Just hitting the airwaves now, and piling up like Thanksgiving leftovers on a Twitter feed near you... the owners of the grand tours — RCS and ASO -- have teamed up with Flanders Classics to announce a reduction in the number of riders per team to line up at the start of their races. For grand tours, it’ll be eight per team (down from nine) and for the classics it’ll be seven (down from eight). Simple as that.
According to the organizers, the two reasons are that smaller races are safer, and they’re more competitive as well. On the first count I’m sure this is true. Not only are there fewer riders around, but for teams who don’t specialize in, say, the Tour of Flanders, chances are that last guy on the roster might not possess the best handling ability on the stones or in the crosswinds. So it’s a reduction in riders of the lowest quality, on average at least.
As for the competitiveness, it sort of cuts both ways. Yes, in the grand tours, especially the Tour de France, where every serious competitor for the maillot jaune is loaded with talent, the ability to attack an eight-man Team Sky is probably better than attacking a nine-man Team Sky. On the other hand, when the Quick Step Floors team shows up in Antwerp loaded to the gills, well, you now have one less rider to harass them with. I dunno, I suppose on balance it could make things more exciting. But it seems more likely to make things safe, and that alone is a good reason.
Some pretty knowledgeable people are offering dissenting opinions.
Put some more roundabouts, steep kl imps, dirt roads, tricky finish in the city's, stages of 250km.. They just understands nothing at all https://t.co/CoVJe4UjFf— Patrick Lefevere (@PatLefevere) November 25, 2016
So maybe this isn’t so awesome? Of course, Lefevre’s team is the victim of the “let’s increase competition” angle, so he’s not expected to like this.