Is it too early to start talking 2012?
This year's Tour de France was an "Instant Classic" by any cycling fan's standards. I don't need to go through the plethora of reasons why this year's edition was labeled "the best Tour I have ever witnessed" by several long-time fans. In fact, it's easier to count the scant few areas where it was lackluster: lots of crashes, and no bonifications. The former is tricky, but the latter seems relatively simple. The lack of finish line bonuses sticks out, since it could have made a massive difference in the final standings. Or not, since Cadel did ultimately win by 94 seconds. But the photo finish between Cadel and Alberto would have been that much more riveting if there were precious seconds up for grabs--instead, everybody finished with s.t. in the general classification. Same with Cadel's acceleration to close out stage 8. Evans clearly deserved a GC boost for his efforts, and so too did Contador. Schleck's mad dash at the end of stage 14 would have been hotly contested; instead, everybody just let him kill himself over two seconds. So the most obvious solution is to reintroduce the 20-12-8 bonus seconds at the finish line. Reward all-arounders like Cadel for killing it on the classics style finishes, and just make every HC finish matter a little more.
Nobody misses the intermediate bonifications, because truthfully, they haven't mattered. 2-6 seconds for a random FdJ rider who is 77th in GC? Has zero affect on anything of consequence. However, it would have an effect on a ride such as Contador's crazy/awesome attack. If more GC riders attack at the beginning of stages, they might cross the intermediate point and learn that they miss those 6 bonus seconds a little bit. This could actually start to matter in the post-EPO era. So to both encourage and reward this suddenly in-vogue attack-early strategy, bring back the 6-4-2 bonus.
One problem: there's only one big intermediate point these days, instead of two smaller ones. So to compensate, perhaps we should double the bonus seconds. 12-8-4, so the next Contador gets a reasonable reward. It's not going to make a big difference, and most intermediates fall in front of any decisive climbs, so it's a relatively inconsequential tweak. But we've seen Tours decided by 23, 39, and 58 seconds in recent years. Eight Tours in history have been decided by under a minute, and a ninth has been decided by 61 seconds. Until Cadel started time trialing like Tony Martin, I though this year's Tour would be the Australian's closest finish ever. So a change like this would add intrigue.
But none of these ideas are crazy yet. Here's where this fanpost make a turn for the worse in terms of sanity levels: why not shake up the yellow jersey competition the same way we have shaken up the green? Why not award bonus seconds to the top 15 riders--20 to the winner, down to 1 second for the 15th placed rider? It's never going to happen, obviously, but here's why I'd love to see it happen:
- It's exciting. Fascinating, even. As of right now, we have spent the entire tour watching the "bunch" sprint for the sprintermediate points be contested by anything between two and four sprinters. This is a massive improvement over last year, when it was contested by approximately zero sprinters. But imagine watching all of the GC guys going at it for 5th-15th on a flat stage?
- It actually makes the green jersey battle a little more fair. No longer can Philippe Gilbert automatically rack up a few points just by showing up for the sprintermediate battle.
- The GC battle will matter almost every single day, as opposed to us subjecting ourselves to an entire week of "no changes in the GC. Cav wins!" Or "no changes in the GC. Cav lost! Some other sprinter got their (insert small number here) career stage win!"
- Most importantly, you could add sprinting to the list of skills needed to win the Tour de France. Winning the Tour de France is a fantastic achievement because, unlike other accomplishments, you can't skate on just one skill. You have to be a well rounded rider. Climbing is by far the most important skill, but any fan (or enemy) of Schleck's will tell you how important it is to descend and time trial. Staying out of trouble on flat stages is no formality, either. Classics style finishes matter, at least in years when they exist (but they'd matter a lot more with finish line bonuses). Sprinting is pretty much the only thing that a GC rider can ignore. But if Schleck's conceding 5 seconds to Contador on every flat stage, then suddenly, that all changes. And hey, if sprinters have to climb, then climbers should have to sprint. The richest prize in cycling should go to a guy that can do it all.