The Tour de France's latest innovation explained
Stage 17 of the 2018 Tour de France sees a couple of major innovations by race organisers ASO, who have not only created the shortest road stage in years at just 65km, but will also have to riders line up at the start of the stage in a unique grid formation.
Used in cyclocross races as a matter of course, this will be the first time that a grid start has been used in the Tour de France, but how exactly will it work on the day?
How will the Tour de France grid start work?
Just like how at the start of a Formula One race drivers are lined up on the grid based on their qualifying times, the riders at the start of stage 17 will be positioned at the start line in Bagnères-de-Luchon based on their position in the general classification.
The first 10 riders will be lined up in two arrow formations at the front of the race, with the yellow jersey at the front of the race, with the second place rider overall behind and to his left, and the third place rider overall behind and to his right.
The next 10 riders will be lined across the road in two banks of five, still relatively close to the start line.
The rest of the peloton will also be positioned according to place in the general classification, grouped into packs of 20 riders where they are free to position themselves as they please.
When the flag drops, there will be no neutralised zone as is normally the case with road races, with riders free to race from the gun just as is the case with cyclocross races and criteriums.
Why has the grid been introduced?
The recent trend for short mountain stages at Grand Tours has often produced exciting racing, but the Tour de France organisers are hoping that the exceptionally short 65km stage combined with the grid start will help to make things explosive.
The grid style start will see the general classification contenders isolated from their domestiques in the opening kilometres, meaning that if anyone attacks from the gun then it will be up to their direct rivals, rather than their rivals’ team-mates, to chase them down.
Of course riders could choose not to chase down attacks on their own, instead waiting for their domestiques to make it to the front of the race, but with every mountain domestique trying to move to the front in the first few kilometres and the Col de Peyresourde coming immediately after the start, it could take a while for teams to get organised.
However the stage is also likely to be bad news for the sprinters near the bottom of the general classification, who may have tried to get through mountain stages by getting in the break or starting climbs at the front of the peloton to allow themselves to slip back, but will instead start at the back and only get further behind as they fight to make the time cut.