Every Bonus Second Counts

Jul 5 2012

The Official 2006 Tour Logo

The Official 2006 Tour Logo. Hasn’t been much tugging on the jersey this year.

We’re nearly a week into the Tour de France, and yet the race’s most obvious prize remains awarded based on a handful of seconds’ from the event’s first seven minutes. Is this any way to encourage quality racing on the sport’s biggest stage?

I understand the arguments against bonus seconds—the best example is probably Levi Leipheimer—but I think they’re too often deeply rooted in an arbitrary notion of what constitutes “fair”.

Bike racing is as sport with many facets, and if a GC contenter can mix it up in a sprint or short, sharp finish climb, that’s a skill that should count toward an overall win. It’s not like the three-week runtime of a modern Grand Tour leaves any GC contender with a shortage of opportunities to peel back that few seconds’ advantage.

Just as early breakaways are given free rein to battle for a mountains jersey they have no chance of retaining, so too should the enterprising riders of the first week get a shot at yellow. All the more so, in fact, as the GC lead carries a significance beyond classification. It’s ridiculous to think that such a prize has been awarded, for 25% (and counting) of the race’s stages, for a solo effort covering 0.0018% of the race’s total distance, plus the largely pedestrian effort that’s been required to defend it.

As things currently stand, Peter Sagan would be a far more deserving race leader. He’s made the important splits so far and ground his competitors to dust in the finishes that followed. Yellow used to hop from shoulder to shoulder between the early successes of the Tour, and riders as storied as Erik Zabel and Mario Cipollini (or as unlikely as Rubens Bertogliati or Jaan Krisipuu) might never have donned the Golden Fleece under today’s bonus-less structure.

Cancellara, too, would be better rewarded by bonus seconds. As it stands, his efforts at the finish on Stages 1 and 3 got him nothing but sore legs and a few hundred Euro for a minor placing. Even if it meant a temporary loss of yellow to Sagan, the bonifcations would give Cancellara a few extra seconds to concede to climbers and breakaways over the hilly days on Stage 7 and Stage 8.

If Cance turns in a dominant TT performance on Stage 9, but misses out on Yellow because of a bonus he didn’t receive on Stage 1, his absence from the Maillot Jaune would be as incongruous as his presence in it now.

In recent years, the ASO has become more adventurous in trying to shake up the first week of the TdF, adding cobbles, and short, steep finish climbs into the mix.

While I think that this has generally been an improvement, to encourage the dynamic racing they want to see in the early going—and to bestow the marketing blessing of their Maillot Jaune onto more sponsors—the return of bonus seconds to the mix is the exact elixir the ASO needs.

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