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TOUR DE FRANCE

The uphill battle to make the Tour de France more exciting

Team Sky's sixth Tour de France victory in seven years has left cycling desperately seeking ways to restore suspense to the peloton. But how can i be done?

The uphill battle to make the Tour de France more exciting
Photo: AFP

Team Sky's sixth Tour de France victory in seven years has left cycling desperately seeking ways to restore suspense to the peloton.

Sky's implacable and monotonous domination, briefly interrupted by Vincenzo Nibali and Astana in 2014, has allowed the British team to propel three different riders to the top step of the final podium on the Champs-Elysees — Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and now Geraint Thomas.

“You can't blame them for winning,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme told AFP, comparing Sky to European football's dominant club. “They're a version of Real Madrid.”

They have “the best in each position”, said Romain Bardet of AG2R, who was the best French finisher in sixth place after being overpowered by the British 
outfit in the mountains.

“We have a team, a machine that has won with three different leaders,” Prudhomme said.

The youngest rider in the race was Sky's Egan Bernal, who followed victory in last year's Tour de l'Avenir, a race for riders aged 23 or younger, with 
second place in this year's Tour de France young-rider category.

“They are preparing the succession,” Prudhomme said.

But if the same team keeps winning, cycling risks boring its public, even though viewing figures remained strong in France — once the country had won 
the World Cup.

“Today everything is measured to the millimetre,” said Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) president David Lappartient. “How many people are really 
captivated?”

“In football, there are extraordinary, improbable reversals,” Lappartient added. “We do not have that much on the Tour de France, while we have it on the Tour of Flanders and in Paris-Roubaix (one-day classics). We want to dream of the new. We must not rule out anything.”

New types of routes

This year the Tour experimented with an unusually short mountain stage (65 kilometres), the 17th to Saint-Lary-Soulan, to limit the role of teams. It may do so again.

But Prudhomme still preferred the 200-kilometre marathon two days later saying “it was the classic Pyrenees stage that was the most beautiful”.

The course director, Thierry Gouvenou, is looking for steep climbs to favour the climbers and solo attackers and has been doing so since 2012, said Prudhomme.

A ban on radio ear-pieces has been a subject of debate between the Tour and the teams for several years but the technology has moved on and now the 
argument also includes power metres. Body and bike sensors supply instant data on each rider's performance, allowing them to fine-tune their efforts, enabling managers in team cars to plan defensive tactics.

“Riders must act on instinct,” said Jean-Rene Bernaudeau, manager of the Direct Energie team and former Tour rider, told French newspaper Le Figaro. 

“You have to remove the earpieces. The sensors have their uses in training but if they were banned during the race, we would be fine… There are things to be done in cycling, but we have to be quick.”

Sky's big budget

Money is the biggest issue, many of those involved told AFP.

“Sky has a budget that is much higher than the second biggest on the World Tour,” said Philippe Mauduit, who heads the Emirates team

“The peloton is enormously professionalised, the gaps have become very small. The difference is in the payroll.

“We will have to do something if we want to preserve the appeal of top-level cycling. The media gags and, when they are no longer happy with what 
they see, they transmit that to the public.”

He suggests a salary cap: “It works in the NBA.”

Proudhomme agrees that “it might make sense” but insists it is the responsibility of the UCI.

UCI president Lappartient told AFP: “There have always been teams with superior means, but I announced a working group on the attractiveness of races during my election campaign. This will be running before the end of the year, with riders, organisers, TV, journalists, there will be ideas, nothing is ruled out.”

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SPORT

Inaugural Women’s Tour de France to start at Eiffel Tower

The route for the inaugural women's Tour de France was unveiled on Thursday with eight stages, embarking from the Eiffel Tower on July 24th next year.

French cyclist Marion Rousse delivers a speech next to Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme during the presentation of the first edition of the Women's Tour de France cycling race.
French cyclist Marion Rousse delivers a speech next to Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme during the presentation of the first edition of the Women's Tour de France cycling race. Photo: Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP.

The first complete edition of the women’s version of cycling’s iconic race starts on the day the 109th edition of the men’s Tour ends.

After a route that winds through northern France, the race culminates in the Planche des Belles Filles climb in the Vosges mountains.

Danish cyclist Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig said she was over the moon to be taking part.

“I want it to be July now so we can get stared,” she said actually jumping up and down.

“The Tour de France is a reference and when you say you are a cyclist people ask about that. Now I can say I race the Tour de France,” she said after the presentation.

MAP: Details of 2022 Tour de France (and Denmark) revealed

Race director Marion Rousse, a former French cycling champion and now a TV commentator, told AFP it would be a varied course that would maintain suspense over the eight days.

“It is coherent in a sporting sense, and we wanted to start from Paris,” she said of the 1,029km run.

“With only eight stages we couldn’t go down to the Alps or the Pyrenees, the transfers would be too long.

“The stages obviously are shorter for the women than for the men’s races. The men can go 225 kilometres. For the women the longest race on our roster is 175km and we even needed special dispensation for that,” she said. “But it’s a course I love.”

Christian Prudhomme, the president of the Tour de France organisers, was equally enthusiastic.

“The fact it sets off from Paris the day the men’s race ends gives the new race a boost because it sets the media up to follow it more easily.

“It also means that with the Tour de France starting on July 1st and the women’s race ending on the 31st, there will be cycling on television every day of July.”

The men’s race is broadcast in around 190 countries.

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