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Clean(er) racing boring?

Jul 6, 2015
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Reading through comments on the Tor so far one cannot help but be struck by all the comments on how "boring" the race has been so far, how "pathetic" rider X is because he got dropped, how "disgraceful" the lack of action in the peloton is and so on. (Leave aside for the moment that there is two weeks of racing left)

So the question is, For the sake of arguement let's at least assume that the peloton is somewhat cleaner today and micro-dosing does not give nearly the performance boost of the full gas programs of the past, will people be content with clean but very human performances? If after day after day of cat 1 and HC climbs, racing turns into survival tactics rather than attack after attack, will fans be as interested and passionate?
 
It's definitely possible that performance variations are lower than they have been previously. Whether that would be a result of a lower impact of doping (more explicitly lower variations in responsiveness to doping or doping expertise/methodology) or just a more profesional peloton is hard to discern. But a lower performance variance (or maybe just lower kurtosis to the distribution) might end up looking like boring racing. If the margins are smaller, teammates are more important, as the performance gaps would not be sufficient to overcome the drafting effect even in climbs, and the difference in recovery would not compensate for lesser riders having easier days. I would expect, regardless of cause, that effect could be borne out in contenders seldom riding into the wind, more stages where the main GC guy is dragged by fresher teammates towards stronger rivals, bridging up to teammates as the predominant attack strategy and stage races being decided by illnesses, crosswinds and crashes as much as by peak performances.
 
Who would you rather watch, Levi Leipheimer or David Moncoutié?

Doping is only one factor in what makes an exciting race. Crappy parcours design that neither encourages aggressive racing (by providing platforms to set up attacks) nor necessitates it (by meaning the riders most suited to attacking the route are disadvantaged GC-wise so that they need to attack) is a key factor, as is the lobotomized racing produced by riders who are only just getting used to racing without the DS putting all the algorithms together to tell them the numbers to hit, just like how F1 got really boring in the fuel stop era when overtaking in the pits became more of a target than overtaking on the track. Also, the rise of a number of successful formulae for how to proceed with stages - successful implication of train templates across both flat and mountain stages meaning the number of stages that are hard to control are limited, as well as sports science (both doping and non-doping) improvements meaning that the difference between the strongest and weakest riders in the péloton are reduced now, meaning the bunch stays larger in number longer, riders are protected longer, and the larger the chasing bunch the less likely the move is to succeed, which encourages conservative, patient racing for the small time gains and discourages going for broke unless as a last resort. Saying cleaner riding is less exciting is an egregious oversimplification. While the péloton naturally was not clean back then, the péloton in the pre-EPO days was not as well-oiled a doping machine as the early 00s, because the train templates were yet to be set and the training and doping programs - even for the likes of Moser - were comparatively primitive when you look at the last few years. Or take women's cycling, where the comparative lack of depth in the péloton results in team leaders and superdomestiques taking a lot more time in the wind in the toughest stages and creating much bigger timegaps than a comparable stage in men's cycling would, which then necessitates go-for-broke racing from distance like we saw in the Signora della Guardia stage yesterday.

It's also worth noting that the Tour de France is always slightly unique in the calendar; because it is SO important to sponsors (many of whom are signing on just ahead of the Tour, which I hate, don't cover a team for the main body of the season, sling some money in for the big race with the most coverage) placement riding is even more important here than UCI points have made it elsewhere - oh yea, that's another point, UCI points benefiting negative placement riding is another reason for riders not to take risks - and the importance of any move is such that riders tend to be very cagey at first, especially on an edition like this year with a very tame first week (and a mountaintop finish at Arcalis, with its aura of negativity).
 
Jan 15, 2013
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Great post by LS, I'd also mention that:

a) we've had a lot of flat sprint stages in this Tour so far, and the Tour has by far the biggest number of sprint trains, meaning any breakaways are 100% doomed
b) medium mountain stages are where the excitement is these days - they're a lot harder to science to death either by W/CdA or W/kg
c) to some extent this exists at all levels - I'd love to say the very low level races I do are all spectacles, but when there's a really big climb at the end people generally get scared and wait for it. The few who don't generally end up spat out the back. There's a big game theory aspect in all races.
 
Oh, the pacing of stages is important as well. Tying in to the point about fear of the big difficult climb at the end. Take the 2009 Vuelta. Stage 12 was the best designed mountain stage; stage 13 was the biggest mountaintop finish; stage 14 was the steepst mountaintop finish. Both stage 12 and stage 13 featured multi-col designs that could have been conducive to racing from distance, except with mountain stages the next day, nobody dared expend all that energy because they could gain 2-3 mins then lose 20 the next day (also a few contenders - Gesink, Sánchez and Mosquera in particular - had crashed in an early flat stage because of a nervous péloton with no time gaps in the field), so they raced for small amounts of time at the end of stages 12 and 13 (and Caisse let the break take all of them), then stage 14 had the steep finish but was a one-climb stage, so all the action was compressed into fhe final 10km. Put those same stages in a different order, and you get a completely different outcome.
 
After 2008, there's little reason to think the Tour is not as clean/dirty as the Giro, and yet, normally we get a very different kind of racing at the Giro.

Back in the 90s, everybody complained about how boring cycling was getting compared to the (relatively) cleaner 80s.
 
mikez said:
Reading through comments on the Tor so far one cannot help but be struck by all the comments on how "boring" the race has been so far, how "pathetic" rider X is because he got dropped, how "disgraceful" the lack of action in the peloton is and so on. (Leave aside for the moment that there is two weeks of racing left)

So the question is, For the sake of arguement let's at least assume that the peloton is somewhat cleaner today and micro-dosing does not give nearly the performance boost of the full gas programs of the past, will people be content with clean but very human performances? If after day after day of cat 1 and HC climbs, racing turns into survival tactics rather than attack after attack, will fans be as interested and passionate?
the 2009 tdf was one of the most doped tours ever. look at the top 10.

It was also one of the most boring ever.

there is no correlation between doping and interesting.

In fact if you look at the US Postal/ Liquigas/ Sky trains, those are very clear examples of mass doping making cycling boring.
 
The Hitch said:
mikez said:
Reading through comments on the Tor so far one cannot help but be struck by all the comments on how "boring" the race has been so far, how "pathetic" rider X is because he got dropped, how "disgraceful" the lack of action in the peloton is and so on. (Leave aside for the moment that there is two weeks of racing left)

So the question is, For the sake of arguement let's at least assume that the peloton is somewhat cleaner today and micro-dosing does not give nearly the performance boost of the full gas programs of the past, will people be content with clean but very human performances? If after day after day of cat 1 and HC climbs, racing turns into survival tactics rather than attack after attack, will fans be as interested and passionate?
the 2009 tdf was one of the most doped tours ever. look at the top 10.

It was also one of the most boring ever.

there is no correlation between doping and interesting.

In fact if you look at the US Postal/ Liquigas/ Sky trains, those are very clear examples of mass doping making cycling boring.
Not really. Those are examples of dominant teams making cycling boring, which is to be expected. If everyone was doped and at the level of USPS/Liquigas/Sky, it would potentially make for very exciting racing.
There's really no difference between everyone being clean and everyone doping, because everyone is racing against each other. If however, some people are clean and some are doping, this leads to the dopers being dominant, and that's what can make cycling boring. Alternatively, everyone being at a similar level can also make for boring racing, as you can't afford to waste energy, so if you attack, it needs to stick, or you lose.

But a cleaner/dirtier peloton has no effect on races being boring
 
Jul 6, 2016
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Re:

vedrafjord said:
b) medium mountain stages are where the excitement is these days - they're a lot harder to science to death either by W/CdA or W/kg
I would love to see the Tour de France veer away from HC mountaintop finishes. Maybe one on the first major mountain day, but have the rest be either descent finishes or Cat 1 finishes at most. And why have mountain time trials? It's like a mountaintop finish but a lot more boring. IMO there is more excitement if the GC race isn't 100% tailor made for climbers. It's fun to see the battle of the stronger TTer have to defend against the stronger climber in the mountains. The Vuelta has had great racing with the TTer vs climber dynamic, and with having a lot of medium mountain stages instead of 3-4 HC MTFs. (Contador's surprise early solo attack on stage 17 in the 2012 Vuelta comes to mind)
 
Re: Re:

spiritualride said:
vedrafjord said:
b) medium mountain stages are where the excitement is these days - they're a lot harder to science to death either by W/CdA or W/kg
I would love to see the Tour de France veer away from HC mountaintop finishes. Maybe one on the first major mountain day, but have the rest be either descent finishes or Cat 1 finishes at most. And why have mountain time trials? It's like a mountaintop finish but a lot more boring. IMO there is more excitement if the GC race isn't 100% tailor made for climbers. It's fun to see the battle of the stronger TTer have to defend against the stronger climber in the mountains. The Vuelta has had great racing with the TTer vs climber dynamic, and with having a lot of medium mountain stages instead of 3-4 HC MTFs. (Contador's surprise early solo attack on stage 17 in the 2012 Vuelta comes to mind)
That attack wasn't a solo but instead an orchestrated move with several guys up the road, akin to Heras in the 2005 Vuelta or Cunego in the 2004 Giro. The Vuelta's "great racing with the TTer vs climber dynamic" is realistically because the Vuelta only broadcasts the last 90 mins of most stages, because the Vuelta has marginalized the TT, but has elected to go almost solely with finishing climbs, there are very few mid-stage climbs of great difficulty in the Vuelta, meaning the gaps created by the steep walls at the end of the stage are smaller and enables them to balance off against a lower amount of time trial distance. The Tour is different to the Vuelta, and geography makes it difficult to clone what has worked for Unipublic.

For starters, the amount of space needed for a Tour finish is bigger than that for La Vuelta, owing to the colossal race caravan and the hugely expanded media requirements. Mûr-de-Brétagne is about as small a finishing location as the Tour can manage. It would be hard for them to have an equivalent to the Ancáres or Bola del Mundo summits, Galibier in 2011 probably the closest. Secondly, the mountains of France are comparatively close to one another and three sides of l'Hexagone have no mountains. In Spain you are seldom far away from any mountains, however they do not have the colossal ranges that France has (the number of Pyrenean HC climbs on the Spanish side of the border pales in comparison to on the French, with a lot of long gradual climbs that wouldn't be as effective for the GC as the short steep ones they have been using of late) so you see a lot more mid-length but very steep climbs, which France doesn't have that many of; as a result the Tour needs longer climbs to open up those gaps.

The other thing is quite simply that the Tour is more important than the Vuelta. That's not to disparage the Vuelta, which I vastly prefer as a race. That's just the way it is: the Tour is more important to riders and sponsors than the Vuelta. As a result, the Tour can make or break your season; there is more riding on a single mistake. Riders are less willing to take risks because if it goes wrong and you lose out, you're done. That lucrative top 10 spot disappears; an anonymous top 10 at the Tour à la Zubeldia is worth much more - UCI points and sponsor interest-wise - than a similarly anonymous top 10 at the Vuelta. Sprinters' teams are less keen to risk a miscalculation at the Tour because the exposure for the victory is much bgiger. The Vuelta tends to be targeted by Spanish riders and those looking for a Giro-Vuelta double, breakthrough men leading a GT for the first time, riders tuning up for the Worlds (which type of riders these are will vary based on the Worlds course, in 2009 you had big guns with GC chops stagehunting or fighting the GC like Valverde, Evans and Cunego, but in 2011 it was all sprinters) and riders trying to salvage a season after a disappointing Giro, Tour or both. Also, you know, Spain in August and early September can be baking hot; therefore the speed of the péloton over the course of the three weeks is slower than at the Tour, so the chance of making a break stick is better, and there's more energy left in the legs to make those attacks too.

Also, if they broadcast every Vuelta stage for the same amount of time they broadcast Tour stages, you'd find it inestimably boring too - just that the sprint at the end takes a few minutes, Flèche Wallonne-style, instead of a few seconds. It's made-for-youtube, and it only really came about because they got REALLY lucky with 2012, because Contador's ban excluding him from the Tour, Valverde's poor form at the Tour and Purito's career year coinciding with a Tour route that massively disadvantaged riders who were good on steep climbs and not so good against the clock, and a hilly World championships, meant they had a stellar field peaking, and the massively biased and unbalanced parcours they put forward turned out to be a success, so they've been back to the well more often. And yet what has been the best Vuelta stage since the 2012 Fuente Dé stage (a medium mountain stage with the kind of attack from afar that the course otherwise discouraged)? The 2015 Cercedilla stage (a medium mountain stage that demanded the kind of attack from distance you would be hard pushed to find a chance to make on the 2016 route). Oh, and it didn't hurt the 2012 Vuelta that both the Giro and Tour that year didn't just suck out loud, but sucked screaming from the rooftops. The 2012 Giro and 2012 Tour are two of the worst GTs in living memory; the Giro was built for racing but was raced by a bunch of cowards who were so afraid of losing that nobody tried to win until the penultimate day (and even then it was Thomas de Gendt), while the Tour wasn't built for racing, with a course that clearly enormously favoured Wiggins and made it easy for a strong team to control. After those two festivals of awful racing, even the 2011 Vuelta would have looked like a race for the ages.

I agree with you that we should have fewer HC MTFs and more stages with descent finishes, more up-and-down-all-day stages and more intermediate mountains, but we need to clarify that it is not possible for the Tour to ape what the Vuelta's doing because:
- the geography of Spain means that the Vuelta can spread those stages throughout the three weeks meaning riders find it difficult to have form for all of them, whereas the big mountains in France are concentrated in specific areas meaning riders can target their form around those stages
- the Vuelta is not and cannot be the Tour, and there are certain characteristics about the Tour that mean a similar gameplan by organizers would not work in the same way because of different form cycles, the sponsor and media pressures and so on
- the Vuelta's present format may be working for it, but luck played a significant part in the gamble on that type of parcours being successful.
 
Jan 15, 2013
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Another great post. Also if you look at the team lineups, the Tour is the race with the greatest number of riders dedicated to either sprinting or GC - not just the leaders but the guys to pull on the flat, the leadout men, the mountain domestiques. More guys have jobs to do whihc leaves fewer agents of chaos. Right now in the Tour there are loads of guys still in GC contention and many of them have their whole team dedicated to them. In contrast, the Giro and Vuelta have far less sprinters, and more cobbled together b-teams with guys just chasing stage wins. For example last year Tom Dumoulin climbed well at the start of the Vuelta and ended up at the pointy end of the GC almost by accident, with no team mates to then help him on the climbs. That would never happen in the Tour.
 
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