Tour de France 2020

Post-Tour criteriums keep the spectacle alive a little while longer

In the week after the Tour, riders hit the criterium circuit for some fast laps under the lights, entertaining raucous crowds

Hangover or withdrawal? Depending on whom you ask, the day after the Tour parades around the Champs-Élysées is either a day of headaches or disappointment. The spectacle that is the Tour de France seems to have finished for another year.

But it hasn’t quite.

In the week after the Tour, riders hit the criterium circuit for a few days of fast laps under the lights, entertaining raucous crowds. The series of post-Tour criteriums have dropped in prestige over the years, but still have remained rather popular amongst the public, with crowds upwards of ten thousand for some of the races.

History

In past decades, cycling’s top riders did not have multi-million dollar contracts or sponsorships. The prize money was dismal, even in comparison to today’s standards. Riders needed another way to make money, so they packed their bikes in the trunks of their cars and hit the criterium circuit right after the end of the Tour. Thus was born the post-Tour criterium tradition.

For up to two or even three weeks after the Tour, riders would travel around Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, entertaining crowds in nighttime criteriums. This allowed fans to see the riders on multiple occasions, instead of just getting a glimpse when they raced by out on the open road.

Riders didn’t travel in teams, but on their own expense. They were however, paid appearance fees, which would add up to more than what they might earn racing the Tour. Thus, the post-Tour criteriums became a necessary endeavor to increase their salaries.

The top names of the Tour de France always got an invitation, but so did the lanterne rouge, the last rider in the general classification. Thus, it became a battle to finish last in the Tour. If a rider were to finish second-to-last, he would receive no recognition, but last place meant more publicity and more money, in the form of racing the post-Tour criterium circuit.

Today’s racing and rigging

When the jersey winners of the Tour show up to race a post-Tour criterium, they wear the coveted yellow, green, white, or polka dot jerseys they’ve earned in cycling’s main event. Today, however, instead of racing two or three weeks’ worth of criteriums, they may ride only one or two.

High-profile domestiques still use the criterium circuit as a way to make an extra buck here and there. Wout Poels of Team Sky is lining up at four races this week. The lanterne rouge no longer gets invites, though being the lanterne rouge still holds a little bit of prestige and a battle amongst the riders at the back of the Tour still occurs on occasion.

Past and present come together in determining how the criteriums play out, or to be more precise, the finishing order of each race. The post-Tour criterium start lists have an interesting mix of top-tier pros fresh off the Tour and continental pros trying to make a name for themselves.

It’s an open secret that the races are, in fact, rigged. The podium is predetermined by the organizer at the beginning of the race, depending on who is on the start line. The top riders get paid show up at the race, while most others are just happy to be there. Should a rider ignore the predetermined finishing order, he can expect to be reprimanded by the organizer.

The rigging is evident with a look at the results from past years. In 2013, Tour winner Chris Froome and his Sky teammate Richie Porte broke away from the field and finished one-two at Criterium Aalst. The skinny climbing duo was able to ride away from classics specialist Matteo Trentin and fast-man Oscar Gatto.

A follower of the sport could be forgiven a bit of laughter upon seeing the results of last year’s Criterium Aalst as well. Greg van Avermaet (BMC) outsprinted Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) for the win. Nothing wrong there, but a glance at third place reveals something peculiar. Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), fresh off a win on the Champs-Élysées for the second year in a row, finished third.

The post-Tour criteriums may be rigged, but that doesn’t stop people from showing up to see the biggest names in cycling. The riders still put on a show with most of the races averaging over 50kph (31mph). The fast criterium-style racing is a week of celebration for riders and fans alike until next the edition of the Tour the following July.

Below is a list of post-Tour criteriums, along with notable participants this year.

Monday, July 27: Criterium Aalst (Belgium)
Chris Froome (Sky)
Nicholas Roche (Sky)
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka)
Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Iljo Keisse (Etixx-Quick-Step)

Monday, July 27: Wielerspektakel van Boxmeer (Netherlands)
Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Steven Kruijswijk (LottonNL-Jumbo)
Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka)
Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin)
Koen de Kort (Giant-Alpecin)
Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing)
Wout Poels (Sky)

Tuesday, July 28: Natourcriterium Roeselare (Belgium)
Chris Froome (Sky)
Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
Serge Pauwels (MTN Qhubeka)
Julien Vermote (Etixx-Quick-Step)
Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal)
Preden Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise)

Tuesday, July 28: Profonde van Surhuisterveen (Netherlands)
Koen de Kort (Giant-Alpecin)
Ramon Sinkeldam Giant-Alpecin)
Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin)
Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Tom Jelte Slagter (Cannondale-Garmin)

Wednesday, July 29: Acht van Chaam (Netherlands)
Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Wout Poels (Sky)
Stef Clement (IAM Cycling)

Wednesday, July 29: Profronde van Lommel (Belgium)
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing)
Johan Vansummeren (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
Flilppo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida)
Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal)
Julien Vermote (Etixx-Quick-Step)

Wednesday, July 29: Tour de Neuss (Germany)
Start list not available

Wednesday, July 29: Welser Innenstadt Kriterium (Austria)
Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18)
Riccardo Zoidl (Trek Factory Racing)
Bernhard Eisel (Sky)

Thursday, August 30: Criterium Herentals (Belgium)
Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka)
Preden Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise)

Thursday, July 30: Wateringse Wielerday (Netherlands)
Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Laurens Ten Dam (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Koen de Kort (Giant-Alpecin
Ramon Sinkkeldam (Giant-Alpecin)
Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick-Step)
Wout Poels (Sky)
Lars Boom (Astana)

Thursday, July 30: Sandefjord Grand Prix (Norway)
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)
Sven Erik Bystrom (Katusha)
Sondre Holst Enger (IAM Cycling)

Friday, July 31: Cibel Na-Tourcriterium Sint-Niklaas (Netherlands)
Start list not available

Friday, July 31: RaboRonde Heerlen (Netherlands)
Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Lars Boom (Astana)
Lieuwe Westra (Astana)
Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Garmin)
Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Garmin)
Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin)
Roy Curvers (Giant-Alpecin)
Ramon Sinkeldam (Giant-Alpecin)
Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin)
Wout Poels (Sky)
Stef Clement (IAM Cycling)