Tour de France seeking more cycling excitement

July 24, 2018

 Tired of watching cycling races where nothing ever seems to happen? The Tour de France thinks it has some solutions to liven up the action: Shorter mountain stages, intermediate bonus sprints, and a Formula One-like grid start.

Rapid descents may not be enough to capture some fans' interest in the Tour de France.

"Spectators are becoming more and more demanding and they want to see real excitement," says Luca Guercilena, general manager of the Trek-Segafredo team.

"Endurance is a big part of cycling but if we're able to mix the strain of longer stages with shorter legs that allow space for more attacks, a good mix could be the winner."

While mountain stages in the Tour are traditionally more than 150 kilometres or longer this year's Tour features two legs that are relative sprints by comparison.

Stage 11 last week was a 108.5km leg from Albertville to the La Rosiere ski resort. Stage 17 on Wednesday from Bagneres-De Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan Col du Portet in the Pyrenees promises to be unpredictable at just 65km over three gruelling climbs, including an uphill finish.

"It's not really been done before so it's going to be tough. It's basically up, down, up, down, up - two-and-a-half hours full gas racing," says Geraint Thomas, the Team Sky rider wearing the yellow jersey.

"I'm sure it will be good to watch, maybe not to race."

With Sky dominating the Tour in recent years and easily chasing down any attacks, the shorter stages should lessen the British team's ability to maintain control.

One of the downsides of shorter mountain stages is that muscular sprinters have a tough time keeping up with the leaner climbers. Sprinting standouts Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel each failed to make the time cut in Stage 11 and were eliminated from the Tour.

But the Tour has tried to provide more opportunities for sprinters, too, by adding intermediate time bonuses in the first nine stages of the 2018 race.

"So close to the (finish), it's all about, 'Do I go for it or not?' Maybe if they put it earlier in the race it could have been a bigger battle," Steels says.

"There is some interest there."

Another innovation, a grid start, will be tested in Stage 17, the short mountain leg.

The top 20 riders in the standings will start first, with the yellow jersey wearer in pole position, while lower-ranked riders will be forced to begin in four more groups further behind.

First, though, there's an old-fashioned slog through the Pyrenees in Stage 16 on Tuesday, a 218km leg that could last for six hours.

Thomas enters with a 1 minute 39 second advantage over teammate Chris Froome, the four-time champion.

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