Bore de France? Lack of action a wake-up call for Tour de France organisers - Road Cycling UK

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Post Race Analysis

Bore de France? Lack of action a wake-up call for Tour de France organisers

Comment: An largely uninspiring route has led to too many monotonous stages

Flat stages, transitional stages, sprinters’ stages – call them what you will, the monotonous nature of several of this year’s Tour de France stages has made for some dull viewing.

Let’s make no mistake here, part of the monotony has been down to the incredible performances of Marcel Kittel (QuickStep Floors), and the German’s total domination of the bunch sprints deserves plenty of plaudits.

But the sheer number of pan-flat sprint-friendly stages, the unwillingness of riders to populate the breakaway and the determination of the sprint teams to control the peloton has hardly been thrill-a-minute.

Marcel Kittel’s dominance of the Tour de France has been impressive, but this year’s route stifled attacking (Pic: Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)

Compare and contrast this year’s race to recent editions, where cobbles, coastal crosswinds, and short, steel climbs have wreaked havoc on the peloton, and it’s even more pertinent.

The controversy that marred the end of the stage four, with Mark Cavendish crashing out of the race and Peter Sagan disqualified, masked what had been a clear warning of what has followed.

That day, only one rider got in the breakaway – Guillaume van Keirsbulck (Wanty Groupe-Gobert) – and Team Sky were absolved of chasing duties, despite holding the yellow jersey, with QuickStep Floors leading the peloton.

An earlier crash, at 1km to go, took Kittel out of contention for the sprint finish as French champion Arnaud Demare (FDJ) claimed stage victory – but it has been all about the German since then.

Cavendish’s crash, Sagan’s disqualification and Demare’s illness have cost the race three of Kittel’s most likely sprinting rivals – but it is not the finale of the stages that have been of concern.

Kittel’s sheer dominance of the sprints may well have happened anyway – that cannot be accounted for – but the action behind has been disappointing, too, and it’s not been helped by by terrain.

Maciej Bodnar (Bora-hansgrohe) did his best to mix things up on stage 11, standing firm in the breakaway until just 200m to go, but there has otherwise been no threat to the general classification.

Yoann Offredo (Wanty Groupe-Gobert), who was in the breakaway on stage ten only to find just one rider for company before the sprint teams closed the duo down and teed up another Kittel win, ranted about it post-stage.

Guillaume van Keirsbulck claimed the combativity prize on stage four, ironically also displaying the number of riders in the day’s breakaway (Pic: Sirotti)

Offredo, in a video filmed on the team bus after the stage, questioned why nobody joined him up the road or tried a counter-attack – something Dimension Data’s Bernie Eisel was also surprised about when speaking on TV after the stage.

Highlighting former Team Sky team-mate-turned-pundit Juan Antonio Flecha’s penchant for the late breakaway, he questioned why nobody was willing to take a punt in the same manner.

But as much as the riders are at fault for negative racing, something breakaway master Jens Voigt saw coming when he finally retired in 2014, organisers ASO also need to take some blame. If this year’s route was drafted to try and engineer a challenge to Chris Froome’s recent dominance, then it has resulted in lacklustre racing outside of the mountains (stage nine provided one of the most dramatic stages in recent Tours, of course).

The race has been crying out for a Jens Voigt-type, willing to mix it up on the flat stages and ask questions of the bunch (Pic: Sirotti)

Looking at recent editions of the Tour, it is clear the 2017 route is the anomaly when it comes to its lack of action. Kittel dominated the sprints early in 2014 too, winning in Harrogate, London and Lille inside the first four days.

But then we had cobbles to enjoy on stage five, and series of short, punchy climbs late on stages seven and 11.

In 2015 the action was even more unpredictable – coastal crosswinds blew the peloton apart on stage two, uphill finishes on the Mur de Huy, into Le Havre and on the Mur de Bretagne created more time splits and there were even more cobbles on stage four.

Classic stages almost every day meant no shortage of action to enjoy – and there was still plenty to fight about in the sprints without it getting boring.

Even last year, when there was no shortage of opportunities for the sprinters, it was not quite as straightforward – only the final stage on the Champs-Elysees was classed as totally flat.

Some of the GC men complained about the brutal start to the race in 2015, but it made far better viewing than this year’s Tour so far – and long, 200km+, totally flat, stages are not the way to bring in the viewers. ASO has to find a balance between offering sprint-friendly transition stages and offering enough interest in the course to spice up proceedings.

Cobbles featured on the Tour de France route in 2014 and 2015 (Pic: Sirotti)

It’s even more of a shame since every minute of this year’s Tour de France is being shown live on television.

But do not despair, there is at least some good news – things are about to hot up.

The climbs come thick and fast from now on, with even the more sprint-friendly stages offering enough of the lumpy stuff to entice riders to finally get in the breakaway.

Here’s hoping, anyway!

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