Tour de France analysis: Time for change in the king of the mountains classification

After the stage to Alpe d’Huez, the race organisers released a list of how long it took each rider to climb the mountain the second time they tackled it.

The list made for interesting reading. Nairo Quintana, one of the chief aggressors, and fourth on the stage, was the quickest. The Colombian took 39-49 to cover the 13.8-kilometre climb, a good two minutes slower than Marco Pantani’s record whichever source you choose to cite.

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Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha – three seconds slower than Quintana – was the only other rider to break the 40-minute barrier and was just over a minute faster than Richie Porte, Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde. They were, in turn, a minute faster than Jakob Fuglsang and the rest.

Christophe Riblon, the stage winner, covered the climb in 43-01 (13th fastest overall but 3-12 slower than Quintana). He, of course, had plenty of time in hand when he reached the bottom of the climb. It is interesting to note that Tejay van Garderen of BMC, who looked the likely stage winner until the final four kilometres, and was caught with just two to go, took 44 minutes and was 26th fastest.

These are all incidental to the overall results, of course, but given the debate about climbing speeds and power data, it was a notable development for ASO to include the times for the climb. They were recorded using the bike-mounted transponders and sensors at the bottom of the Alpe and at the top. This is a far more reliable method than watching television footage with a stopwatch in hand but it is still flawed. Jérome Cousin of Europcar recorded an official time of four hours 36 minutes and 53 seconds, and Aliaksandr Kuchynski of Katusha was even slower – the result of either a malfunctioning transponder or a bike change.

So what do these times tell us? They are perhaps only an interesting footnote but there is, potentially, a way to radically revamp the king of the mountains competition. What if the king of the mountains competition was changed so that points were awarded for the riders who covered each significant climb the quickest, rather than who reaches the top first?

King of the Mountains decided on Saturday
The king of the mountains competition will, most likely, be decided on the final major climb of the Tour on Saturday – the hors categorie Semnoz, which sits above Annecy. But there is the possibility that Chris Froome will take the crown almost by default, as he seeks to defend his yellow jersey.

Despite the recent change, which added weight to the later climbs by doubling points for the big summit finishes and reducing the points on offer on the smaller third and fourth-category climbs, the competition struggles to capture the imagination.

Pierre Rolland of Europcar and Mikel Nieve are more or less the only riders to seriously target the polka-dot jersey. Froome and Nairo Quintana are surely the best two climbers in the race but their positions (first and fourth after Friday’s stage to Le Grand Bornand) but they have not chased points. Christophe Riblon, the fifth rider who is in with a shout, scored 74 of his 93 points during the stage to Alpe d’Huez.

The wider issue has been that the polka-dot jersey has been out on loan so frequently. For a couple of days, Nieve wore the jersey (and matching shorts) even though he was in third place in the standings behind Froome and Quintana.

Rolland made his big move to try to win the competition on Friday’s 19th stage from Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand Bornand, but ended the day one point short of Froome and absolutely on his knees. He said he doubted he could finish in the first ten at Semnoz, when the destination of the jersey will be decided.

Paradoxically, then, we have a competition that looks set for an exciting conclusion, even though two of the five riders in contention will barely give it more than a passing thought. Froome will be defending his race lead and Quintana will hope for a stage win and enough time to climb into second place.

Christian Prudhomme has not been scared of shaking things up. He tweaked the points competition by introducing the ‘bumper’ intermediate sprint, so maybe it is time for a radical alteration to the rules for the king of the mountains competition.

How about taking a hint from Strava, the application that turns the whole world into a virtual king of the mountains competition by timing riders as they complete certain segments. After all, Belkin’s Laurens Ten Dam is already a fan.

The technology exists to time the riders on certain key times – perhaps one per day in the race. The king of the mountains could become a genuine race within the race, with points awarded to the riders who cover each day’s ‘timed climb’ the fastest, rather than by awarding points to the first riders to reach the top.

It would prevent the polka-dot jersey being an after-thought for the general classification riders and it would be won by a rider who had a greater claim to the title, king of the mountains – or meilleur grimpeur.

Related links

Tour de France 2013: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index