Commentary: Five (more) ways for ASO to liven up the Tour de France

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On Sunday, Het Nieuwsblad reported that the Tour de France will use a novel starting-grid style approach for the ultra-short Stage 17. The first 20 riders on the general classification will be seeded on the start line in one group, according to position. Four more groups follow, where the remaining riders “shall position themselves freely…corresponding to their places in the general classification,” says the rulebook.

The start has been moved just outside of Bagneres-de-Luchon, presumably to give riders a more straightforward start unencumbered by the traffic-calming “road furniture” that’s now a feature of, well, every town in Europe. But it also means the race starts literally at the foot of the day’s first climb, an easy leg-stretcher up the Montee de Peyragudes (15km at 6.7% average, but at least this time they don’t do the aerodrome runway).

Many cyclocross comparisons have already been drawn, although with the number of riders involved, this more resembles the start of a World Cup XC race. Mathieu van der Poel is doubtless giving tutorials on defending first-row start positions. Personally, I’m hoping see a repeat of Peter Sagan’s virtuoso Olympics start, where he moved from the back row to top five in literally 300 meters.

But it also got us thinking: If ASO is willing to experiment, why stop there? What other stages could be livened up with a little creative thinking?

Here are five proposals for Thierry Gouvenou and crew to consider.

Stage 1: Oaren’t you excited?

In 1999, the Passage du Gois — a granite-paved causeway between Noirmoutier-en-Île and the mainland that gets slick from algae because it floods at high tide — caused a massive pileup and a 6:03 gap at the finish for Alex Zulle, who ultimately finished second at the Tour to He Who Shall Not Be Named by a total of 7:37.

Originally, the 2018 race was also supposed to use the Passage, but ASO realized that the usual noon start time would unfortunately coincide with high tide. Rather than require snorkels, they re-routed.

Bor-ing! Keep the causeway; just do it via rowboat.

Since the UCI dropped Grand Tour team sizes from nine to eight riders, it even fits existing International Rowing Association eight-man crew rules. Each team’s GM will serve as coxswain (JV can appoint a replacement since his clothes might get wet). Just think of the storylines!

Might Team Sky slavishly court Sir Wiggo CBE for a return? Will Marc Madiot’s, uh, enthusiastic directing style prove decisive, or will his hair be an aerodynamic marginal loss? Perhaps the Crown Prince of Bahrain will start an international incident by capsizing the UAE team when he fires up his 139-meter, $300 million yacht, Al Salamah, to follow Vincenzo Nibali’s progress.

Stage 3: Liberté, Egalité, and definitely Fraternité, bruh

Why stop with F1 start grids for the auto-racing metaphors? The team time trial stage should open with a Le Mans-style mass start, with a twist — each team leader has to shotgun a beer first, and the team can’t go until he’s finished.

Vomiting is an immediate DQ. Any spills or un-consumed booze require a biathlon-style penalty lap on a Wall of Death velodrome. To complete the mood, the Espace Tourmalet VIP area will feature a cheering section from Delta House.

Stage 9: Trading Places

Flat tires will be a fact of life on this stage from Arras Citadelle to Roubaix, featuring 15 sectors of pavé. And teammates have to be selfless to ensure their leader’s GC hopes stay intact. So, each team will designate one teammate as a mechanic. He does get to follow on a motorbike at least. Our bet’s on Kwiatkowski, right down to the butt slap.

Oh, and the actual team mechanics? One has to enter the race to replace the domestique-turned-wrench. To add to the interest, he has to make the time cut or the whole team is Hors Delai.

Stage 12: A Real Festivus For the Rest Of Us

The Alpe d’Huez stage warms up with the tightly stacked switchbacks of the Lacets du Montvernier. It’ll be a picturesque TV moment but, coming almost 100km before the finish, won’t exactly factor in the race.

So, make a factor, with Feats Of Strength (well, skill, anyway): at the summit, full stop for the race as each team enters a rider in a skid contest back down. Overall time bonuses of 30, 20 and 10 seconds will go to the GC riders whose teammates leave the longest black marks on the road.

Sagan will not be eligible to enter for Bora-Hansgrohe, but will be on hand for a crowd-pleasing skills demonstration in advance of his upcoming role as Dominic Torretto’s long-lost kid brother in Fast and Furious X: Two-Wheel Drift.

Stage 16: Top Zecret KOM Plan (Do Not Read)

Stage 16’s precipitous drop off the Col du Portillon to the finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon cries out for a KOM downhill segment. It’s narrow-ish, with some steep sections and a few tight hairpins. Get a tire company to sponsor it and, for best results, don’t announce it until a few days before the race. The riders will love this, I’m sure of it.

About the Author

Joe Lindsey is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado. He writes about outdoor sports, health and fitness, and science and tech, and finds both linguistic and visual puns irresistible.


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