Tour de France 2020

TDF roundtable: Don’t GC my sprint stage!

The buzz at this year's Tour de France is the presence of GC teams in the sprints. Do they belong there? Let's roundtable!

So far, the buzz at this year’s Tour de France is over the GC teams riding at the front during the final kilometers of sprint stages. No GC rider wants to lose precious seconds if the peloton splits, so their teams keep them close to the front.

The presence of additional teams riding into the sprints adds to the danger. Imagine you’re Mark Cavendish, and you’re preparing to battle Etixx – Quick Step and Lotto – Soudal in the finale. Suddenly, Chris Froome and Team Sky are banging elbows with you. Ugh, get off of my sprinting lawn, you gangly GC rider!

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After Stage 3, current maillot jaune Peter Sagan was fed up. “There are a lot of GC riders who want to do well overall but on the flat stages we want to fight for the sprint, not ride with the GC guys,” Sagan said. “That’s very dangerous. The flat stages are for the sprinters, why can’t the GC riders be safe behind? I don’t understand why they don’t do that. It’d be safer for everyone.”

Is Sagan correct? Should the GC guys keep themselves (and their garbage sprinting skills) out of the chaos? Let’s roundtable!

Peter Sagan’s comments on GC teams in the sprints: Agree or disagree?

John Bradley @johnwbradley: Agree. I don’t remember, before the past couple of years, seeing GC teams with no interest in the sprints lining up at the front of the field during sprint stages. But just today, for example, Sky had what could only be described as a train up alongside Etixx and Lotto.

Caley Fretz @CaleyFretz: In theory, agree. It would be great to remove the GC guys from the picture. In practice, I haven’t heard a good way to do so. The end of these stages, the the flat ones, often produce splits. The GC riders are forced to stay up front. They have no choice. A rule change could fix it, but would open us up to different problems.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: Disagree. Gamesmanship is part of sports, and you can’t blame GC guys for finding an edge.

Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: Sure, he’s right, but he’s not racing to win the Tour de France. The key worry for the GC riders are splits in the peloton. If someone loses the wheel, it can be 5-10-15 seconds for the GC guys. Seconds are hard to come by, and last year’s Tour was decided by only 72 of them.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: Disagree. It’s a bike race. If you don’t want those guys mixing it up at the front, then find a way to make it harder and faster. Surely, the combined might of Etixx, Lotto, and Tinkoff could effectively box out the likes of Sky in a flat finish.

How should the Tour/UCI address this problem?

John: One thing that might help would be to avoid finales full of twists and turns and road furniture that cause splits in the field. Everyone was together today until a brutally complicated roundabout that sent riders in several different directions and caused a huge bottleneck. If the GC teams know nothing like that will be happening in the last few kilometers, they might be less inclined to try to be at the very front.

Caley: They could take GC time at 3km to go on flat stages. But this idea has its own problems. Cycling is unpredictable. What happens when a rider escapes in the final kilometers and stays away? Does he not receive the time he’s earned? What if this rider loses out on the yellow jersey because of a neutral 3k rule? That would be a shame — and against the spirit of road racing. There is no easy answer here. The rule would have to be written very carefully.

Fred: Unpopular opinion alert: I like that GC guys are in the sprints. It adds a new dynamic to the race. The Tour shouldn’t do anything.

Andy: First, make safer finishes (wider roads, fewer traffic circles in closing kilometers). And more important, go easy on counting the gaps in the peloton in the final sprint. That’s what is ramping up everyone’s nerves. A rider sits up with 350m to go, and someone doesn’t close the gap, and suddenly everyone behind can lose seconds. The Tour race jury has already promised to take a lighter hand in ruling on the splits this year, but no one’s taking any chances.

Spencer: If it really is a problem (and I’m not so sure it is) it shouldn’t be legislated away by a bunch of grey-haired bureaucrats. The issue should be resolved on the road between team leaders or team directors. Teams make behind-the-scenes agreements and deals all the time to get riders in the break, chase back a break, form an alliance, or anything else. If they’re serious about this issue, they should work it out directly with each other.

You’re a GC rider and the peloton is flying into the final kilometers of a sprint stage. What instructions do you give your team?

John: I’d probably instruct them to get me to the front. Someone loses a wheel far back in a strung-out peloton, and you can easily be talking about 15- or 20-second gaps. No point in risking that.

Caley: Ride at the front until the sprint trains pass. Then stay as close as possible. Exactly what they currently do, really.

Fred: Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Andy: There is a cause and effect. If one GC rider goes to the front, no one else wants to be left out. Where to be? Up front, and out of trouble. Easy-peasy!

Spencer: Put together a strong train of riders, have a guy sitting on my wheel to sweep off any ruffians, and ride a hard tempo to keep us toward the front of the group. We don’t need to be leading things out, and I don’t want them to take any risks, but we should be blasting to make sure we don’t get swamped by a bunch of jabronies who think they can beat Cavendish in a sprint.