Faster, scarier... better? Imagining a Tour de France raced on tandems

Christian Prudhomme, the Tour de France's race director, will surely accept the idea in time for the 2023 edition

Tour de France
(Image credit: Getty)

The Tour de France doesn’t need to get any harder or more complicated, but what would happen if the race organisers ruled that riders could only compete in the world’s biggest bike race on a tandem?

It’s a vitally important question that Cycling Weekly have been musing for the past three weeks, wondering if the way anyone can get any closer to Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar is to throw them off their own bikes and force them to partner up with someone else for a shared journey through France.

There are advantages to the proposed changes: flat, boring stages would be completed in rapidly quick time, and downhills would make Tom Pidcock’s daredevil descent off the Croix de Fer look tame, as Australian Simon Clarke notes: “You’d go even faster on the descents, that’s for sure,” the Israel-PremierTech rider says. “I think it would be easier if you had two equally strong riders and you’d go a lot faster. Two strong guys together on a tandem can really fly.”

That, though, could lead to problems, perhaps rendering this debate useless. “I would fear a downhill finish,” Clarke adds. “Do you remember last year’s stage 3 finish that was downhill? That’d be scary on a tandem.”

Racing across the pavé in northern France wouldn’t be ideal, too. “A cobbled stage would be tricky on a tandem,” deadpans Stefan Küng, Groupama-FDJ’s time trial supremo.

“Also, I wouldn’t want to be collecting the sweat drops off the guy in front of me for three weeks,” the Swiss continues, opening up another discussion into who should be chosen as one’s partner.

“Oh, definitely an Aussie,” Clarke says. “You’d want an all-rounder so probably Michael Matthews as he can climb, sprint and is a powerhouse.” AG2R Citroën’s Bob Jungels thinks outside the box with his answer: “Oliver Naesen,” he says, “because three weeks is a long time to sit on the same bike so it’s better to have some fun together rather than go fast. He’d be good to talk to as he’s a super funny guy who’s also a strong. He’d be an excellent partner.”

Just as we’re thinking Jungels has fully bought into this really serious discussion, Team DSM’s John Degenkolb trumps him, revealing that he owns a tandem and has completed races on the bike in the past. “I do have a tandem at home,” the German delights us. “My wife and I got it as a present from my parents when we got married and we use it when we go out for a ride together.

“I once did a race on a track with a tandem and Marcel Kittel was there with me, too. It was pretty sketchy and scary being on the back of one while in front of me was a track sprinter from the national team. It was fun but also scary. It depends on the gear you choose, but I think you can go faster on a tandem than alone.”

However, Degenkolb is sadly against tandems being used in a sprint stage. “I think we’re better sticking to our current bikes for a bunch sprint,” he rues.

Just as we’re looking for more positivity, the pros deject us once more by questioning the climbing spectacle, Clarke calling going uphill with a partner “challenging”, while Küng rubbishes our theory that two engines (see: Filippo Ganna paired with Geraint Thomas) would be the ideal partnership. 

“You have to consider the weight,” he hits back. “In the end it’s still down to how much power per weight you can put out. If you put Ganna with Thomas, they won’t go as fast uphill as he [Thomas] would alone.”

If that’s the case, who would come out on top come Paris? “Probably [Wout] van Aert and [Jonas] Vingegaard because they cover aspect you need from time trialing to climbing; everything,” Jungles predicts.

Küng returns to deliver a frightening prospect: “If you put Pogačar and Vingegaard on a tandem bike together, then the difference to the rest of would be even bigger.”

That, Stefan, is not happening. We need to create more competition, not to stifle it. Right, Jasper Stuyven? “It’s very a hypothetical question,” he slams. “I have no opinion.”

Perhaps we should just bin the idea. Stuyven, at least, would be pleased.

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