Time For A Change - Or At Least A Little Unpredictability

Channel SBS’s coverage of this year’s Tour de France was as good, if not better, than any I’d seen before; but not necessarily for the excitement of the race itself. Take out Marcel Kittel’s five race victories and the tragic accidents suffered by Mark Cavendish, followed by Richie Porte’s calamity on the descent of the Cote de Chat, and there was little unpredictability about the event throughout the entire three weeks.

Barring Chris Froome coming to grief himself, he was always going to win the General Classification, especially from the moment he opened up a 28 second lead over his rivals by the end of the Stage 1 Time Trial. Apart from Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru’scameo performance up to Peyragudes ski resort (Stage 12), the wiry Brit was never in trouble, cocooned by his support team, Sky. And if his support team looked tested, there was always Spaniard Mikel Landa to guide him over the line. Yes, the now four-time champion endured the odd bicycle problem, like a punctured tyre or a near-calamity among other riders, but a white-shirted cyclist was never far away to return him to safety near the front of the peloton. 

Clearly, Chris Froome’s ability to time trial was the difference between his closest competitors. But apart from the daily breakaways by riders who had little bearing on the end result by the time the Tour reached Paris, we were left each day with the same scenario; nothing  was going to happen in relation to knocking off the three-time winner and his support team.

While the days of drug-assisted breakaways – the likes of Floyd Landis’s 120 kilometre solo breakaway in the mountain stage (17) of the 2006 Tour de France – are but a thing of the past, the might of particular teams still seem to determine the winner of the General Classification. With the exception of Andy Schleck’s (Team Saxo Bank) win in 2010, as a result of  Alberto Contador’s (Astana) disqualification, and Cadel Evans’ (BMC) triumph the following year, either Astana (twice) and Team Sky (six times) have monopolised the French Tour throughout the last 10 years. 

During this year’s Tour de France there was plenty of discussion about the advantage of teams such as Team Sky and Katusha, which have significantly higher budgets to induce better cyclists; also the idea of reducing (by one), the number of riders in a team. 
Port de Bales
Imagine a salary cap which may allow teams to become more competitive. And imagine how much more of a test it would be if the favourite had less support riders to call on towards the end of a long day’s climbing.

Chris Froome deserved his 54 second win of this year’s Tour, but rather monotonously, his success was never in doubt. Take away Team Sky, even just Mikel Landa, and we well may have had a less predictable race altogether. One can only but hope that this month’s Vuelta a Espana offers one of the General Classification’s most important ingredients, at least to spectators and followers, unpredictability. 

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