To change bike or not change bike? The question of the day at the Tour de France time trial

Some stuck on their time trial bike throughout stage 16's hilly course - like Jonas Vingegaard, who won - while others opted to change

Giulio Ciccone on stage 16 of the 2023 Tour de France
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Road bike or TT machine? That proved to be one of the main questions before the Tour de France's stage 16 time trial to Combloux - a hilly one - and one of the main discussion points afterwards.

It wasn’t so much about what sort of machine to start with – more which machine to finish with – with the steep final climb of the Côte de Domancy in mind.

From sports science to simply ‘didn’t feel like it’, riders and teams offered up a variety of takes on the issue, and there were a healthy number of both types at the finish.

The day’s winner Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) came down on the side of the specialist machine, staying on his bike from start to finish as, in fact, did all his team-mates.

Among those to make the swap included his nemesis Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and time trialling specialist Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), who swapped to a road bike for the Domancy and proclaimed it “definitely the right option”, at least for him.

“Maybe some guys that are going for the win will stay on the TT bike,” he said with keen predictive skills, “but for me it was definitely the right choice.

“In the end the Côte de Domancy is really really steep, time trial bikes are made to go fast, not uphill quite slowly. It’s not just about the weight it’s also about the position on the bike, so yeah, that’s why I did the bike change.”

Giulio Ciccone, for whom the Domancy was key in his battle to retain the polka dot jersey, also came down on the side of the road bike. “I did a normal tempo just to keep going and then we changed the bike 1.5km from the climb,” said the Lidl-Trek man. “It was just full gas from the bottom, I went just with my legs and my feelings,” he added, referencing the fact that his radio had stopped working.

The bike change (and indeed his legs) seemed to do the trick though, for he put 40 seconds into his big King of the Mountains rival Neilson Powless, bolstering his lead to a still-scant five points.

Simon Yates, on the other hand, put forward an alternative thesis on the thorny issue: “I couldn’t be bothered,” he said. Tongue not entirely out of cheek perhaps, though he equally pointed out: “I’m not in a position where I think I would win and it just complicates things a bit.

"Our sports scientist [Marco] Pinotti also told me it was faster to change,” he admitted, “but I wasn’t in a position to mess around."

Looking at the results, will Yates wonder what may have been? He wouldn’t have won but eight extra seconds would have seen him skip ahead of Pello Bilbao and Wout van Aert to finish third.

UAE Team Emirates team principal Mauro Gianetti defended Tadej Pogačar’s bike change. That was certainly not why he lost, he said: “We did all the tests and everything, and for us it was an advantage to change the bike for Tadej, and not change the bike for Adam Yates for example.

“It is individual, and this was clear from the beginning,” he added. “We lost 10 seconds in the change of the bike, that we knew, but we had 1-30 lost in the end, so it was not the change of the bike that decided it. 

Jumbo-Visma DS Arthur Van Dongen, who was surely relieved to see that ultimately, his team's plan prevailed, said: "We made some calculations and in our opinion it made no sense and I think the calculations were right.

Of Pogačar he added: "I think he was behind before the bike change a lot … it's up to them – everyone has their own plan, their decision and goals."

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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields. 

Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.

A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now behind him. But he still rides regularly, both on the road and on the gravelly stuff.