7 semi-cooked ideas that could spice up the Tour de France
The Tour de France broke with tradition and I couldn’t be happier.
For decades, the group that owns the race, Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), has preserved the Tour in time, like Han Solo frozen in carbonite. The rules, regulations, the distances between stages and the presence of girls on the podium all seemed to be holdovers from a bygone era. At best, this reverence to 100 years of racing history seemed quaint, like watching a baseball game at Wrigley Field. At worst, it was problematic, and watching the race sometimes felt like reading your Uncle Dave’s Facebook posts.
Then, a few years ago, ASO officials started trying bold and sometimes bizarre experiments to freshen things up. First, they ditched the daily 120-mile stages for shorter and more punchy, and the change has breathed new action and aggression into the race. Then they replaced the girls on the podium with men and women “animators”. The Tour even tried a Formula 1 starting grid during a stage in 2018, and it hilariously backfired on him. Now there is even talk of the Tour dropping the last stage in Paris for one along the Côte d’Azur.
Of course, the biggest change came this year, when ASO officials finally launched a real Tour de France for women – and let’s congratulate them all for doing so.
My opinion: these sudden changes are a sign that the Tour de France is no longer beholden to its own history, and that its organizers are open to innovation, no matter how wacky. ASO officials want to spice things up and bring the Tour de France into the 21st century. Well, lucky for them, I have a handful of half-baked ideas.
Social Media King/Queen Jersey
Perhaps the hardest concept for casual fans to grasp about the Tour de France is that there are multiple races going on in the event – yes, the fight for different colored jerseys. There is the white jersey, awarded to the fastest runner under 25, the green jersey, awarded to the best sprinter, and the polka dot jersey – called the king/queen of the mountain – awarded to the best climber. To earn these jerseys, runners must hunt for available points in seemingly arbitrary areas along the course each day. Tracking races in the race often requires the use of a calculator (or, for Tour traditionalists, a slide rule).
Here is a basic concept for a jersey competition that any casual fan can understand: the King/Queen of Social Media jersey, awarded to the rider who generates the most likes, retweets, shares and comments on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (sorry, I’m not on TikTok yet). To honor this award, I offer you the Kissy Face jersey (see rendering above).
I predict the battle would intensify as the Tour entered its second and third weeks, and the riders were hungry for likes. Maybe they would resort to tweeting theories about stranger things, or voice their best takes on Tom Brady, or produce their own music videos to win. Who am I kidding – Colombian Rigoberto Uran and Italian Letizia Paternoster would generate the most engagement each year.
I’m not the first to suggest swapping podium presenters for friendly animals like mutts or kittens. Listen, I understand the pushback here. Podium giveaways play a role in the daily awards ceremony – they show runners where to stand, then direct the sponsor manager or local politician who has been chosen that day to hand out the shirts and medals.
Let’s replace them with animal trainers, then introduce a few critters that best represent the local wildlife. Australia’s Tour Down Under gives riders cute baby kangaroos to hold before each stage (see above). I would love nothing more than to see Peter Sagan receive his ceremonial wheel of cheese from a Mouflon, and Wout van Aert to receive his green jersey from a Chamois.
Bikepacking from France
Last summer, Australian professional cyclist Lachlan Morton generated headlines from afar by covering the entire Tour de France route on a bikepacking trip. Morton traveled huge distances by day and slept in campgrounds or along the road at night. He even made the long transfers between each stage that the riders cover by bus or plane. In total, Morton rode 3,424 miles and finished late at night in Paris. The fancy ride was called the Alt Tour, and Morton did much of it while wearing sandals.
I was editor of BikeNews at the time, and I marveled generated online traffic by our coverage of Morton’s journey. Some stories have overshadowed the Tour de France itself. I was surprised when the team, who never turns away from attentiondid not ask him to start again this year.
Anyway, instead of the absolute success of the Alt Tour, I suggest organizing an unofficial and highly non-competitive bikepacking challenge along the Tour route every year. Note: invite retired pros, Instagram influencers, mustache aficionados, unicyclists, Ultra Romantic, and other quasi-famous internet cycling celebrities to ride it, and just sit back and watch the global media footprint swell. People love bikepacking content.
Domestic Skills Challenge
When you have a flight with Ryanair. pic.twitter.com/lFrjrFTV89
— Out-of-context cycling (@OutOfCycling) July 17, 2022
The mighty spotlight of the Tour shines on only a handful of riders each year, and most of the roughly 200 cyclists work in anonymity. These runners, of course, are the servants, or helpers, and their role is to block the wind and carry water bottles for the team leaders. It’s incredibly tough and physically demanding, yet few casual fans know much about the job. The Tour must shine a light on these often forgotten heroes.
My idea: to designate a stage each year as the official “domestic skills challenge”, which would essentially be cycling’s answer to the NHL All-Star Skills Challengein which hockey players compete to see who is the fastest skater, the hardest shooter and the best at throw a puck into artificial islands in a fountain. For the bike, I envision events like carrying the water bottle (see above), the teammate pee pushand the racing caravan obstacle course.
Mixed relay race
— Jumbo-Visma Women Team (@JumboVismaWomen) August 1, 2022
This one might not be half-baked. The Women’s Tour de France was a huge success and a sign that the world is hungry for more women’s cycling. The race was billed as a long-awaited event for the world’s best female cyclists to share the mighty Tour de France stage with the best men. My idea is to create an event in which men and women share the same competition, a relay race between mixed teams. There is already one at the UCI World Championships for road cycling and Mountain bike. And the stars of the Tour and the Tour Femmes have just completed an exhibition type event of this nature at the Roosendaal criterion in the Netherlands. The devil would be in the details of how these teams were chosen and what issues, if any, would be at stake. I’ll let ASO officials figure that out while I hold my breath for this event to get the green light .
Weirdest time trial helmets
Last month, my colleague Caley Fretz demanded that the UCI prohibit the clunky and downright ugly new time trial helmets made by bike brand Specialized. I totally disagree with this take. As a fan of the movie space balls, I think the strange headgear is the closest our sport can ever come to emulating Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet. Sorry, Gen Z readers, this reference may predate your time.
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) July 26, 2022
Watch this video of Formula 1 driver and world celebrity Valtteri Bottas handing out water bottles to Canyon-SRAM team riders during the Women’s Tour de France. Pretty cool, huh? Bottas has every reason to lend a hand—his partner, Tiffany Cromwell, is the longtime Canyon-SRAM rider. Still, the clip got me thinking about the intersection of stardom and Tour de France access, and how some cycling superfans would gladly pay whatever price it takes to buy bottles for a team.
The staff members who distribute the bottles are called trainers, and they also massage the runners after each stage, wash laundry, transport food and perform dozens of other tasks. My idea is to invite a handful of paying VIPs into the ranks of the race healers, to give them the ultimate behind-the-scenes experience of the Tour de France. Of course, maybe massage tasks are prohibited. But if handing out water bottles is fun for Valtteri Bottas, it must be something a CEO would love to do, too.