As the season wends its way to bed, via the traditional Tour of Lombardy and the equally traditional trip to Doha for the World Championships, we can all look forward to the usual cycling fan’s winter hobby of dolefully spreading gloom about “the state of cycling”.
That racing is too predictable seems to be a universal sentiment. Everyone has been saying that for as long as I’ve been in cycling — including all the way through eras that everyone now harks back to for their exciting and unpredictable racing. We need to ban radios. Stamp on power meters. Execute sports scientists at dawn. So, in this spirit of attempting to generate excitement, however artificial, I have some ideas.
The first suggestion is this: a team time trial with any number of riders in the team that you want. If you want to send one rider to do the whole thing alone, you can. If you want to dispatch 50 to do a kilometre on the front each, you can. The catch is that they all have to finish together.
So while the first team selections will be the strongest time triallists, as the team works its way through to the weaker ones it has to decide at what point the danger of having to wait for a straggler outweighs the work the straggler might do. Also, the more of them there are, the greater the risk of a puncture or a crash.
So many variables, so many possible approaches and so very many things to go hilariously wrong. Cycling needs this event, and badly.
Another suggestion. How about letting teams in stage races sell off riders in exchange for time bonuses for the team leader? So if Chris Froome is struggling in the mountains, he can gain 30 seconds by surrendering, let’s say, Ian Stannard mid-stage.
It would introduce new tactics — how much do you need a rider, how useful would that particular one be in the rest of the race, and what is it like to look at their table manners over dinner every night?
It would also allow leaders who are being eclipsed by a strong lieutenant — Wiggins and Froome in 2012 spring to mind — to dispose of them neatly, and gain a handy 30 seconds into the deal.
One could extend the concept so rival teams could buy abandoned riders simply by giving up 30 seconds and handing them a new jersey. Just think of the chaos this would cause for commentators as riders switched teams in the course of a single stage. You want less predictable racing? This would be racing where you didn’t know who’d won even after the stage had finished, and you can’t have more unpredictable than that.
Finally, the Olympics. They should have a two-week long stage race, starting with a prologue at the opening ceremony and finishing as the closing ceremony gets under way.
It would take the Olympic spirit around the host nation, and it would provide something to watch in the last five days other than boxing and judo. I’m not quite sure what to do about individual stage winners, who might be a bit peeved to win an Olympic race, then get just a bunch of flowers and a peck on the cheek and be sent on their way, but let’s just gloss over that for the moment and call it another piece of genius.
Of course, everyone could just ignore me. Leave cycling just as it is, becoming duller with every passing year. Wasting away by staying until it’s just like it used to be and everyone realises it was never as good as they thought it was.
If you don’t like these ideas, I have others, by the way. Hundreds of them. But it’s only fair to warn you that these are the best.