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Know Your Tour! Stage 18: Getting Off the Mountain

Know-your-tour_mediumSince this is late, I'll be very brief. Today's stage and the final stage both raise one of the sport's most dreaded words: transfer. Riders hate nothing more than having things to do after a race. They want to get off their bike, be magically teleported to a hotel room with a nice bed, air conditioning and a shower. They want their recovery stuff (massages, food) to happen quickly and orderly. And while they understand logistics, they really, really, REALLY don't want to start the post-stage process with a long bus ride.

Unfortunately, grand tours answer to a lot of other concerns, and transfers are almost certainly necessary at some point. The Giro d'Italia is infamous for having some sort of transfer almost every day. Often it's short, but there are plenty of long ones too. And even the short ones can suck, if we're talking about riding on narrow mountain roads with traffic from everyone else who showed up to the race that day. Getting to bed at 2am is bad, bad news.

International transfers involving flights are the worst. There was plenty of talk when the Giro disembarked from Holland this year after three stages. Even though a rest day was involved, the riders complained bitterly when they arrived in Italy and were told to sit down for dinner at midnight. Supposedly the food sucked, but then everyone's a critic at that hour.

The Tour de France is a little more responsive to rider concerns, or maybe a little less distracted by some other issue (like another city paying for a start 50km away). In 21 days of racing, the Tour used the finish town as the next day's start -- the ideal situation -- on nine occasions. On seven other occasions, my eyeball view tells me that a pretty minimal transfer was involved before the next day's start. In such cases, the team can just as easily stay in the finish town and ride the bus to the stage start the next morning, since they arrive by bus anyway. On two occasions there were transfers which could have sucked, or not, depending on whether a nice highway was available. I dunno. One further transfer involved the ride before today's stage, coming down the Tourmalet and heading to Sales de Bearn. I am pretty sure that was a haul. And then there's the mother of all transfers, to Paris. But it's a traditional, ceremonial ride on the Train a Grand Vitesse, and by then nobody cares. [This would explain why the Tour doesn't try to finish with a time trial anymore, like in 1989. Not popular.]

One last note: there has been a lot of talk of the Giro starting in Washington, DC in 2012. I am way too invested in this to take the transfer concerns as seriously as I should. But I promise you, there will be a massive row about this if and when it happens.