SAINT-JEAN-DE-MAURIENNE, France (VN) — Riders spinning on rollers. Riders too nervous to talk to journalists. Sport directors rolling out calculators.
What’s going on? The dreaded hors délais. Time cut.
Rules dictate that the peloton must cross the finish line within a percentage of the winner’s time or face elimination.
With two short, explosive mountain stages coming at the end of one of the hardest editions of the Tour de France in recent memory, dozens of battered and weary racers are hoping they will make it to Paris.
“We didn’t have a team meeting about winning the stage today,” Lotto-Soudal’s Adam Hansen told VeloNews outside the team bus before Friday’s stage 19. “We had a team meeting about making the time cut.”
Friday’s peloton needs to finish within 11 percent of the winner’s time, so roughly between 30 to 36 minutes, based on the average speed of the winner. Any riders outside the limit are eliminated.
That makes the closing two road stages especially brutal for heavier riders, such as sprinters and lead-out men, or anyone suffering from ailments, injuries, or illness. At this point of the Tour, that means a lot of people woke up Friday morning very worried.
“These short mountain stages are not going to be easy for many riders in the peloton,” MTN-Qhubeka sport director Jens Zemke said. “If the GC guys are really racing hard, it’s not going to be easy for a lot of guys. Everyone will be working together in the gruppetto to make sure they make the time cut.”
There are exceptions to the time-cut rule. The race jury will sometimes slide under extraordinary circumstances, if a rider has crashed during the stage and just misses the time cut. There are clear rules that exempt the rules if a large part of the peloton, up to 20 percent, are outside the time cut.
No one, however, wants to take that risk. The race jury can be fickle. Ted King, hobbled by injury, was time cut in the 2013 Tour by just seven seconds despite riding alone in the team time trial stage.
“Guys are working out time limits, arguing about time limits, calculating how much time they can lose on each climb,” Hansen said. “They’re also looking pretty deep into the rulebook. I believe if it’s 20 percent of the peloton are outside the time cut, the jury can let them stay in the race, so guys are trying to figure out what 20 percent of the peloton is. I think it’s 36, so everyone will be counting heads on the first climb today.”
There will be two races today in the peloton. One at the front, for the stage and the yellow jersey, and a second at the back, to stay in the race.