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We answer your Tour questions

We asked you to send us your questions on Twitter @cyclesportmag. You did, and now we answer them.

Words by Lionel Birnie

Friday July 1, 2011

Has the Tour done anything to minimise its environmental impact? Hundreds of cars, loads of litter… Can’t be very green. @AndyWaterman
Cycling is a very green pursuit but the same cannot really be said for professional cycling. Each team has a huge bus, a truck, camper vans, several vehicles. The race route may be 3,400 kilometres but the vehicles will travel much further than that. Add to that dozens of motorcycles, the publicity caravan, hundreds of media and VIP cars, the Norbert Dentressangle lorries and vans that take down and put up all the infrastructure. Everything has to be powered. It would be interesting if an expert was able to work out the Tour’s carbon footprint.

As an indication, I recently spent the week with Team Sky at the Critérium du Dauphiné. On the first day, the bus driver put 350 litres of fuel (costing 504 euros) into the team bus. He said that would last a couple of days. During a time trial stage, when the team buses are stationary and the generator is running for six hours to power the thing, they typically burn around six litres of fuel per hour.

The Tour has become conscious of the mark it can leave on the landscape. Riders are asked not to discard gel wrappers and water bottles. In fact, there is a special zone along the route for riders to throw their rubbish and that is tidied up afterwards.

Why doesn’t Mark Cavendish win the Tour de France even though he keeps winning all the stages? @richiej1979
The Tour de France’s yellow jersey is awarded to the rider with the lowest aggregate time. So, although Cavendish may win several stages, he always finishes with the same time as the bunch. And then, when the race hits the mountains, he loses a lot of time.

How many times did Paul Sherwen ride the Tour? @100Climbs
You only need to listen to Liggett and Sherwen’s commentary on ITV4 for a couple of minutes to get the answer to this one. Great Britain’s Sherwen started the Tour seven times between 1978 and 1985. He finished five times and his best position was 70th in 1978. Since 1986, he has shared a commentary box with Phil Liggett commentating for Channel 4 and now ITV.

How many litres of beer will the average Belgian camper drink on the slopes of Alpe d’Huez? @suffolkcycles
It’s difficult to say but it is not the Belgians who stand out on the Alpe, it’s their neighbours the Dutch. They have made parts of the mountain their own over the years, partly because they had a streak of winners there. Joop Zoetemelk won in 1976 and 1979, Hennie Kuiper in 1977 and 1978, Peter Winnen in 1981 and 1983, Steven Rooks in 1988 and Gert-Jan Theunisse in 1989. The Dutch set up camp on one of the big bends halfway up and paint the road orange with red, white and blue flags. And yes, they do tend to enjoy a few beers. Perhaps this year they’ll be toasting Robert Gesink.

Why are there no gay riders? Or rather, why aren’t we aware of gay riders? Should we be? @aslongasicycle
There probably are some gay riders in the peloton but our opinion is that it is an entirely irrelevant and private matter. It would be great to think that a cyclist could be openly gay and no one would care one way or the other but the reality is that most professional sports environments (particularly male-dominated ones), the way the media covers it and the way the fans consume it makes it very difficult for gay sportspeople to be open about their sexuality. Of course, the first rider to say they are gay would be the subject of a lot of media interest when the appropriate reaction should be to not care one way or the other.

How often has the final stage to Paris been an individual time trial and why is this format not used more often @joursans
The time trial finale was popular in the 1960s. From 1964 to 1971 the race finished with a time trial, usually concluding on one of the Paris tracks, La Cipale or Vincennes or at the Parc des Princes.

Here’s a list of winners of the final time trials during that period. The first final time trial stage after the war was in 1964 and there have been a total of nine.

1964 – Jacques Anquetil (27.5km)
1965 – Felice Gimondi (37.8km)
1966 – Rudi Altig (51.3km)
1967 – Raymond Poulidor (46.6km)
1968 – Jan Janssen (55.2km)
1969 – Eddy Merckx (36.8km)
1970 – Eddy Merckx (54km)
1971 – Eddy Merckx (53.8km)

Only in 1968 was the race close enough going into the final stage for the result to be altered. Herman Van Springel of Belgium led the race before the time trial before Jan Janssen dispossessed him of the yellow jersey.

In 1972 and 1973 the Tour finished with a time trial in the morning and a road stage in the afternoon. Then the finish moved to its now traditional Champs-Elysées in 1975, so in 1976 and 1977 they had a short six-kilometre time trial in the morning before the final bunch race in the afternoon.

Of course, everyone remembers 1989, when Greg LeMond beat Laurent Fignon and turned a 50-second deficit into an eight-second victory in the final time trial from Versailles to the Champs-Elysées. It was, arguably, the single most dramatic day in Tour history.

Jean Marie Leblanc, the race director, once told me that it was a one-off. The reason for the time trial in 1989 was because they wanted to mark the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution and they wanted to start the stage at Versailles, which is close to the centre of Paris. So, they opted for a time trial, rather than 15 laps of the Champs-Elysées, never expecting to be treated to such a finale.

After that Leblanc felt they had got lucky and wouldn’t risk it again.

The reason for not having a time trial in Paris is that it robs the Tour and Paris of that telegenic climax. Pictures of the final sprint in Paris are shown on news bulletins all over the world.

And, from a sporting point of view, the yellow jersey is only rarely up for grabs so late in the race. A time trial without the overall hinging on it is not a great spectacle. Paris and the surrounding area is flat, so even if there were a minute’s gap between first and second, it’s unlikely to change anything, whereas a rolling or more testing course somewhere else might.

Do you think we’ll know the winner of the 2011 Tour by the time the 2014 Tour starts? @FHKJ
Let’s hope so. The wheels of justice have been slowed considerably by lawyers, it seems. Even in 1904, when Henri Desgrange disqualified the first four finishers for various cheating offences the official result was confirmed in December.

How many times does Frank Schleck fall off per hour of racing? Why hasn’t Spartacus had a word? @aslongasicycle
It’s a question that has puzzled scientists for years. But it seems the straighter and flatter the road, the more chance of Schleck major taking a tumble. Never fear, though, if one of the Schlecks does go down, Cancellara is usually on hand to slow down the bunch.

Does a journalist trust his leads when major news stories break during the Tour? And do journos share a trust among themselves? @daveno7
Call our press officer, who will give you a carefully-prepared statement appearing to answer your question but which on closer inspection says nothing at all.

The press room is a hive of activity and gossip. However, only about 20 per cent of the gossip turns out to be true. Journalists love a good yarn but, of course, have to make sure it stands up before publishing it.

On an event like the Tour, news travels so fast. Thinking back to Strasbourg in 2006 and the Rasmussen-Vinokourov-Moreni doping stories that broke one after another in 2007, things snowball. It’s not called a press pack for nothing. Most of the journalists hunt down whatever the story of the day is.

One trend the past couple of years has been the rise of Twitter, which has made things play out even more quickly. Over the past couple of years there have been several storms that blew up, were fanned by Twitter and then went away just as quickly. Garmin chasing down George Hincapie, Mark Renshaw’s headbutt, Chaingate.

Journalists do share a lot of information – mostly by gossiping over a coffee and a beer. It’s often useful to know journalists from other countries to get a bit of a steer on what’s going on. But no one tells anyone everything. You protect your information and sources because you never know when you might need it.

How can the system let Alberto Contador, who’s under a huge cloud, ride grand tours knowing that he could be stripped of three titles? @thewrightbike
The system is horribly flawed. One thing that the Alberto Contador case has shown is that national cycling federations should not rule on their own riders. This is something Cycle Sport has argued for years.

There’s simply too much national interest involved. At the very least it is a conflict of interests. Instead, WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, must move to set up an independent panel to process doping cases.

The Spanish Cycling Federation decided to clear Contador and WADA and the UCI have appealed that decision. By rights, the Spanish should have imposed the mandatory two-year ban citing WADA’s strict liability rule meaning that Contador is responsible for any banned substance in his body and the onus falls on him to prove how it got there.

Instead, the sport has been lumbered with an impossible situation. The average sports fan simply cannot comprehend how a rider who failed a dope test at last year’s Tour is able to defend his title.

Is every stage covered by dope controls, including the final stage to Paris? @Loaf2112
Yes. Every stage winner and yellow jersey wearer is tested, as are several riders chosen at random. There are numerous early morning tests too. The window of opportunity for riders taking banned drugs during the race continue to narrow and the UCI’s ‘no-needles’ policy makes it even harder to resort to banned recovery products or processes.

However, the question is whether the UCI is doing enough to enforce the ‘no-needles’ rule.

Any idea on a good each way bet for the Tour? @Gordon2970
Stick a tenner on Robert Gesink to make the podium. Don’t tell anyone we said that, though.

Why has ASO allowed the caravan to become so big? Do we need a smaller caravan for a better race? @Leguape
The publicity caravan is huge. It is 20 kilometres long and numbers dozens of vehicles. In 2009 it was 180 vehicles strong, representing 40 brands. We’ll get out one day and actually audit it. When the caravan was first introduced in 1930, a leading French journalist deplored the race’s rush into the arms of commercialism, calling it cheap and tawdry. He had a point. These days the stuff thrown out by the companies which pay a hefty sum (each advertiser pays between €200,000 and €500,000 for a place in the caravan). With 40 companies paying, say, an average of €300,000, that’s a revenue of €12m.

So the reason ASO has no objection to the caravan getting larger is because it brings in so much money. We’re not sure it has a detrimental effect on the actual race, though.

Having said that, the number of vehicles allowed ‘in-race’ does need to be looked at. How often do we see the lead TV motorbike getting far too close to the riders. Yes, television needs exciting, dynamic shots to broadcast but sometimes the bike is almost leading out the bunch.

If the pros are so hard, how come they don’t still do the Tour on fixies? @tomjennings
Good point. Perhaps this could be an innovation for 2012 – a time trial where everyone has to ride a fixed gear.

How long will it take the sprinters and domestiques to ascend Alpe d’Huez? @Chrisbedford1
The autobus, the large group of dropped riders at the back of the bunch, will probably ride Alpe d’Huez in about 55 minutes.

Why is the yellow jersey not attacked on the final stage in Paris? @bones1mchr
It’s partly convention and partly practicality. The final stage, while still a full-on race for the stage win, is a bit of a procession. The course is flat, there’s no real opportunity to take serious time, and in reality it’s very unlikely that any attempt to attack the yellow jersey would succeed. Attacking the leader when he has a mechanical problem is an unwritten no-no on every day. However, the accord has never been properly tested. We’ve never reached the final day with only a handful of seconds between first and second.

Everyone is talking about Contador possibly experiencing difficulties if there are crosswinds when at the same time talking about how strong he is in the time trial. How come? @schnitzer13
They are very different disciplines. Riding in crosswinds is an art. Basically, the echelon fans across the road, meaning there is only room for a finite number of riders to take shelter. If you are at the end of the line, you are in the gutter, not getting protected from the wind and, eventually, you blow and drop back.

It is very difficult to bridge from one group to the one in front if the wind is strong. And so it is all about positioning and luck, rather than pure strength.

As for the time trials, Contador is surprisingly good for a rider of his size. However, the Grenoble stage is not a dragstrip – there’s a lot of climbing in the first half.

Do you think, given the new polka-dot points, we could see a proper GC rider win the jersey for the first time since 1993? @irishpeloton
The points system this year means that anyone targeting the jersey will have to be positioned right at the front of the race, particularly on the big climbs towards the end of each mountain stage.

It is possible that this will make it less easy for someone like Anthony Charteau to gather a lot of points by going on a couple of earlier escapes.

If a ‘proper’ GC rider, as you describe it, finds themselves in contention, they may well decide to target it.

The tinkering with the points competition appears to be designed to restore a bit of glory to the jersey. It would be nice to think that a rider in the top five or six might risk things to win the jersey but I’m not convinced it will happen.

What’s a guess-timate on how long it will take the riders to complete stage 19, the actually route of one of the Etape du Tours? @tootingdom
The 109.5km stage from Modane to Alpe d’Huez will take the winner about three hours. Perhaps a shade under, if it’s a fast start.

What would you do to enhance the viewing experience either on the road or on TV? @markintonsmith
You mentioned putting the riders’ names on their jerseys. Quick Step did this several years ago and we have long urged the powers that be to make it a rule. Team Sky’s names appear on the side of their jerseys, which makes it easy to identify.

There is a broader argument to be had about how the Tour should evolve to stay relevant to a TV audience. Certainly it is frustrating how slowly technology on TV is being utilised. While Formula 1 has led the way, cycling is still satisfied to just show the pictures. At the Tour of Flanders in April, the team cars were miked up and had cameras in them but one or two sports directors were made to look a bit silly so it will be interesting to see if that experiment is repeated.

In the entire history of the Tour, the past 30 years or so have been the years of least change or innovation. Back in the early days the format changed frequently.

Cycling should not be frightened to experiment with different and radical formats. We’re planning an article with some innovative suggestions for the magazine later in the year.

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