Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Would it kill them to finish on a mountain?

While watching coverage of the Tour Down Under last week, something happened that seems to be becoming more and more of a problem these days.

I fell asleep.

Now, there are those who would say that the fact that I'm not 17 anymore, could be causing this. The fact that I'm sitting in my recliner, (aka, the big leather man chair, get one if you can), might also be a contributing factor to this phenomenon. It is, quite possibly, the single most comfortable chair on the face of the earth. But I think that there is an underlying cause for my inability to remain awake while watching coverage of cycling. It pains me to say this, but say it I must.

For the most part, the average stage of a pro bicycle race is boring.

I'm sorry. I didn't enjoy saying that. I took no pleasure in saying that. But the fact that it's an unpleasant fact, doesn't make it any less of a fact. The typical stage of a pro cycling race is boring.

I'm sure that there are those of you out there, that as you read that statement, were so offended by it, that you are now literally cursing my name and moving your mouse to close down your Internet browser.

To those of you I say STOP. Believe me, no one loves cycling more than I do.

Actually, I have no proof that I love cycling more than everyone else, but try and prove me wrong. That's one of those claims, that no matter how outlandish it may sound, there is virtually no way to disprove it.

So what do I feel is causing pro cycling to be so boring? That would be the flat, boring, bunch sprint finish. Now that may seem like a ironic statement to make. A good bunch sprint finish is possibly the most exciting 30 seconds of any sport that you may ever see. No, it's not the actual finish that leads to people falling asleep in their chairs, but it's the 4 or 5 hours before that, of watching a peloton pedal along in one big group that acts as a natural anesthetic.

The typical stage of a pro bike race follows a fairly predictable formula. The race will start in a small European city. After a 5 or 10 k neutral start, the actual race begins. Right from the start, 4 or 5 guys will ride off like maniacs and establish a break of 5 to 10 minutes. And that's pretty much how the stage will proceed for the next 4 hours. Thanks to the miracle of GPS tracking and race radio, everyone in the race knows exactly how far ahead the breakaway is. They know exactly when they need to start reeling them in. And they know exactly how fast they need to ride to catch them before the finish. It's no great mystery why the breakaway always seems to get caught with about 1 to 3 k to go. Then, and only then do you get the thrilling 30 seconds of the sprint for the line.

So you're undoubtedly asking yourself, "Why, oh why, if they know that these stages bore Nearly Famous Fred into unconsciousness, do they insist on producing these types of stages?" Aside from a unexplainable unwillingness to satisfy the personal preferences of Nearly Famous Fred, the race producers actually do have a good economic reason for this.

The reason is quite simple; fans don't spend money on top of a mountain. Let me explain

It may come as a surprise to some of you out there, but a bicycle ride or race, is an expensive event to produce. Shocking, I know. Along with corporate sponsorships, the only way to make it financially possible, is to have the stage start and finish cities bear part of the financial cost. It may also come as a surprise to some of you, but the start and finish cities on a pro bike race, actually bid and pay to be part of the race. I have no idea how much they actually pay, but for our purposes here, let's suspend reality and say that I know what I'm talking about. So you can believe me when I tell you, it's a lot.

As most cities are not found at the very top of a mountain, it then stands to reason that most of the stages will end in the nice flat valleys where the cites actually are. If you need any more proof of my flat, boring stage theory. Look no further than these stage results from the Tour Down Under:

Stage 1 - the top 127 riders in the stage finished with the same time. That's 127 out of 133 riders that started the stage.

Stage 2 - the top 72 riders all finished within 13 seconds of the stage winner.

Stage 3 - the top 47 finishers all finished with the same time.

Stage 4 - the top 53 riders all finished with the same time.

Stage 5 - (The Big Mountain Stage), the top 38 riders all finished with the same time.

Stage 6 - the top 85 riders, of the 122 that started the stage, all finished with the same time.

If it weren't for sprint time bonus' and finish time bonus', it would be hard to determine the winner, because everyone would have the same time.

There's nothing I find more compelling than watching pro cyclist struggle up the road to the top of Mt Ventoux. But the fact is, there's no town on top of Mt Ventoux to pay to have the stage finish there. If you go out and look at the stages of the upcoming Tour of California, not one of the eight stages has a mountain top finish. I could be wrong, (imagine that), but in the history of the ToC, they have never had a mountain top finish. And unless someone discovers a town perched at the top of a mountain in California, I doubt they ever will.

So, unless I'm willing to give up The Big Leather Man Chair, (which I am not), I guess I"ll just have to be content to get in a daily nap whenever there's cycling coverage on TV. There are worse things.

Or, I could just go out and ride my bike.

Peace out.....Nearly Famous Fred

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