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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13 Responses to “Every Bonus Second Counts”

  1. LPR 5 July 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Good post, totally agree. Stage wins need to be rewarded in the GC. It would also make for more interesting racing on hill or mountain finishes, as there would be a greater motivation for GC contenders to race each other in the last km knowing they might gain, say, 12 seconds on a rival rather than just 2 seconds.

  2. I R Biker 5 July 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    I disagree. Leipheimer’s loss of position to Vinokourov is one of the best arguments FOR bonuses. Daring and aggressive riding should be rewarded maximally, as the rest of your post so well argues for.

  3. Skippy 6 July 2012 at 9:11 am #

    For me this past week has been enjoyable in that a respected Cyclist is wearing the Maillot Jeune BUT had it been a no name i feel sure that there would have been ” musical chairs “!
    Jens Voigt and the team have had to counter attacks from BMC and Lotto in the TV coverage i have seen so it is not ” pedestrian ” from my POV !
    Yesterday the break COULD have stayed the distance until the Cofidis Belgian panicked . Watching them hold off the Peloton with little loss of seconds until they were within the two kilometre was entertaining ! Had they agreed to fight it out in the last 300m then they would have been Podium material rather than footnotes ! Even Gossy went too early such was the Peloton’s assumption that the four were upstaging the sprinters !
    Blogged about the result and reviewed the finish today since seeing your post and think that the TV coverage was better than being at the finish !

  4. James 7 July 2012 at 9:19 am #

    Just in relation to the Levi example. I am pretty sure Cadel Evans would have won the 2007 tour if it had not been for bonus seconds awarded to Contador. I understand the bonus seconds rule changed after that edition.

  5. some guy 8 July 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    Love it.

    Hell, I wish a dominant sprinter had a shot at winning the whole thing — what about giving one second for each green jersey point! It gives the sprinters a few minutes, enough to encourage them to really give an effort on the mountain stages and to encourage the climbers to stop looking at each other on the climbs!

  6. youshould 9 July 2012 at 4:31 am #

    write more. Love reading this blog.

  7. Sebastian 10 July 2012 at 4:57 pm #

    If you’re going to start with a whole week of flat stages, then, yes, you need bonus seconds. But I would still prefer it if they got rid of the current week-one formula and had more mountains distributed throughout the race.

  8. LPR 10 July 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    Yes, write more.

    We anonymous, non-paying customers demand so.

  9. trounder 12 July 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    It seems like you’re advocating that bonus seconds should be resurrected so that the yellow jersey will float around amongst a bunch of GC-non-contenders because it might spice up the race a bit. But then you reason, “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.”

    Doesn’t this circular logic support both sides of the bonus second dilema? One can gain a few seconds advantage by simply gaining a few seconds advantage. If Levi (or anyone) rode a few seconds faster, then as you say, the bonus seconds are of little consequence.

    I suggest if people are bored by a “straight time” yellow jersey competition perhaps they can igonre it and just appreciate the Tour as three weeks of high-caliber one day races. Or maybe they can also try paying attention to the green jersey, white jersey, polka dot jersey, team competition, lantern rouge, Tour of Poland, etc.

    Also, I very much appreciate your dedication to the sport and the commentary, insights, and opinions that you share (and allow us to share) with the rest of the world on your most excellent blog! Cheers!

  10. John Dorschner 14 July 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    I love the Tour but this is the most disappointing one in many many many years. The best guy is not being allowed to race and is forced to remain second … And there is no other competition. Evans doesn’t have a chance. … Makes it boring for the fans.

  11. ErikR 19 July 2012 at 11:40 am #

    @trounder: Circular logic? Not sure where you’re getting that accusation from.

    You write: “One can gain a few seconds advantage by simply gaining a few seconds advantage. If Levi (or anyone) rode a few seconds faster, then as you say, the bonus seconds are of little consequence.”

    Now that’s starting to sound circular. It’s quite clear that gaining a few seconds gap on most stages other than the climby ones with mountain top finishes is extremely difficult in the TdF. Nobody let’s GC contenders get a gap if they can do anything about it. And it’s not for lack of trying, as evidenced by Sylvain Chavanel’s numerous attacks at the ends of stages during the first week.

    It seems clear that a 5 second time bonus won by a punchy GC contender in a minor stage placing can be easily overcome by a strong climber on a major mountain stage. Whereas, taking the yellow jersey off the shoulder of the race leader in the first week is extremely hard without time bonuses due to all of the bunch finishes.

    However, I would argue that the layout of the race parcours has as much influence on first-week fireworks as time bonuses might. Case in point, Thor Hushovd’s riveting defense of the jersey last year, as opposed to Cancellara’s comparative non-defense this year.

  12. trounder 19 July 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    @ErikR- It’s not meant as an accusation. I interpreted Cosmo’s statement about “opportunities to peel back” time, to be somewhat circular in its logic and an argument both for and against implementing a time bonus. His point, restated by me without the confusing Levi reference:–> bonus seconds should benefit some fast riders, because other fast riders are still even faster.

    It seems like Cosmo is trying to reason away the down side of bonus seconds by implying that the final GC will not always be decided by that margin, since there is “no shortage of opportunities to peel back that few seconds’ of advantage.” This is the fairness dilema. All things being equally not equal, they are fair…except for certain riders in certain situations…which is unavoidable, exept when it is not.

    If seeing a yellow jersey being swapped around for the first few days will help people think a three-week endurance event is exciting, then I agree bonus seconds (and obviously course selection) can help make that happen. Cosmo is right that the Maillot Jaune is prestigious and perhaps it would benefit more teams and increase the interest of casual fans if it floated around a bit more.

    In my opinion, it doesn’t matter which rider or how many riders hold the yellow jersey the first week if they have no chance to wear yellow in Paris. And yes ErikR, it is quite clear that it is hard to take the yellow jersey at any point in the race…don’t know why anyone would want to change that! My 2 cents. Thanks again Mr. Cosmo…Cheers!

  13. cosmo 24 July 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    @trounder: I do agree that there’s some circularity the way I’ve phrased it there.

    I guess my original sentiment was that the advantage conferred by bonus seconds is within the margin of error built into a three-week tour. So if you lose eight seconds on a sprint stage, you can (all else being equal) reasonably expect one of the dozens of other potential eight-second swings throughout the TdF would fall in your favor, negating the advantage.

    Obviously, that’s a little ridiculous. But I also think it’s a little ridiculous to say that Greg Lemond was *exactly* eight seconds better than Laurent Fignon in 1989, even if that was the final margin.

    Chance wields significant influence on the open road, and while the addition of a few bonus seconds might provide new opportunities for a GC rider with a good kick, I don’t think they do much to upset the balance of how the overall prize is awarded.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Episode 21: Pants Optional | We Have Pelotonitis - 15 August 2012

    […] talk about two Cyclocosm articles. First we agree that the Tour should bring back bonus seconds (article), Jeff classifies fans as classics/one day fans or stage race fans- each think the other is boring, […]

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