Tour de France grid start: Gimmick or game-changer?

Last week it emerged that on stage 17 of the Tour de France – already a novel one with three major climbs packed into 65 kilometres – the riders would be setting off in an unprecedented grid structure.

Borrowing from Formula 1, the riders will be staged according to their position on general classification. Riders will be put into different groups along a 70 metre-wide stretch of road.

With the innovation causing quite a stir, Cyclingnews spoke to some of the directeurs sportifs at the Critérium du Dauphiné to get the view from those who'll be calling the tactics on the day.

Servais Knaven (Team Sky)

I don't think the yellow jersey will attack from the gun.

It will be nice on television to see everyone line up in different positions. It's an interesting thing, but let's see how it works in practice, and if the top 20 go from the gun or they go easy for the start like the other guys. The guys who start in the back probably won't be the guys who are going to work uphill anyway. It's nice to add some changes into the conservative cycling world.

Max Sciandri (BMC Racing)

I would have put the last guys in front. And the first guys – the first 20 or however many they want out in the grid, I would have put them last.

For sure, it just tells you that race organisers are always on the thought of how to make it more appealing to the public at home, on TV, just get the show going.

There's an old saying in Italy, which is that the riders make the race. Sometimes what they have to consider is transfers, time spent in the bus – that takes a lot out of riders, that contributes a lot to fatigue. If the riders are fresh, you can have a big show on a relatively easier course. But sometimes you have to consider after 18 days it depends how people are.

I don't think it will change the race. You're already putting the top 20 in front. They're starting ahead already, they just have to be there and control each other. If you put them behind and gave them a default compared to the non-GC guys then…I don't know… they do that in mountain biking. For sure it's just a way of trying to get the show going.

Aike Visbeek (Team Sunweb)

At first sight it favours the teams who have a lot of guys near the top of the GC. If you have Sky, for example, with three guys in the top 15, then they have three guys in the front group. That adds a new challenge to it. I think that may be the biggest factor.

Of course, the problem is what does it when you make a cut of the last 15 riders, because that's how I understood it – if you're 16th or 17th are you still within six minutes or are you 10 minutes down.

It maybe would have been better to test it here at the Dauphiné, to see what it really does.

José Luis Arrieta (Movistar)

I don't think it will affect the race much. At the end of the day, the riders will all be in the space of 100 metres, pretty much like all the other days.

Logically, the leaders are going to wait for their teammates. Some of them are going to be with them already. We're not talking about leaders going off and their teammates being three minutes back – no, they're there, like all the other days. It's going to add something to the spectacle, but it's not going to change the result.

In theory the strong guys will be up there and the strong guys will be strong in the mountains and will have guys up there. But it's not like the rest of your teammates will be at two minutes, they'll still be there.

Didier Jannel (AG2R La Mondiale)

I think there aren't too many other options, I think it's to give the top GC riders the chance to leave in the first positions in a very, very short stage, and have a fair placement at least on the start line. Then the race will take its shape back in a few kilometres. But I think it's an interesting idea to have a placement for the big favourites to have to be on it right from the start.

In the grand scheme of things I don't think it will change much. It's going to allow people to find their place more easily, with less stress. It will allow riders to be active from the start but with less stress. The teams are going to rapidly find their leaders, who will wait for them to come back – they're not going stay on their own, that's clear.

Charly Wegelius (EF-Drapac)

It'd be nice if they did it the opposite way around actually, the people at the front aren't going to want to attack at the start. I don't think it will have a huge impact, it's a nice idea though. It's no different from any other stage really, it's just a compressed version of the race.

Brian Holm (Quick-Step Floors)

Why not try something new? I think it's a good thing. If it will change a lot, I don't know, but it's a good idea. I think trying something new in old-fashioned cycling doesn't really hurt anybody, so I like it.

First of all, we have to see the GC. A few guys will be fighting for victory, a few for the podium, and a few will be hanging on. If a team, let's say Sky, have some guys up there, they could go full speed. But on the other hand they could have a few riders in the wheel. I think it's interesting because when it's new we don't really know, do we.

Philippe Mauduit (UAE Team Emirates)

It can be fun. It's something new in cycling. I don't know, we have to try some new things to make it more visible, more attractive, especially for young people. That will be a different picture for the start.

I don't think it will change the end of the race, but the start will be more fun. For sure it won't make a big difference. It will probably take a few ks because the start will be on a narrow road so it will be difficult for the guys to come back to each other but in the end they will make it probably.

Marc Sergeant (Lotto Soudal)

I think it's a good idea. It's very short, and of course the leader… it's like in Formula 1, if you do the best lap you can have the first place on the grid. It's a matter of 70 metres, so it's not so very important. But you are in the group of your classification and of course, for sure, for some helpers of that leading guy, it will be a test to go as quickly as possible to their guy.

I think they wanted it, because it's short, they want a clear start, and give the advantage of the leader to have the space he deserves.

Dirk Demol (Trek-Segafredo)

It will be interesting to see what happens. It's not bad because sometimes you see that a lot of riders struggle with the time limit for example. They fight to be in a good position, they try to start near the front and everything. It could be interesting. I like the idea, but I hope there's a large time limit because it will be a hell of a day.

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Patrick Fletcher
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.