November 15, 2018, 11:35

Tour de France talking points as Chris Froome eyes fifth title

Tour de France talking points as Chris Froome eyes fifth title

About to head to Ruta del Sol. I want to thank everyone for their support & patience over this difficult period. I am doing my utmost to ensure that things are resolved as speedily as possible. Can’t wait to get this season started!! 🚴🏻‍♂️💨💨💨 #64RdS

A post shared by Chris Froome (@chrisfroome) on Feb 13, 2018 at 12:15am PST

Reduced in number

This year’s Tour will feature 176 riders, down from 198 following world governing body the UCI’s introduction of new limits on the size of Grand Tour teams. It has been argued that smaller teams should make racing safer with the roads less congested during technical sections, but it seems the bigger reason for change is to try to break the stranglehold the best teams – read Team Sky – have had. So does it work? The season to date has suggested it does little to change the fight for general classification, but other effects have been felt. Breakaways have been given shorter leashes with the peloton aware they have reduced resources to bring them back. And it has also changed team selection, with Mitchelton-Scott making the surprise decision to leave sprinter Caleb Ewan at home in order to focus on Adam Yates’ GC challenge. There is no longer room for split ambitions at the Tour.

Cycling’s own VAR

It’s not quite the same as VAR at the World Cup, but this season has seen video commissaires introduced at the biggest races. To see why, look no further than stage four of last year’s Tour. The disqualification of world champion Peter Sagan following a crash with Mark Cavendish in Vittel was one of the main talking points of the 2017 race, with the vast majority concluding the race commissaires were too hasty in sending the Slovakian home. In their defence, they only had so much evidence to work with under previous regulations. After Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team took their appeal against his disqualification all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the UCI brought in new rules – putting a commissaire in front of a TV screen with access to every angle.

On your marks

The increasing trend for short mountain stages designed to encourage explosive racing will be taken a step further this year on the 65km stage from Bagneres-du-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan. Organisers ASO have announced riders will line up in a grid formation based on their general classification position, similar to a Formula One race. The top 20 riders in the general classification will go first, with the rest of the peloton split into four other groups at kilometre zero. Speaking to Spanish newspaper Marca when the move was announced earlier this year, ASO technical director Thierry Gouvenou said: “We believe that with such a short stage the tension can be cut with a knife and that this start formula will accentuate this situation.” It should certainly provide an interesting twist to the day’s tactics, and, if it works, could become a common sight in the future.

In transition

With perhaps unfortunate timing, the 2017 Tour was the first to feature live television coverage of every stage from start to finish. The early days of the race were characterised by long, dull transition stages – not least the 217km stage six from Vesoul to Troyes, on which the only incident of note prior to the sprint finish was a blow-away parasol which briefly threatened to cut through the peloton. Froome described the stage as “the most relaxed day I’ve ever done on the bike”. ASO has made moves to ensure there will not be a repeat, with the opening days littered with obstacles. The cobbles of stage nine are the most obvious, but many of those stages are likely to cut through crosswinds, while the use of time bonuses at key points throughout the road stages will keep riders on their toes.

– Press Association


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