battle (over “open” versus “closed” systems – a clumsy metaphor for “who gets to decide who rides the TdF?”) against the UCI though. ASO may hold the cards, but the UCI decides which cards ASO can play.

          ps, no fan of the UCI, merely acknowledging that they clearly won the most recent battle.

  • Stian Pollestad

    I really like this idea! Make one of the grand tours open to other riders to win overall, not just skinny climbers. Peter Sagan winning a GT would be like Leicester winning the PL. Very entertaining.

  • Jan Kušar

    The giro had 5 and NOT 9 summit finishes this year

    • Rowan

      Hi Jan. Good spot, seems to be a typo. We’ll fix that up. Thanks

  • J Evans

    The idea of a grand tour for more all-round riders is attractive – it could at least be tried some years. It would be particularly good this year as the Eneco Tour has forgone its recent parcours, where it was a stage race for classics riders, in order to be spring and TT heavy to attract those using it as training for the WC (a huge shame in my view, as the Eneco is almost unique in this respect – apart from the 2014 Paris-Nice, which was excellent because it didn’t just rely on climbing and TT).

    In The Vuelta has had too many summit finishes – and far too many of them are single summits after relatively easy stages. It tends to make the race formulaic – it’s so often an uphill sprint at the end of the stage. It often lacks tactically. (And always a TTT to start.)

    A lot of people like the simplicity and quick hit of the big finales.recent years, but that’s not what makes a great grand tour – the Giro has the best
    parcours of the grand tours.

  • Jan Kušar

    I think that the vuelta has been the most exciting race of the season for the last couple of years, so it doesn’ t really matter if riders don’ t target it at the start of the season or just use it as preparation for the worlds, because it is simply exciting to watch. The only thing that vuelta lacks are top level sprinters.

    • Rowan

      Thanks Jan. Perhaps a Vuelta parcours similar to what I’ve proposed which offers more opportunities for sprinters would entice more of them to start and even finish the Vuelta.

  • Stewie Griffin

    Has the author even seen the vuelta in the last couple of years? It’s been the most exciting race of the year together with the Giro, where as the Tour is the dullest. To riders, the Giro is the hardest to ride, but the Tour is the hardest to win. That doesn’t make it the nicest race to watch. Probably because it’s “less important”, the GC contenders in the vuelta take far larger risks as well, in comparison to the more calculated TDF. The stages have been shortened to 130-140 km on many occasions in the vuelta, with attractive racing as a followed plus. TDF will follow this change as we saw, shorter = more intense racing. More coverage would be good, but I think many pro’s prefer the relaxed atmosphere of the vuelta a lot more than the TDF, so it doesn’t need to be of that status

    • J Evans

      As we saw at this year’s Tour, the simplistic formula of short stages = exciting racing doesn’t hold.
      What you need are a variety of stage lengths (as the Giro has shown). This gives riders with different characteristics opportunities to challenge. For example, how is Chris Froome over a stage of ~230km with multiple mountains from start to finish (without long valley sections where teams can help their leaders)? We know that Froome is good on the monoclimb-type stage, but he’s rarely been tested on this type of stage. Would his competitors challenge early in order to ditch Froome’s team?
      I strongly suspect that Froome would have the beating of his rivals anyway, but wouldn’t it be much more exciting to see him do it on his own more – with some actual racing in the mountains?
      Plus, the winner of a GT should have a range of abilities – and that means long stages as well as short ones.
      There are few more exciting stages in a GT than long, mountain stages where the action starts early. It’s a fairly rare occurrence and riders can negate the stage’s difficulty by simply not riding – but they should be given the opportunity to do so.
      Mind you, judging from this year’s Tour, only electrified cattle prods would encourage the others to actually challenge Froome.

      • Dave

        The short stages = exciting races formula only holds true if the field doesn’t have the depth to be genuinely competitive over elite distances.

        Hence the use of short stages for the Vuelta and women’s races, while the big events stay full length. If the field is deep, you don’t need to compromise on the sport’s important element of the riders having to race against both the course and their opposition.

        • J Evans

          But the Tour in recent years has also gone for short stages. And I think the Vuelta field is generally deep enough.

          • Dave

            Having a couple of short stages hasn’t made the Tour any more exciting though.

            The Vuelta field is broad, not deep.

            • J Evans

              No, it hasn’t – a point I’ve made elsewhere on this page.
              My point here was in response to you saying ‘while the big events stay full length’ – the Tour hasn’t, certainly as far as mountains stages are concerned.

              I think the Vuelta field is certainly deep enough: Froome, Contador, Quintana plus many others.
              There was a time when the top riders didn’t do it – but the riders who did were still perfectly capable of riding the long stages.

              • Dave

                Your memory is deceiving you. The mountain stages of this year’s Tour were:
                Only the last two could plausibly be called ‘shorter’ and even that’s a stretch.

                The medium mountain stages were:
                163km (that epic with Cummings was a great stage!)

                Hardly the sort of made-for-TV mountain sprints which are normal in the Vuelta these days.

                • J Evans

                  Those are not what I would call long, but I suppose that comes down to one’s definition.
                  Certainly, though, those last two very short stages did not provide excitement.

                  • Stewie Griffin

                    Being a racer myself, from experience, the shorter the race, the more intense it will be raced. if the distance in my category goes up, the race becomes easier, because the large part of the field is afraid of getting out of gas. They are all well trained pro’s, and flat stages of 250 km should be kept in to tire the sprinters at the end and to cover some ground. But the majority of hard stages should be around 140 km. 230 km mountain stage wouldn’t make a difference for Froome, Sky will controll the race over several climbs, the others will still be afraid to attack. My point was, let the vuelta be the vuelta. It’s an attractive race as it is

    • Rowan

      Stewie I see your point and don’t disagree that the Vuelta can be exciting. However just as the Tour of Wallonie and smaller races can be exciting, I still prefer to see the best GC riders in the world battling it out when they’re in top condition, even if the racing can be less stimulating to watch say at the Tour this year. For me, the Vuelta just doesn’t seem to deliver that.

      • Stewie Griffin

        A different race, different contenders. It would be a sad sport of only 3 topperformers could ride every race.. Last year’s race had some of the most intense drama there was. With Dumoulin looking strong for the win, losing it all on the penultimate stage to Aru.

        We’ve seen Contador launch crazy attacks, brilliant attacks, brilliant tactical skills. Unexpected winners, the rise of many many great riders. Mind you, Froome was about to win the vuelta in 2011, only losing by a couple of seconds vs Cobo. It’s a showcase of emerging talent and should be embraced for what it is. And hey, if you don’t enjoy that, that’s fine by me, different opinions, that’s what fora are about.

        • ebbe

          Completely agree Stewie! I’d rather see Dumoulin and Aru fight for every bonus second they can muster, than see Froome and Quintana wait, wait, wait, have a rest, wait, have a drink, wait, wait some more, and then not fight in the end.

          Even if the outcome was that Dumoulin lost the ’15 Vuelta in the end, and that Kruijswijk lost the ’16 Giro in the end, I prefered both to the ’15 and ’16 Tour

  • Buzzard

    Leave it just the way it is – the Giro and Vuelta are always better races – the Horner win battling it out in the fog against Nibali in 2013 on the Angliru was probably the best hour off cycling I have ever seen. Contador “stealing” the Vuelta in 2012 with the ultimate display of cunning and panache…….. These in my opinion are the true racers races that are closer to the “old” days where all the top riders tried to win everything. With the $30Mill Sky Armada the tour is well boring….. leave the other grand tours alone even if the person in the street isn’t watching. Love it!

  • Cycle Sierra Nevada

    Where the TdF has become formulaic and boring the Vuelta remains exciting and unpredictable.

    TdF this year was a foregone conclusion with one team dominating
    especially. Many commentators would perhaps disagree but the TV viewing
    figures have dropped off a cliff for the Tour in 2016. Perhaps it is the
    Tour that needs to change to make it more difficult for one team to
    control the race? I would suggest that it could make for more
    interesting viewing for any GT to reduce the number of riders from 9 to
    7, have greater time bonifications for sprint stages, slight up-hill
    finishes etc to give the non-specialists a chance.

    What you have outlined as criticisms, I can only see the positives.

    think of top class GC riders lining up without top class form, racing
    the Vuelta after injuries or illness sustained at the Tour.)
    Adds a little drama to the dynamic if the race, whats better than a fallen hero out to prove himself?

    never hear of top-level pros – GC or otherwise – specifically targeting
    the Vuelta as their number one focus for the season)
    How cool was it to see big Tom challange for the overall at last years Vuelta?

    Spanish grand tour does offer an element of exposure, but it’s mainly
    for small Spanish pro continental teams and desperate riders hunting for
    a contract for the following year.)
    This also adds to the uncertainty of the race. Great to see teams like Caja Rural throw the kitchen sink at the race!

    (It also allows bigger teams to blood new riders. From an Australian perspective, this was the path for the likes of Caleb Ewan)
    Which other GT affords young riders this opportunity? These guys need to cut their teeth somewhere, why not the Vuelta.

    me, the Vuelta is a race where die-hards keep watching and those that
    only switch on for the Tour have gone back to the Premiership or
    whatever. The Vuelta is a race for the true fans of cycling.

    • Rowan

      A very positive way of looking at things I’ll admit. Thanks for your comments, some good points made.

  • ecuadorthree

    There’s an argument to be made that GTs in general are too skewed towards climbers, but the Vuelta has probably the least climbing of the three GTs – Tom Dumoulin was only a stage away from winning last year. It’s also generally been the most entertaining GT in the last few years, so if it ain’t broke… Also Spain is a hilly country and all the best Spanish cyclists are climbers, so any changes on that front wouldn’t be too popular with the Spanish public.

    • Rowan

      Agree Ecuadorthree that we have to consider the potential for a Spanish rider to win the Vuelta. It’s a shame Sagan or GVA et. al aren’t Spaniards otherwise I suspect we would have seen some changes already made.

      • ZigaK

        To be fair, the changes you propose favor Valverde more than Sagan et al.

  • prog

    twice the entertainment value of the tour no matter what

  • J Evans

    One big potential flaw (as always) could be Sky using it’s uber-team to nullify the classics-style stages, leaving Froome to mop up in the mountains. (Mind you, that’s assuming Froome actually focuses on the Vuelta instead of raking in the cash at post-Tour crits – I wonder how that affected his Olympics.) But if you make these stages long (up to 250km even) this would be much less easy for them (particularly if teams were smaller).

    • Dave

      His Olympics was affected more by the fact that he doesn’t know anything about single day races and can only perform well in a time trial when there’s been a bunch of mountain stages to soften up the TT specialists.

      • J Evans

        True enough, but as seen with previous Vueltas, Froome doesn’t stay focused on trying 100% to win something after the Tour. I find it very odd considering he’s already very rich: surely you’d want to add to your palmares more than you’d want to add some needless extra cash?

        • Dave

          Getting the British public to finally love him like they love Wiggo would have been a prize worth racing for.

          He didn’t look too bad in the Olympic race, he just missed every meaningful move without instructions over his earpiece. An excellent example of why road racing needs to follow cyclocross in allowing only one-way radio (rider to team, to request service) or even a non-verbal system with a GPS-linked data transmitter and three buttons to request food/drink service, mechanical service (also sent to neutral service car) or crash/emergency (also sent to race organisation).

          • J Evans

            I wouldn’t say the adulation of strangers was worth anything.

            Winning the Vuelta would be.

            I’ve come round to the no radios idea in recent years. I’m not sure it would make that big a difference (you just have a rider going back to the car for instructions), but it’s worth trying.

            • Dave

              Going back to the car has a cost (working your way back takes extra energy, even with the UCI’s current lax attitude on drafting team cars) and a tactical risk (the race situation may evolve between the time a domestique receives instructions and returns to the front) which you don’t get with radios.

              There is the chance that it would lead to a short period of excessively negative racing when it first comes in, but that would only last until the power teams have had their pants pulled down by riders on weaker teams a few times. Think along the lines of Oscar Pereiro gaining half an hour and the lead of the 2006 Tour.

    • Rowan

      The other less-spoken issue or proposal is to reduce the size of teams down to say 6 or 7. That has a good potential to nullify the strength of Team Sky, a team which clearly has greater depth than all others.

      • Dave

        The smallest that the UCI Road Race Regulations allow for a WorldTour race is seven. Worth giving a shot.

      • J Evans

        Yes, reducing team size – to at least 7 – would have the biggest impact and is simple enough to do. But the UCI is far too much in Velon’s pocket to do it. (Less spoken about issue? – Not on some sites I can tell you.)

      • ebbe

        A potential downside to 6 or 7 riders per team in three week stage races would be if you lost 2 or 3 guys in one crash (it happens, especially since riding as one block to protect your GC contender became popular) or to illness/injury, you’re basically done for the GC.

        But there’s an easy solution to that: Make it 6 riders + “one substitute per week for stage races”. So the three grand tours would get 6 + 3 substitues. Tour of Poland would get 6 + 2. Tirreno Adriatico would get 6 + 1. It would work roughly similar to substitutes in other sports: Teams are free to use their substitutes whenever they want (but only at the start of a new stage, not during a stage). If they use it too early, they risk losing out in the end. If use do it too late, the risk missing out on opportunities. Any contender for any overall classification (GC, points, KOM) obviously needs to have started and finished all stages.

        Only thing to work out is how to keep the substitutes ‘in shape’ while they’re not contending. Maybe a small peloton of substitutes could follow the peloton, or ride ahead of it? Hey can decide how fast they’re going, as long as they stay together.

        And obviously, many UCI rules changes are needed for this to work.

        • Dave

          Really good idea!

          The substitutes could follow along behind the peloton, and be given a set time to arrive by in order to make sure the roads can be opened again in due time. Cycling being a sport that always needs a Special Cycling Word for anything and everything which could otherwise be described using normal words, perhaps it could be called something like the ‘grupetto’ or ‘autobus.’

          Teams could even be allowed to pick and choose how many of their guys they put in the grupetto every day.

          • ebbe

            I actually did think of the possibility to let riders who are dropped in the race join the substitutes-group who are “outside” the rade. But then I thought, nah… Dave will just try to make fun of that idea ;-)

            • Dave

              I think the whole idea is ridiculous.

              An essential characteristic of road cycling is that it is a contest against both the course and the other competitors. Lose that and you’ve lost the whole point of the sport.

              Some allowance for riders injured in a crash being allowed to restart the following day without the pressure to take dangerous risks in finishing the stage is as far as I’d consider going. This would be relatively simple to introduce, and could be modelled on the successful Rally 2 regulations that the FIA introduced for the WRC a few years back.

              • ebbe

                Thanks for providing your opinion Dave

  • jakub

    It is an interesting idea, however I think that having rouleur-friendly course with few mountains for climbers wouldn’t change that much at all. There is a catch – climbers well supported by their teams have no problems finishing in the same time as winner (or losing only few seconds) on a rouleur-suited stages. You would really need many stages a la Paris-Roubaix with cobbles, where rouleurs could really make a difference. On the other hand, it is still easier for pure climbers to make enough difference even if you have two mountain stages/mountaintop finishes in the whole tour. I’d love to see the likes of Sagan going for the GC, but realistically, you would need really a mix of only flat/rouleur stages with no real mountains at all.

    On another note, is there a real need to change anything at all? Vuelta has been definitely the most exciting Grand Tour for many years now. Cobo-Froome ’11, Contador la Fuente de ’12, Nibali vs. Horner ’13, Froome vs. Contador ’14, Dumoulin’s breaktrough ’15… I can’t wait for this year’s edition.

    • Dave

      Maybe a 150km TTT with cobbled sectors is what is necessary then ;-)

  • Patrick Murphy

    I find it bizarre that you are suggesting making changes to the best GT of the 3. OK, it’s clearly 3rd in the pecking order but for fans who like good racing it’s the best imo.

  • Berne Shaw

    Without doping or micro dosing it is impossible to remain a pic form all season Therefore the tour of Spain can never equal to Tour de France

    It is true that it is heavily weighted towards pure climbers which makes for a boring race But it is wrong to call Chris Froome a pure climber he is a all-around rider.

    It would be a huge mistake to make it be the opposite of the Tour de France or the Giro.

    All three tours during the season would benefit from a true combination of climbing time trialing and classics type events.

    If you want to make these tours more relevant try including classic style stages and then you’ll have an exciting race

  • Luke Burns

    It’s pretty simple, both the giro and the vuelta should be shortened to two weeks long and you’d have the best GT riders competing against each other 3 times per year rather than once, and you wouldn’t have an entire season ruined by one puncture or crash a la Porte and Contador. But it won’t happen as each race is too proud, and it’s a week’s less money to be made.

    That said the vuelta has been the best grand tour for the last two years and the tour has been the worst… But you can’t blame Froome/Sky for being to good and making it more predictable.

    A two week grand tour would also be easier for an all rounder to win… Though I don’t really see that as a problem… There’s enough crossover between classics guys and GC guys (Valverde, Martin, Rodriguez, Wiggins)

  • EOC

    While you’re obviously entitled to your opinion, the facts don’t stack up:

    More Top riders do the Vuelta than the Giro, consistently for several years now.
    The Vuelta has been the most exciting Grand Tour, bar none, for probably 7 out of the last 8 years.
    The Vuelta doesn’t suffer from cancelled or shortened stages due to weather on an ongoing basis like the Giro.

    The host towns have also made huge efforts lately and the whole package is a lot more exciting than previously. If it fails at all, I think it’s partly down to there being less interest in cycling possibly in Spain and certainly in the media anyway. But overall, I see no reason at all to change the Vuelta. The Giro is the race that needs to beef up a bit since it rarely now gets genuine Tour contenders taking part.

  • duanegran

    La Vuelta is my favorite grand tour in spite of its unfortunate placement on the calendar. It has a character quite its own that isn’t diminished because some heavy hitters use it as their last shot for a grand tour win or as a last effort to prove something in a contract year. I’m quite looking forward to the 2016 edition.

  • Tom

    I can’t agree with a single line in this article.
    There are a lot of thesis in this article in which I don’t agree. First of all Spanish Grand Tour should attract Spanish riders at most. And biggst Spanish stars are climbers, as they’ve always been. Valverde, Rodriguuez, Contador are the ones who make Vuelta popular, not Sagan.

    Second of all, we have races for classics riders at the time of Vuelta. Hamburg, Plouay, Canadian classics are made for them and they are glad to have a choice, either to ride Vuelta or classics. Would be better to revoke the whole calendar just to make a Vuelta GT for rouleurs ? I don’t think so.

    Also, once Tour de l’Ain has finished there are basically no races for climbers, besides Vuelta. If you are climber like Aru or Pinot and you decided not to go to Vuelta you have basically no more aims this year to complete. You can try with Canadian races or Lombardy but it’s not the same as long gradual climbs like in Vuelta. Again, to make Vuelta races for a classics guys we would have to revoke the whole calendar.

    If someone is looking for a GT race for rouleurs then there is one. It’s called spring classics at begins at the end of February and ends with Liege in April. For several weeks we can enjoy watching top classic guys fighting each other. Why they would need a GT for that ?

    Let’s stick with Sagan. He can come to Vuelta if he wants, win two stages and go home after a week. Still, it would be a bigger success then finishing sixth or seventh in GC. Why should we give Sagan an opportunity to win 19/21 stages in GT and take away that chance for climbers ?

    Regarding the argument that Vuelta could have parcours like California or Tirreno. Well, Tirreno organizers are trying their best to attract more and more climbers. They have actually changed the parcours recently to atract guys like Froome. This year was an exception because of bad weather. California on the other hand has a pretty weak field compared to Wt races which gives Sagan a chance to compete against the best climbers of the race on a single mountain. If Vuelta would be like California x3, meanining three MTF, three short TT at so on, Sagan would stand no chance because top climbers would drop him easily.

    Merckx thing. There are no more Merclx and there wont be any in near future. That’s a fact and we should not expect any changes in these. Race parcours cannot be designed to give Sagan or GVA chance to win overall just because they are so versatille riders. But they are not new Merckx and we have to live with that.

    It’s not true that classics route in 2017 would be a good preparition for the Worlds in Bergen. Well, yes it would be but if dont aim for GT because its too big effort. Like this year with Rio and Tour. Both races were for climbers yet the strongest guys in Rio didn’t aim for GC in Tour.

    Also, Vuelta has it’s own identity. Short stages, a lot of MTF after relatively easy and flat stages with many over 20% walls waiting for riders. It’s not about making a race as hard as possible. Actually, Vuelta is much easier then the Giro because of no 5000m altitiude stages or 2500m MTFs. It’s a race like no other and we should not change it.

  • James_Casper

    Read this type of article every year. And every ear the Vuelta is a more entertaining race than the TdF.

  • roadfurniture

    I love the Vuelta the way it is- short stages that have racing from the start. The long, boring Tour stages offer little for the first 2/3 of the stage. what should be done is move the Vuelta back to April or May so it’s not so hot, and put the Giro at the end of summer so they get better weather. IMHO

  • Tobi

    Why does Sagan have to win a GT? Him being so versatile is exactly why he can’t do it and it’s for the riders to adept to the race and not vice versa.
    Otherwise why not cut the football WC down to three matches as England are a good team they just can’t string together more than three good matches but their talent should be rewarded. The Vuelta being a bit of a second rate GT is in my eyes due to it being the last GT. If you concentrated on it and failed you couldn’t salvage your saison hence, go for an equal but earlier race.

  • I’m confused. Seems the current Vuelta a Espana format has been almost universally lauded as the way to make stage racing better, so the the idea of “reinvention” has me shaking my head and wondering about the old, “If it ain’t broke….” idea. Was the race more “successful” when the likes of Kelly, Giovanetti or Rominger could win?

  • noel

    they should do a 4th grand tour like this, but only every few years just like the world cup in soccer. Make a 4th grand tour in australia and 2 or 4 years a later the same in america and then in asia or so. NICE IDEA NOEL. GOOD ON ME

    • ebbe

      They could maybe do Brasil this year? Rio seems like a nice place where both a technically gifted rider like Nibali and a strong rouleur like Van Avermaet have a chance to win. For the next one in 2020… Tokyo maybe? ;-)

    • Dave

      A rotating grand tour would be great for hardcore cycling fans, but completely unsustainable as an event.

      This idea will only be worth revisiting if road cycling can get its house in order to the point that bidding for the world championships ever becomes competitive again.

  • Saeba R.

    I love the three euro GTs, but the economic center of the world is moving further and further away from Europe. Is 3x3wk tours sustainable? I honestly think not…

    Ideally if you had three big tours in a year, you would want one in America (continent) and one in Asia.

    But I don’t see how to get there from the current position…


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