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TDF roundtable: Does Sky’s dominance warrant a rule change?

The 2016 Tour de France is done and dusted. Chris Froome and his Sky teammates dropped a tombstone piledriver on the other GC contenders, leading to plenty of hand wringing by fans, pundits, and even rival team management. Has the Tour become boring? Do we need to change the rules to promote competitive balance? Should Chris Froome be forced to jog the entire route next year? Let’s roundtable!

What’s the lasting image from this year’s Tour?

Caley Fretz @caleyfretz: Froome running on Ventoux. It’s the easy, obvious answer, but that’s because it truly was something spectacular. We won’t see that kind of mayhem again anytime soon (we hope).

Personally, I’ll also remember a few smaller moments. Pierre Rolland with a possibly broken hand, jumping in breakaways until the end; Pete Stetina, in his first Tour back since his horrific knee injury, pulling toward Le Bettex for Bauke Mollema; Lawson Craddock holding his bike over his head and bellowing happiness on the Champs-Élysées after finishing his first Tour; Peter Sagan’s life coaching advice, “Tour is Tour, was like was.”

Fred Dreier @freddreier: Wout Poels, Sergio Henao, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, and Geraint Thomas pulling Chris Froome and a diminished peloton up the biggest climbs.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: For the sake of variety, the 1km to go banner collapsing on Adam Yates in stage 7 was pretty memorable.

Andrew Hood @eurohoody: For me, the moment that captured the intensity and determination to win the Tour was Froome’s attack down the Peyresourde. Completely unexpected, totally effective — Froome proved he wasn’t afraid to rewrite the script, and won the stage and took the yellow jersey for good — BOOM!

Biggest disappointment from this year’s Tour

Caley: Nobody could take it to Sky. Contador crashed and Quintana wasn’t himself. I got the sense that Froome could have won this Tour by 10 minutes if he wanted to — he never really attacked going uphill. That’s weird.

Fred: (sigh) I expected more out of Tejay van Garderen. He’s my guy, and I just don’t know what his future is now as a grand tour contender.

Spencer: The Alps. Man, there was so much craziness for the first two-ish weeks, from the spectator punch to the collapsing 1km to go arch, to Froome’s crosswind attack with Sagan, to Ventoux, and on and on. But then, we reached the final week, and things just fizzled. There was little in the way of GC battles. We had some interesting fights for stage wins, but even those were kind of tepid. Sure, the second- and third-place positions shuffled, but that always seems to happen late in a grand tour.

Andy: Quintana and the attacks that never came. When Quintana didn’t budge on Arcalis, and misfired on Ventoux, it was obvious something was not right. It seemed like Quintana began to believe the hype, and perhaps bought into the idea that destiny was on his side. Three podiums in three Tour starts is impressive by any measure, but Quintana may never be able to beat Froome one-on-one. That’s the cruel reality.

And the biggest surprise?

Caley: Adam Yates, and I think he’d agree. I like the guy. He’s a firecracker after each stage. You may not see it on TV, where he tends to roll out a few well-worn answers, but off camera he’s a fiery guy, and the sport needs a bit more of that.

Fred: Jarlinson Pantano. That guy was relentless in the mountains. I’m not sure whether to root for him to become a stager racer, or to target the hilly classics.

Spencer: If you’d asked me on July 1 if I thought Mark Cavendish would win any more Tour stages in his career, I would have pegged the odds at about 50-50. He had a new, relatively unproven team that just made the move up to WorldTour. His sprinting has looked fairly pedestrian in the last few grand tours, and face it, sprinters don’t age gracefully. Boy was I wrong, but I love being surprised.

Andy: Bardet and his tenacity. The Frenchman was the only rider to break the GC deadlock that Sky imposed on the race. A few factors tilted in his favor, and Froome didn’t have to follow when he attacked, but at least he did. And he had the motor to finish off the job. Chapeau for the panache — he earned plenty of ink in L’Equipe — but he proved he’s the real deal.

Team Sky dominated again. Does ASO need to change the rules to level the playing field?

Caley: The sport is self-correcting, for the most part. No rider and no team will dominate forever, though sometimes it feels as if nothing will ever change. So I’m not sure ASO needs to do anything; the Tour is unpredictable enough on its own.

Fred: No. I think as Americans we get locked into our dreams for parity in sports. The rest of the world doesn’t think that way — just look at European soccer. I’m all for super teams, because it puts pressure on the other teams to find a way to beat them. If and when another team finally topples Sky, we can really hold up that achievement.

Spencer: No — that’s on Sky’s rival teams to make the race less predictable. And furthermore, there are so many “X” factors that go into a Tour win (or loss in Contador’s case) that it’s silly to think that ASO can adjust a few levels on its mixing board and play back a different race.

Andy: Well, the Tour can only alter the route to favor a certain type of rider. ASO delivered two Tour routes that on paper favored Quintana, and he couldn’t deliver the win, so it’s unfair to hoist all the blame on Froome and Sky for a “boring” race. Also, Contador crashed in stage 1, Porte punctured, and Quintana was off his best, meaning three of the strongest GC riders were out of the frame in the first week.

What’s the best way to create parity at the Tour de France?

Caley: Ask Jonathan Vaughters and he’ll say salary cap or budget cap. But even with a cap there would still be rich teams and poor teams. The quickest way to a chaotic Tour is to simply shrink the teams. Good luck trying to control like Sky did with seven men, and only six domestiques. I’m not convinced this is necessary, but if we want the racing to be less predictable it seems the quickest route. Plus it would shrink the peloton, thus making the racing safer.

Fred: The best way is for the other teams to find more sponsorship cash to create a more competitive salary market, or to find ways to develop riders and attract talent. If you can’t beat Sky, then hire away Henao, Poels, and Nieve and promise them riches and grand tour greatness.

Spencer: Cycling teams already struggle so much with sponsorship that a salary cap seems anathema to what they really need: more support. Smaller teams could help, but that could be really hard on domestiques who live and die by grand tour starts in order to scare up the next season’s contract. Shorter courses seem like the best solution. The Vuelta and Giro are both successful in promoting unpredictable racing, and I think that’s partly due to shorter, more unpredictable stages. Look at it this way: When have you ever been glad that a Tour stage was 210+ kilometers?

Andy: It’s important to remember that without Froome, Sky would not be dominating the Tour like it has. Put Geraint Thomas or Wout Poels in the same position, and Sky wouldn’t be winning Tours on the trot. Froome is that type of generational rider who dominates the Tour (we’ve had one rider per decade since the 1960s control the Tour). Reducing team sizes wouldn’t change the dynamic that much, and would end up putting even more pressure on individual riders. It’s up to Froome’s rivals to beat him on the road. Knee-jerk reactions would only create unintentional consequences, but not likely change the outcome.