Shorter stages provoke better racing?As I watched stage 3 of the Tour de Suisse I found myself actually on the edge of my chair watching intently. There were attacks, great commentary and amazing scenery. In the end it was a fantastic piece of riding by Damiano Cunego to take back three minutes on the lead group over the final mountain of the stage. Only Peter Sagan could catch the tiny Italian and beat him to the line. That was exciting racing!
It wasn’t until I read a team press release that I noticed the stage from Brig-Glis to Grindelwald was only 107 kilometers long – just over 70 miles. In contrast stage 7 will be a brute. Not only is it 222 kilometers long but it features a Hors Category climb followed by a category 2 and finishing with a category 1 climb to the finish. I suspect that this Queen stage will not have the explosive riding that made stage 3 interesting. By Friday the favorites will have been sorted out and it will be a day of attrition.
In the Dauphine press conference winner Bradley Wiggins said of the final stage, “People are getting tired now, we’ve been racing for nearly a week. There’s no super-humans out there at the moment – those were the old days!”
I might be brushing with broad paint strokes but what if the stages were shortened, yet the hard features remained? Let’s say cap the stage distances at 200 kilometers for sprint stages and 150 for mountain? The racing would be fast and furious and endurance increasing drugs would no longer be a factor. Those distances are still a challenge, but not death marches. I’m not saying that drug use would be eliminated, but I think with the more aggressive racing style these distances would provoke, it might lure some viewers to the screen.
Maybe the news about Tyler Hamilton and Lance Armstrong getting into a pissing match at an Aspen restaurant got me doing some wishful thinking. Their tête-à-tête made the front page news in the sports section of MSNBC.com earlier today. We definitely need more than doping scandals to keep the public’s interest in the sport and perhaps this shortened style of racing might be it. Or Plan “B” – all doping accusations must be decided in the octagon.