Tour de France 2012: Rebooting the KOM system

Lets face it. The Tour has reached that point where we begin talking about whether or not it deserves the title of being a ‘classic.’ It’s not a moniker we give to many Tours, and in recent years, the only ones I would adorn with such a moniker would be 2011, because of the unpredicatability, 2007, because of the drama, and 2003, because it was a great race. Disagree as you will (I’m sure everyone will cough up their beverage at the 2007 race being any good), but we can probably agree that 2012 hasn’t deserved the label that everyone would adorn, say, 1989 or 1986. Halfway through, we’re already fairly certain who the winner is going to be, the points competition is pretty much settled, the KOM is a sideshow as ever and that leaves the white jersey, which, whilst giving the leader the appearance of excellent fashion sense (when they wear white shorts anyway), is forever the younger sibling trying to impress its parents in the face of its more illustrious and decorated older brother. We thinks it’s time for that most popular Holywood feature of the moment – a reboot.

Quite a good tour this was…although pity poor Amets Txurruka: he came third in the young riders classification behind Contador and Soler, and so was only on the podium to help the jersey sponsors.

Obviously, we can’t change the competitions for the Malliot Jaune/Blanc – this has been experimented with previously, albeit 90 odd years ago, when the race was briefly run as a point competition between 1906 and 1912. The Giro d’Italia even ran the race as a team competition in 1912, which was won by Team Atala, and quickly abandoned, presumably because it was as pointless as the current team classification. However, changes to the points and King of the Mountains competitions would be helpful, especially for the latter, which has suffered a death in recent years, either being seen as a race for breakaway artists or naughty boys, as demonstrated by a somewhat eye brow-raise inducing list of victors: Franco Pelliozotti (blood manipulation), Bernard Kohl (EPO-CERA), Michael Rasmussen (affairs, alleged blood doping, supposedly using cow haemoglobin) and Richard Virenque (Festina) for instance. The past three years have seen three different points systems for the King of the Mountains…but perhaps there is a better way to fairly crown our Monarch.

Skeletor himself sporting some fetching gloves.

The fiddling with the King of the Mountains began after Anthony Charteau took the title in 2010, having done so by attacking the early climbs of the race, the 4th and 3rd ‘easy’ category ones, to built up an insurmountable lead by the time the big guns started thrashing everyone out the back in the Alps and Pyrenees. The organisers hadn’t helped themselves the previous year, where a stage won byPiedro Fedrigo including the Aspin and the Tourmalet was mocked for not being a true mountain stage due to its long run in, but they clearly got fed up of the frequent sight of the polka dot jersey being dropped early on in the day, a la the many British riders who think its hilarious to ride in one when they weigh 20 stone (not that I care, they can do what they want with their money, it’s just an open invitation to try and destroy them).

The sight that made ASO change the competition rules. No, not those awful dresses, but Mr Charteau in Polka dots.

So, they decided to transform the King of the Mountains from a competition you could aim for to one that you couldn’t, at least not to the same extent. 4th Category climbs, previously worth 3 points, with points for the first three riders, were downgraded to just 1 point, with evidently only the first man getting it. The double points on summit finishes rule remained, but only the first six men where awarded points, with 20 the maximum avaliable on a Hors Categorie climb. The result was that, on a course comprising 4 summit finishes, including the Galibier, Alpe d’Huez, Luz Ardiden and Plateau de Baille, the general classification contenders were to be forced into the points, and indeed, such was the result – 5th place Samuel Sanchez took the prize, with the three riders on the podium in the top 5. But people still protested that Sanchez wasn’t really the strongest climber – that honour was more likely awarded to Andy Schleck or Cadel Evans – but is there really a fair way to ensure the ‘best climber’ actually wins? Here’s some alternatives:

Judging

The Tour already judges the most combatitive rider, who more often then not turns out to be French, so why not judge whose the strongest climber? Of course, this would be open to abuse and corruption (not that I’m claiming any exists!), but would probably lead to a more agreeable conclusion. Chris Froome would be winning so far in 2012, for instance, as he has appeared to be consistently the best on the climbs. Of course, the prize would have to be awarded each day to keep the sponors happy, which opens many issues – would you judge who was 2nd/3rd best? Could you appeal? All in all, probably not as good as its first sounds.

Timing

Ever since Garmin computers came along, I’ve wondered about this one. The newspapers frequently time riders up the climbs, so why not do it for all the riders up the climbs, and simply have a ‘climbing GC’? Thus, the fastest man up the climbs, which logically should be the best climber, would win the competition. I can think of only one scenario where this could be shown not to always work – take Andy Schleck’s breakway on the Galibier stage last year. He was first up the Galibier, won the stage, but lost two minutes of his advantage in doing so. Under this system, he wouldn’t have been the King of the Mountain (singular) for that climb. However, the system offers balance – breakways can gain time on the earlier stages bu virtue of their early pace, then try to hold onto their advantage in the High Mountains, whilst GC contenders can try and benefit soley from their endurance up final climbs. Maybe I should give ASO a call on this one!

Time bonuses

This doesnt really change the current rules, but is an attempt to make the competition more interesting to the GC riders. As discussed in an earlier post, Mountain stages have become a tad formulaic and boring these days. Maybe if time bonuses a la the old intermediate sprints where avaliable at the top of each climb, the ‘heads of state’ to borrow Paul Sherwen’s phrase would rise to the top more readily. The argument over whether a final climb should have a time bonus just about leans in favour given the negative racing we have seen so far – riders may be more keen to attack if they know they could still lose time if they finish with the same riders. Unfortunately, I can’t see this propsal going very far – Christian Prudhomme abolished time bonuses to make races be won on ‘real time’, arguing it was fairer and more exciting (although only one Grand Tour has been decided by time bonuses – Chris Froome got round last years Vuelta faster then JJ Cobo, but ‘The Bison’ had more time bonuses in his pocket – although Alberto Contadors sole Vuelta win was only by thousands of a second over teammate Levi Leipheimer in 2008 once the bonuses are removed), so it’s unlikely he’ll return them. Maybe for the flat stages to give the first week a bit more flavour then simply watching Cancellara parade for a week and to give the sprinters something to aim for?

Of course, now I’ve said this, the competition will undoubtably be the best in years, with people actively competing for it and it going down to the final climb of the race. We can dream.

Just as long as they wear polka dot shorts to create beautifully Euro crimes against fashion.

Glorious red orange and white combination from Egoi Martinez.

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