Sunday, 6 July 2008

Format changes to Le Tour

Tour de France began yesterday and with only two stages down (out of 21; 19 racing days, 2 rest days) I'm totally captivated. This year's Tour is quite different to previous editions due to a number of rule and format amendments.

  1. Stage 1 began with a mass start instead of the customary prologue time trial. This is the first year, since 1967, that there has been no starting time trial. I usually enjoy this first time trial because then I get to see who is who, the team colours and I scope out favourites to cheer for over the rest of the race. I love watching the guys blasting off the starting ramp. This year I feel like I've been dumped into the deep end. The commentators said that 42 of the 180 starters have ridden Le Tour before )the rest must be newcomers); so at least some names are familiar. The other thing is that the time trial shows us, and the other riders, who is in top form and fitness. Without this time trial they were thrown into a 197km road race with a sprint finish.

  2. Something else new is the elimination of time bonuses. When a rider crosses the line first, they used to get 20s off their overall time (remember: the person with the fastest overall time wins - yellow jersey winner); even if they cross the line five millimetres ahead of the second person. Second got 12s and third got 8s. Without these time bonuses your real time means that much more. Often when riders had a 2-minute lead, much of this time was made up from time bonuses, not real time.
    So, I think it is likely that the yellow jersey will change hands quite often, even in the mountains and teams will be working incredibly hard to get their guy up to the front with enough time for him to get some lead time over the next guy; this will count a lot in the mountain stages.

  3. There's now a short (29.5km) individual time trial on Stage 4 (Tuesday). It's usually held in the second week and 10-20km further. The shorter distance is bad news for the climbers as they're better over greater distances but could be good news for all-rounders, like those aiming for the yellow jersey. There is a longer (53km) individual time trial on the second-last stage (Stage 20, 26 July), before the riders head into Paris.

  4. There is no team time trial this year. I also enjoy this stage because the teams look so sexy all together in their matching outfits and fancy helmets. In the team time trial the entire team (9 riders) rides together; working with and for each other. The team’s finishing time is recorded by the fifth rider across the line. As long as all the riders finish together, they get the same time. So, a strong time-trialing team can advance their yellow jersey contender. With this stage excluded from this year's event, the yellow jersey contenders will be closer to each other in timings.

I get absolute pleasure from listening to the Tour commentary by Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwen. I enjoy the little bits of trivia about the sport of cycling, the participants and the towns through which the race passes. I'm not a road cyclist and I don't intend to be one; but I just love their chatter, especially when it comes to race strategies and the technical aspects.

Supersport has a slogan for the short promos where they offer trivia and information on sports. It goes something like, "the more you know, the better it gets". As I learn more about the intricacies of cycling, I'm drawn even more into the sport. Cycling isn't just about guys riding bikes; there's strategy and planning and riders with different strengths (sprinters, climbers)... Running is not that different with its pace-setters and break aways.

Now imagine if running- specifically marathon and ultra distance running - had this calibre of commentating? Perhaps non-runners - just as I'm a non-cyclist - would be captivated by runners logging sub-3 minutes per kilometre and the simple magic of running.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Comrades has that sort of commentating, especially in the hour or three before the winner finishes.