The good news is: The first stage of the Tour de France should be pretty easy this time. Because when the peloton meets in Copenhagen for the Grand Départ in just over a week, the three-week loop will start with an individual time trial for the first time since 2017. So the opponents are traveling at a good distance. But in the days after? A countdown will then start, which in its inevitability is reminiscent of counting down for the New Year’s bang. 10, 9, 8 left… until the first mass crash.
The audience has gotten used to the fact that heavy falls are part of the tour in the first week, like the sprint finals in Paris. And certainly an increased risk of falling is part of the self-chosen life of a cyclist, especially at the high point of the year, when everyone involved wants to put themselves in the limelight. But it is all the more strange when the organizer unnecessarily provokes and increases the risk by planning the route.
This year, the tour organizers at Aso have come up with a particularly difficult first week, and this causes a great deal of uneasiness in the field of riders. For example, the reflective German Cofidis drivers Max Walscheid and Simon Geschke were critical of the organization of the opening days on ARD. “Risk is definitely accepted and it makes it super dangerous for us,” said Geschke: “The Tour de France is just not an action film.”
Even in the Armstrong years, there were many more days that were relatively quiet
But that’s exactly how it’s supposed to come across. More spectacle and more variety, especially away from the already brutal mountain stages, that has been the motto of the tour makers for some time. It is of course up to the athletes how difficult they make a race, but they also find more stages with meanness and peculiarities.
So there are more finals with narrow streets or steep stings; wind-prone sections that invite early and exhausting attacks; or as a special highlight this year, a stage with cobblestone passages, ending at the infamous Arenberg Forest, the highlight of the spring classic Paris-Roubaix. It’s going to be fascinating, and it’s safe to argue that a Tour winner should not only be able to master mountains and time trials, but also pavés. But isn’t there enough torture and spectacle on the tour?
For well-known reasons, the 1990s and 00s are really not suitable as a model for modern cycling. But far more often than today, on tour days away from the high mountains, there was a truce of sorts and the peloton just pedaled along, catching or not catching a small breakaway. Today, the tour makers simply find such processes boring; today almost every day should be an action day. Which, by the way, is a bit strange when even the omnivores of the time needed this kind of somewhat quieter stages.
In recent years, the drivers have often criticized the organizers and the route. Last year the peloton even got together for a short sit-in at the beginning of a stage. But the drivers’ opinions are not listened to enough with all the desire for more spectacle.