I Don’t Like Sprint Stages

I read an article over at VeloNews and felt compelled to comment on it.  I usually don’t, because people on the Internet tend to be jerks when they can hid behind they anonymity.

I wrote and rewrote the comment a half-dozen times before I settled on the more concise soundbite I finally posted.  But since I have a blog, I can be as ridiculous and verbose as I want/need on the topic.

As the title of this post would indicate, my basic theory is, “Sprint Stages in road bicycle races are completely boring.”  So let me explain a bit.

First of all, let me get this out of the way: Yes, I know that sprinting is a talent, an art and a science.  I know that it’s not just about being fast over 300 meters, because you had to get to the sprint point in the first place.  I know that cycling is a team sport, and having your sprinter primed to win that field sprint means that the teammates did their jobs to shield said sprinter from the wind and keep him fed and hydrated.  Sprint trains and lead-outs are incredible displays of teamwork.  Yada yada yada, I don’t care.  Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I think part of this comes from my mountain biking background.  Each race there is about your own abilities, and not what the team does.  Cyclocross is like that too.  I’m not saying road cycling has to be like those disciplines, but that background colors my biases.

Here’s what I see when I watch a field sprint: 6-12 riders trying hard to win and 150+ that seem disinterested.  They could have been going to get groceries and got caught up in a race. Like I said, I know that some of them did the unglamorous jobs and their work was done.  That doesn’t make it any more fun to watch.

Apparently GC contenders like the sprint days as recovery days.  Fine, I can see that.  But why can’t it be a day for a breakaway? Watching small group sprints is fun.  Watching the breakaway is fun.

I’ve read that the difference in ability between top riders is only 1-2%, and putting them all into a big group means that group sprints are going to happen.  What if we at least just made people try on their own?  Kill off sprint trains and lead outs.  What if we reduced field sizes?

From the article: “The worst insult was when the Tour eliminated the finish-line time bonuses that, though they tighten up the GC battle, kill any chance for sprinters to make a run for the maillot jaune.”  So what? A GC competition should be about the best all-around rider.  If you’re winning on time bonuses alone, I don’t think you really earned it.

Frankly, and this is a bit of deliberate obstinacy: People who like group sprints should go watch track cycling.

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