What's wrong with GTs routes nowadays?

I had basically announced this thread months ago but due to RL workload I had to postpone it. Now that I finally finished writing a paper and the idea of more writing doesn't make me puke, I'll go for it.
In the last months the routes of the 2015 GTs have been presented. As for everything, there are users in this forum who care particularly for this kind of news and others who believe it has no importance whatsoever, so if you belong to the latter group you may consider to stop reading this thread now.

Ok, for all the others, let's proceed.
Every year there are complaints about routes, and users complaining about other users complaining. This triggers always the same convos about the very same topics. The idea of this thread is to have a single place where to discuss the noble topic of “route design”, without having to repeat the usual basic arguments over and over.

So let's begin from the very start. Why should we care about routes?
Well, they're part of the sport. The same cycling race changes over the years, sometimes dramatically. Many races have a winners' list full of very different kinds of riders. This is not by chance. It is because many races changed completely their “scope” over the years. GTs are not different in this regard. If anything, they're the best example.

Then, if they are a naturally variable thing, why should people complain about routes?
There are many cycling fans in the world who have approached this sport since relatively few years. For them, the “modern cycling” is all there is. For these people it is probably unthinkable that cycling used to be... better... than it is today (especially GTs). But anybody who is old enough, and anybody who simply saw some old footage (and by old I mean last century, 90's included, so not that old after all), has clear in mind that it is the truth. Cycling was better back then. And it was way more popular in the historical cycling countries. As an Italian I can provide the example of Italy, but I'm sure the same can be said for France and other European countries as well. There have been times when cycling was the most popular sport in Italy, on par with football. I'm talking about the 50's in particular. There are people claiming that the collective madness about cycling prevented a civil war in Italy after WW2. It is probably bull****, but you get what I'm saying. Still in the 90's, cycling was hands down the second most popular sport in Italy.

Now it is not.

Part of the cause is related to doping scandals, but the key issues, from my point of view, is simply that cycling is not what it used to be. Most of the cycling fans still cling to this sport just because of the memories they have about when it used to be really good.

So in what terms was it better than it is today? All in all, I think the most striking difference is time. Nowadays the average cycling fan watches a GT race for the last 20 minutes. And he is pretty much guaranteed that he won't miss anything of note. Back to its roots, cycling used to provide hours of entertainment. It still does, but very rarely. Too rarely. There are many reasons for this. In general, the improvements of the athletes and of the teams made the differences smaller, so that races are more controlled and riders tend to risk the least possible. What's more, the possibility for team directors to directly control their riders via radio has severely limited the “instinct factor” in races.

But there's another problem: the routes. They're not what they used to be. Grand Tours were named like that because they were a challenge. Originally, finishing a GT was meant to be tough. The hardest stages in cycling history were raced when riders were not half as fit as today. Yet, if today a stage is longer than 250 km and has more than 5000m of gain is deemed as “inhuman”. 100 years ago, riders who were not aliens could complete stages which were at least 50% harder than anything we have seen in the last 15 years. I am talking about 300-400 km long mountain raids, most of them in dirt surfaces, many of them in horrible weather conditions. None of that was inhuman back then. Conditions were bad for everyone, and the goal of a GT was to find the best rider, a hero on wheels. As simple as that. It was not meant to be another day at the office. This aspect was a key part of the charm of cycling.

Why has this changed? Riders today are better trained, they have better equipment, and yet stages are ridiculously easier than the past, and bad weather conditions are often a reason to suspend or cancel them. Cycling has become a huge business, and those who run it want to limit as much as possible risks and chances, and to increase the control they have over the race itself. It is of course a legit reason, but the downside is that the best part of cycling is disappearing.

Users complaining about routes don't necessarily want to go back to the ancient times, but they do think that many routes of today are not acceptable.
Race organizers have provided many excuses for this change. The most popular of these excuses involves doping. I think there are enough threads in the Clinic to debunk that, so I won't here.
Another excuse is the “we design short stages because they are fast and harder to control” line. This couldn't be more wrong. The more a stage is fast, and the shorter it is, the easier it is to control. High speeds favor big groups (=more importance to draft) and short lengths make sure domestiques will always be available to help.

But we're not asking for “just” harder stages. There's more than that.

There are other two “cancers” of modern cycling: the fall of the time trials and the rise of mountain top finishes.
Nowadays time trials (and TT specialists) are considered “boring”, and race organizers tend to limit their length and relevance more and more. The 2015 Tour will be the end result of this trend. Let's face it, a time trial is surely more boring than other kinds of stages. Point is, that time trials are necessary for the success of a GT route as a whole. This is because should provide balance between “heavy” and light climbers, ideally giving a chance for the former category to win the GT. Unfortunately nowadays, race organizers, as well as many fans, seem to prefer the GTs to be won by a 50 kg climber, because pure climbers are more popular than other kinds of riders. I'm not gonna dispute that, but the problem is that not only heavy climbers deserve a shot at the GT (which would be meant to be a competition for the best rider as a whole, not for the best climber), but also their presence in the mix is a very important premise for the spectacle. Their presence force the pure climbers to attack. Besides the light/heavy riders dichotomy, there's another, more generic point: TTs the safest way to create gaps among riders. Organizers and fans nowadays are terrified by gaps. They believe that having 5 riders in 1 minute in GC is sign of a spectacular race. As such, stages are engineered in order to create the shortest gaps possible. These people fail to realize that a GC with short gaps in a GT with stages creating short gaps is just as open as a GC with big gaps in a GT with stages creating big gaps. In fact, it is less open, because many riders feel (mistakenly) they have a chance to win it by simply surviving and hoping to get always good placements and time bonuses. In a GC with big gaps, you must attack if you want to win, and you must do it from far away. And this is what “old school” fans want to see. A longer, perhaps slower, spectacle.

Along the same lines we can talk about MTFs. They are a safe (thus liked by directors and riders) way to win by short attacks. The rise of this type of stage has reduced the importance of “long-range-attack-suited” stages, as the latter are not necessary anymore. Why should climbers attack from far, when they have 8 top finishes where they can gain 20 safe seconds each time? It would be stupid.
Let's make this clear, I'm not against all kinds of MTFs. I am against all those MTFs that are hard enough to give riders the possibility to play all their cards in the last 3 km. And I am against their ever increasing number. One or two, in a GT, are enough. The other mountain stages should feature hard climbs at a certain range from the finish (optimally 30-40 km away) and a descent or an easy climb in the last kms. Almost none of the great stages that have survived history had a very hard climb in the end. This is because a stage featuring 5 kms (at best) of action is hard to remember. It is simply a very short and cheap entertainment that will soon be forgotten. I am not sure cycling can survive this way. It probably will, as a second tier sport. Not what it used to be.

Then, discussion open. If you spot typos in my post please tell me... it's monday morning after all :eek:
If you want to provide examples of “good” stages, feel free. I probably will too, later.

PS: Wonder who'll be the first to post “too long, didn't read”...
 
Jun 30, 2014
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Great post, you're spot on.
Time trials don't have to be spectacular to watch, they are the best way to create big gaps and to force climbers to attack.
I think the idea that small gaps create a great GT is one of the main problems.
Saying that a stage with over 5000m of altitude gain is inhuman is also ridiculous, you can always have an easy stage for the sprinters after a really hard stage.
Too many MTFs are bad, every GT should have at least 2 really hard stages that encourage long range attacks, you can have a stage with a hard MTF on the day before those, with a brutal stage on the next day the riders wouldn't attack before the final climb anyway.
If a GT has a few really tough stages that encourage long range attacks you just need longer ITTs to balance things out.
A minor problem is GTs being too backloaded like last years Giro, 3 MTFs and a brutal MTT between 2 of those stages in the third week are in my opinion a little bit too much.
Last years TdF was a step in the right direction, the high mountain stages weren't that hard, but they had great hilly and medium mountain stages and the ITT was long enough to balance thing out.
 
Regarding the 5000m stages in altitude, there's amateurs doing Alpe d'Huez 6 times in one day during the Alpe d'Huzes charity event, no reason the pro's shouldn't be doing that multiple times in a GT
 
Jun 30, 2014
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Classic examples for hard, well designed stages would be a classic Mortirolo-Aprica stage or the 2005 Finestre stage. A MTF can also work if you use the harder climbs earlier in the stage, stage 18 of the 2011 TdF would be a good example.

I'd love to see a stage like the Gavia-Stelvio-Solda/Sulden stage that I've posted in the race design thread.
 
Mayomaniac said:
Great post, you're spot on.
Time trials don't have to be spectacular to watch, they are the best way to create big gaps and to force climbers to attack.
First, great thread
The problem is that you should take into account that, also as for instance in football, some teams have outgrown the others. More TT will lead to a Sky/Saxo train with riders that can top 10 protecting some Wiggins type rider. In an ideal world the best riders should be more evenly dispersed among teams or less riders per team but more teams. After all it is the riders that make the race.
 
GP Blanco said:
First, great thread
The problem is that you should take into account that, also as for instance in football, some teams have outgrown the others. More TT will lead to a Sky/Saxo train with riders that can top 10 protecting some Wiggins type rider. In an ideal world the best riders should be more evenly dispersed among teams or less riders per team but more teams. After all it is the riders that make the race.
That's why we need harder stages to get rid of domestiques. If then there's a team with 9 potential top-10 riders, there's no route that can possibly avoid a borefest I'm afraid.
 
Aug 3, 2009
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Hi

great post, but I do not completely agree with your opening statements

Perhaps a few thoughts (now during lunch break, will probably elaborate further this evening) from my side. Just to picture myself, 40-something, watching cycling since I can remember, living in Luxembourg, so fantastic live coverage since ages (between French, Belgian, German and Italian TV), no need to resolve to streams 20 years ago.

- the stages were not always more exciting, I remember more than once watching 4 hours of live coverage without much happening, be it in Hinault/Lemond area, Armstrong or later. I think we have a collective memory were we ignore the bore fest and keep with the thrilling stages
- ITT disappearing is good and bad, I hate watching them (boring, besides TTT which I find fascinating like a well executed dance act), but they should be there as we look for complete champions, not the best mountain goat
- MTF is a good thing if executed as described by Mayomaniac, the typical route nowadays _____/ caters to the casual fan, comes home from work, switches on, has all the action he was looking for in the last 5 km and is not really that interesting to watch for the more die hard fans
- organisers seem to experiment at the moment with medium mountain stages (ASO !) to incite more long range attacks because this kind of epic racing is what we are looking for. It happened more often in the "old days", but not so often than people are led to believe. This will also get more and more difficult, as teams are getting better to shut down and are generally of better overall quality. Just take a look at the national teams in the 50/60, besides the major nations (where you had rivalries which divided the loyalties inside the team) the smaller nations had some kind of thrown together teams and had to make do with them, so races were a lot harder to control, for a lack of good domestiques. For me here the solution is not the route, but reduce the teams and get rid of the radios
- Cav said something interesting this morning by saying that he feels the pure sprint stages get fewer and fewer as they are "boring". I like a sprint (last 5 km anyway) but he has a case in point and those longish sprint stages do not offer much, make them even shorter, so sprint comes earlier.
- Medium mountain and high mountain stages should be longer to favour endurance, on the other hand, in modern cycling the riders soft-pedal then. Short mountain stages are often really exciting

Pat
 
Roude Leiw said:
Hi

great post, but I do not completely agree with your opening statements

Perhaps a few thoughts (now during lunch break, will probably elaborate further this evening) from my side. Just to picture myself, 40-something, watching cycling since I can remember, living in Luxembourg, so fantastic live coverage since ages (between French, Belgian, German and Italian TV), no need to resolve to streams 20 years ago.

- the stages were not always more exciting, I remember more than once watching 4 hours of live coverage without much happening, be it in Hinault/Lemond area, Armstrong or later. I think we have a collective memory were we ignore the bore fest and keep with the thrilling stages
- ITT disappearing is good and bad, I hate watching them (boring, besides TTT which I find fascinating like a well executed dance act), but they should be there as we look for complete champions, not the best mountain goat
- MTF is a good thing if executed as described by Mayomaniac, the typical route nowadays _____/ caters to the casual fan, comes home from work, switches on, has all the action he was looking for in the last 5 km and is not really that interesting to watch for the more die hard fans
- organisers seem to experiment at the moment with medium mountain stages (ASO !) to incite more long range attacks because this kind of epic racing is what we are looking for. It happened more often in the "old days", but not so often than people are led to believe. This will also get more and more difficult, as teams are getting better to shut down and are generally of better overall quality. Just take a look at the national teams in the 50/60, besides the major nations (where you had rivalries which divided the loyalties inside the team) the smaller nations had some kind of thrown together teams and had to make do with them, so races were a lot harder to control, for a lack of good domestiques. For me here the solution is not the route, but reduce the teams and get rid of the radios
- Cav said something interesting this morning by saying that he feels the pure sprint stages get fewer and fewer as they are "boring". I like a sprint (last 5 km anyway) but he has a case in point and those longish sprint stages do not offer much, make them even shorter, so sprint comes earlier.
- Medium mountain and high mountain stages should be longer to favour endurance, on the other hand, in modern cycling the riders soft-pedal then. Short mountain stages are often really exciting

Pat
As for your first point, ofc not all the stages were brilliant. But there were more fun stages than they are now. It's not rare now to have a full GT were you have difficulties finding a single good stage (meaning long range attacks).

I don't quite get what you mean by "ASO is experimenting medium mountain stages etc."... if anything, the GT who always exploited medium mountain stages the most is the Giro. ASO's late interest in medium mountain is still way insufficient.

As for the last point, I really do think short stages are just percieved as exciting. In reality, I can't remember any short stage where a long range attack succeded. In some of them there have been attacks, but they all failed (e.g. Huez 2011) and once riders finally realize it they won't even percieved as exciting anymore.
 
Jun 26, 2009
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GT organisers nowadays want suspens until the penultimate stage in order to attract and satisfy media partners.

So as a result: less TTkms and more MTFs with small time gaps ...
 
'Suspense' until the end has become way too important. Organizers have become too afraid of making stages that create real gaps. Lack of balance between ITTs and mountain stages is a big problem as well.
 
Aug 3, 2009
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Eshnar said:
I don't quite get what you mean by "ASO is experimenting medium mountain stages etc."... if anything, the GT who always exploited medium mountain stages the most is the Giro. ASO's late interest in medium mountain is still way insufficient.

As for the last point, I really do think short stages are just percieved as exciting. In reality, I can't remember any short stage where a long range attack succeded. In some of them there have been attacks, but they all failed (e.g. Huez 2011) and once riders finally realize it they won't even percieved as exciting anymore.
I meant ASO started experimenting with medium mountain stages following a few which were quite good. I am aware that the giro uses them more consitently, vuelta they are few and far between
Regarding long range attacks especially in the mountains, won't happen with the current strength of teams anytime soon. Just imagine Contador being the man to beat at the end of the TdF, attacking long range through, Roche, Rogers, Majka et al you need to be really strong....and this does not take into account any cooperation by a team like Sky or Astana
 
Aug 3, 2009
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Netserk said:
'Suspense' until the end has become way too important. Organizers have become too afraid of making stages that create real gaps. Lack of balance between ITTs and mountain stages is a big problem as well.
And also this, 5 min gap after first mountains, the forum would go berserk and talk about boring rest of the GT. There is no easy answer to that general question you introduced in your first post.
 
Roude Leiw said:
I meant ASO started experimenting with medium mountain stages following a few which were quite good. I am aware that the giro uses them more consitently, vuelta they are few and far between
Regarding long range attacks especially in the mountains, won't happen with the current strength of teams anytime soon. Just imagine Contador being the man to beat at the end of the TdF, attacking long range through, Roche, Rogers, Majka et al you need to be really strong....and this does not take into account any cooperation by a team like Sky or Astana
I see, but as I said, if a team is the strongest, it will control the race, period. How would a short stage be any better?

EDIT: and 5 mins gap after the first mountain stage are ofc too many for today's GTs. But in a GT's like the pre-WW1 ones, with 5 mins nobody would talk about game over.
 
Interesting read, valid points.

Besides what you said. Not including enough ITT Kms is a factor. Having an ITT on the last stage of a GT is important, yet neglected in favor of the last-day victory stage. Having too many sprinter stages, and less rolling-hill (leg breaker) stages are a factor, but this won't go away anytme soon.

Yet you, race design folks, sometimes fail to include other variables like riders. Without riders/teams wanting to race a well designed route, you won't have good exciting results. Again making harder doesn't mean it would make it better for racing without taking other factors into consideration; we've seen this time after time. A well designed parcours needs to go along factors that'll make the race more unpredictable such as: no team radios, smaller teams, no power meters, you-name-it. Everything is INTERCONNECTED.

Suggestion: when writing long posts (in general). Use bullets, numbering, bolding, italics, short paragraphs, etc. It wil make a long post more appealing to read to more people. Maybe Echoes wouldn't have had the excuse it was too long :D
 
Reduce team strength and take some of the tools away which currently allows DSs to implement overly controlled and defensive race tactics will solve many problems with modern racing.

Of course there is a tendency to romanticizing the old ways, but surely one can see the difference in how LBL is raced today compared to earlier. LBL used as an example of what should be a tough selective race.

Check out the race action on the two (?) multiple mountain stages in the Vuelta last year. Nobody did anything until the last climb. Essentially the same action as the single mountain MTF type stages.

Controlled to death. Nobody dares (or wants) to attack early for fear of getting wheeled in by a team's train and lose minutes on the last climb.

Longer stages will not solve the problem unless the balance between team strength and individual capability get corrected imo.

Anyway I agree with most items outlined in the opening post.
 
cineteq said:
A well designed parcours needs to go along factors that'll make the race more unpredictable such as: no team radios, smaller teams, no power meters, you-name-it. Everything is INTERCONNECTED.
who denied that. I stated that race design is just one of the problems.
 
If the organizers include more ITT kms, they certainly need longer mountain stages and more climbing. For example the 2012 Tour had 95 km of ITT. The mountain stages on the other hand, were too easy. None of the 3 MTF that year were really hard.

If they have ~100 km of ITT, they need several long and tough mountain stages so compensate for this. Each GT should have at least 2 long all day mountain stage of 200 km or more. Typically stage with a race time of 6 hours or more. Like Tonale-Gavia-Stelvio-Solda in the Giro. Or 4-5 climbs before Tre Cime. Or something similar in the Tour.

Also, I miss the long and hilly stages. Usually, and especially in the Tour, they use only 1-2 hills at the end of the stage. I would like 1-2 stages each GT of at least 230 km with hilly terrain the last 100 km or more. There aren't much action if the only difficulty of the stage is Mur de Bretagne at the end.
 
Pacing is also very important. Not only within the stages, but between the stages as well.

As hrotha often alludes to a great stage doesn't have it's most difficult section as the last. A good example of that is the Briancon stage in the 2007 Giro. First the hardest mountain (Agnel), then a hard mountain (Izoard) and then finally a short hill in the end at the bottom of the descent. Best of all (for the current GT organizers) it didn't create big gaps, but it made it possible and it had the action (as in captains mostly isolated) for a long time.

The same goes for the pacing of the GT. When you have several GC relevant stages in a row, start with the one that are most certain to create gaps, then the second most and finally at the end have the one that takes daring. The Pyrenees in the 2007 Tour is the perfect example: First a long ITT, then the day after a hard MTF (which wasn't a one-climb-stage, so real gaps were created) and then after two hard days, a long multi mountain stage with a descent finish followed by a rest day, meaning that riders didn't have to hold back. After the rest day there was the final showdown on Aubisque (at the end of a long and hard stage), but with a long ITT still to come so we didn't just get a group ride to the top (Ventoux '09).

Speaking of 2007, there you had a GT that created big gaps, yet (because it was actually balanced) still was quite tight in the GC. Awesomeness! (Ofc that wasn't only because of the route, but also because of the best three riders [Chicken, Contador and Evans] the best climber was the worst TTer and the best TTer was the worst climber.)
 
Netserk said:
Speaking of 2007, there you had a GT that created big gaps, yet (because it was actually balanced) still was quite tight in the GC. Awesomeness! (Ofc that wasn't only because of the route, but also because of the best three riders [Chicken, Contador and Evans] the best climber was the worst TTer and the best TTer was the worst climber.)
Also the Giro 2005 is a very good (fairly recent) example of that.
 

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