Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Problems with the Tour de France

As I was writing yesterday about Lance Armstrong, I found myself thinking about the Tour de France and its problems. I couldn't help but think there was a better way organize a race. I realize that, as an outsider, I have as much right to criticize the tour as I do the Catholic church. That said, it hasn't stopped me from telling the Pope what to do (not that he listens). Nor will it keep me from explaining a my ideas on this blog.

The best thing to do is start off with the problems apparent in the race. Many of the issues actually dovetail into one another. The issues with doping are the most notable. With so many top competitors using, it means that something inherent in the way races are run encourages that behavior. Part of the reason for this is that racers have been required to work harder as the years have gone by, but do less. Each cyclist is highly trained, but for just one thing. This makes the actual race fairly boring. Just because something is difficult doesn't make it interesting. This is also the only team sport in the world the crowns an individual winner. In a competition otherwise devoid of exciting action, this leads to a focus on the superstars. A team captain has to be faster than everyone else in the team, or he won't be captain. That pressure seems to push riders to do things they otherwise wouldn't, such as doping. That brings us full circle to the original problem.

There are ways to deal with those issues however. I have come up with a few ideas that should resolve the problems above. Admittedly, I don't have any evidence to support my claims. However, I do think races set up this way would be more interesting to watch. It would bring cycling much more in line with the normal sort of riding that people do every day across the world. I imagine these rules would also reduce the pressure to cheat.
  • Have the team race be a team race. Make the time for the team be  the time that it takes the first five members (of a nine member team) to cross the finish line. Any member who fails to finish a day would be out for the rest of the Tour. That would force teams to select members who are good at various sorts of riding, both flat and mountain stages. Since more than half of a team's members would have to finish quickly, managing the abilities and energy level of the team would be important. 
  • Have the individual race be an individual race. This isn't a contradiction of the previous statement. It is a proposal for a second race just for individuals. Maybe start two hours later, or the next day? These unsupported riders would only compete against other unsupported riders. While we are adding races, why not a couple for the ladies as well? Seeing women racing around France must be at least as fun as seeing men do the same.
  • Eliminate all team cars. The only vehicles on the course should be those there to film and an ambulance or two in case of injury. Any bike race that requires you to use a car is a joke. That would mean the riders would have no spare parts or repair man. They would also not have a manager guiding them along. The teams, and especially the captains, would have to step up and keep themselves on pace, hydrated, fed and in good repair during the day.
  • Each racer can only use one bike for the whole race. Okay, they could change out a worn chain or tires between days. The frame and other components would have to stay, however. This would force riders to make compromises in their bikes that make it the best velocipede for various types of terrain and conditions.
  • Teams (or individuals) must make their own repairs while racing. Flat tire? Carry a few patches or a spare tube. Again this would force the riders to make exciting choices. Like giving your good wheel to a stronger team member with a bent rim.
  • Finally, the penalty for being caught doping should be a ban for the team and all members. Maybe for just the one race, maybe it is for several years. That would put the pressure on teammates to ensure that they all stay clean.
I think these rules would change the Tour into something worth watching again. Each team would have to work together to win. They would have to use their individual strengths and overcome their weaknesses. The team captain wouldn't have to be the best rider, but the most respected leader. Intelligence and management would be important again. The riders may try to specialize in mountains or flats, but they would still have to know how to fix their own equipment. Even the equipment would be much more like regular cyclists ride because it would have to be reliable and good in many different conditions. Better yet, the drama would be back. Riders might have to choose to give their bike a stronger rider, like Rene Vietto did. Or cobble together a broken bike as Eugene Christophe had to. I know that change is scary, but for professional cycling it is time. A few simple changes would revolutionize and revitalize the sport. It would make the Tour de France the epic challenge that it should be.


No comments:

Post a Comment