Portal: Dropping to eight riders won't make the Tour de France more attractive

'The first week is perfect for the spectator,' says Team Sky tactician

Nicolas Portal (Team Sky) praised ASO for the 2018 Tour de France route after it was unveiled in Paris on Tuesday but voiced his opinion that cycling's decision to move from nine to eight riders in Grand Tours wouldn't necessarily improve the racing as a spectacle.

All teams will comply with the new rules governing rider numbers in 2018, which have been brought in to appease concerns over safety. One line of thought is that the reduced numbers would make racing more open with fewer teammates able to potentially control a race when put under pressure.

"I started to think about this a bit during the Tour and the Vuelta but to be honest it's going to be the same for everyone," Portal told Cyclingnews.

The Frenchman has been a mainstay at Team Sky since 2010. He spent that season as rider before retiring from the sport and becoming part of the management structure. He has been instrumental in the team's success and this year has been forced to address questions in the media when other members of Team Sky's entourage, such as Dave Brailsford, have been less willing to talk.

"In 2013 we finished the Tour de France with seven and a half riders because [Geraint] Thomas had a fractured pelvis. We only finished with a full team two years ago but with one guy less you know that the eight will have to ride more kilometres and work longer. But again that's the same for everyone. They've tried to make the race more attractive but I don't think that cutting one or two riders does that."

For Portal, the racing improves when the route provides the terrain on which riders can express themselves. Next year's route contains an action-packed first week but Portal pointed to the explosive 65km stage finishing atop the Col de Portet in the third week. According to the Frenchman, strength in numbers matter little over such a parcours.

"What makes it a lot harder is when you have short stage and then it's harder to control. You could have 10 riders then on each team but the pace is so fast that it's almost impossible to control."

"I quite like the route actually," he said, "and there's a little bit of everything. It's going to make the first week quite interesting with the cobblestones, and the team time trial. If there are some crosswinds too then I think that it's the perfect week, for the spectator.

"The second week is pretty tough with three hard days in the mountains right after the rest day with the final one having 5,000m of climbing. I heard about the rumours of the time trial at Espelette and it's pretty hard. There are also some new climbs and for us it's quite good. It suits Froome and the team quite well and looking at things now I'm pretty confident."

Team Sky have made a habit of controlling the race at the Tour de France over the last few years. This year they relinquished the yellow jersey for a few days when Fabio Aru (Astana) took the lead but they used their numbers and power in the mountains to effectively nullify a number of rivals before Froome sealed a fourth title in the final time trial. Whether or not Team Sky will look to implement a similar strategy in 2018 remains unclear.

"It always depends on what other teams do and their plans. This year it was hard to control. We were juggling with a few seconds here and there but with next year's route I think that you're already going to have some gaps after the team time trial and the cobblestones. That might make it easier to control but I honestly have no idea."

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