A few lessons around the Tour de France

Sport 21 July, 2017

Photo: Philippe Lopez, Agence France-Presse
The Colombian Darwin Atapuma and Rigoberto Uran, Frenchman Romain Bardet and Britain’s Christopher Froome in the 104th Tour de France, between Briancon and the Izoard, in the French Alps.

Two more steps and it will be made of the Tour de France in 2017, with its anthology of drama, falls, strokes of brilliance and controversy. Next theme on the Great Loop has revealed — or recalled.

“This was not a grand Tour, there has been little to show. Many steps were pretty boring. “Thus spake Eddy Merckx — probably the greatest cyclist of the story — on a visit on the 19th stage of the Tour on Friday.


Jaded, that is still called the Cannibal ? Disappointed, at the very least, to see a race largely controlled by team Sky of Chris Froome, with mountain stages that have not been of the devastation and the flat stages in the scenario, repetitive : a breakaway recovery at the very end, a sprint, and the German Marcel Kittel who wins (five wins in 2017).


But this Tour was also exciting in many ways. The French Romain Bardet (second overall before the time trial this Saturday) and Warren Barguil (two victories in the mountains — it should bring back the polka dot jersey of best climber in Paris) ran the race with a solid dose of panache. The outcome of sprints involving Kittel was may be known in advance, but attendance at these numbers of pure power in the last 200 meters of a race remains fascinating.


There has been the fear of Froome to Peyragudes, a small flaw to remember that English is (relatively) human. There was the incredible victory of the Colombian Rigoberto Uran in Chambéry, the derailleur broke on a wholesale transmission — only missing the air chamber rolled up to the shoulders for the play totally old-fashioned.


There was also the violent collapse of Richie Porte in the descent of the mont du Chat, and many other such scenes which make up the grand theatre of any Tour de France.


All this to come to Marseille, this Saturday, with three favorites in a pocket handkerchief — Froome is 23 seconds ahead of Bardet, and 29 on Uran. What lessons can we learn from the edition 2017 ? The sports writer and French novelist, François Thomazeau and the former rider quebec, David Veilleux, the first rider in quebec to have completed the loop (in 2013), to have a tour of the Tower.


In a team sport. This was done at doses expertly calculated, but team Sky has subtly crushed the Tour de France by protecting its leader, Chris Froome. A reminder that this sport seemingly individual is largely collective. “Team Sky is making the law in the peloton for the last five years and have the budget to offer the best teammates,” remarked Thomazeau, who followed 28 Tours de France, including Reuters and The World.


“I was not surprised of the strength of Sky, said Veilleux. This is how they do things : everything is centered on the victory Lap. Nothing is left to chance : for example, most of the teams take the rims provided by a sponsor. They will rather go and look for the best rims, the best hubs, the best tires. They are very methodical in the effort and the role of each. And it all pays. “


Lack of pungency. This dominance of Sky ” takes away the zest to the races “, said David Veilleux. “Everything is very calculated. As a spectator, it is fâchant, but as a rider too : you’re in the breakaway, but it is convenient that Sky has decided that she would not go to the end and begins to roll. You only controls, not all of the cards… “


Sensors of power. Another element to influence the conduct of the races : the famous power meter sensors (SRM) that the vast majority of riders use now. “It plays a lot,” said Veilleux. The sensor, which is in the pedal, give you the magic value which tells you where you are compared to your maximum effort possible. Then the guys begin to climb a pass, they settle down in their wattage and do not take the risk of jumping because they are left too soon. It is very… mathematical. “


Two bloggers in the World wrote this week that ” dancing on his bike not used any more for nothing these days, it is best to stay comfortably in the ass on the seat and eyes on the SRM “.


“This fact that all of the runners, instead of running on instinct, rely on the indications of their sensor and do not dare to engage in offensive, risky, or even suicidal, adds Thomazeau. It may be that the prohibition in the course of these information-based instruments and measurement would be a good thing. “


Towards new strategies. But there’s a good linked to the advent of this technology, “explains François Thomazeau : the obligation for the teams and riders,” find something else, to renew their strategies. You see, since few years, the importance taken by the raids. It is an aspect that is part of the bike. Riders must learn to be strong on all terrains. It is a little the cycling of yesteryear which was stereotyped. “


Not doping ? The day before the finish on the Champs-Élysées, no doping cases had been identified. Is this to say that cycling is out of the great evil that afflicts since… almost a century ago, if one recalls all the pills and ointments that the brothers Pélissier had confessed to take on the Tour in 1924 ? Caution…


Former coach of the team Festina and a guest columnist to the World, Antoine Vayer dissects each year the performance in watt of the riders and compare it with measurement standards. Its balance sheet ?


“Despite a decline in performance in watts developed on the Tour since 2011, the suspicion is always set after certain exploits outside the norm, he wrote in the French daily. Optimism returns shyly at the top after some big returns and some vague commitments, but is swept away by the pessimism of not being able to convince, because of these “exploits”” that remain intriguing.


“Doping is eradicated ? recovery Thomazeau. No, of course not. But he certainly fine-tuned by playing with the lines and regulations. If Warren Barguil was able to illustrate is that of the riders, a priori, clean can now do so. So I have a cautious optimism. “


Commissioners ‘ assets. The jury commissioners ‘race has taken some controversial decisions this year — including the expulsion of the superstar Peter Sagan to sprint dangerous and a kerfuffle on penalties related to refuelling banned (the word “bidongate” was uttered…).


That, remember ? “Eternal quarrel, discussion without end, meets François Thomazeau. There are the same in our football, and your hockey. The error is human… Would it replace the judges in their humanity by machines, and regulations infallible or algorithms ? I don’t think so. “


“The problem, he adds, is that today, with the development of social networks, on-board cameras, sensors power, every second race is scrutinized, analysed, discussed, contested, and as each fan thinks he is more relevant than the judges or the referees. When I was a young athlete, my coach had taught me one basic rule : the referee is always right, even when wrong. “

Ce text is part of our “Outlook” section.