How do time cuts work on the Tour de France?

The Tour de France is arguably one of the toughest challenges in elite sport – three weeks in the saddle, riding 5-6 hours a day, over thousands of miles of roads and climbing some of the highest peaks. emblematic (and wildest) of Europe.

While media attention is focused on the action at the front of the race, little attention is paid to those at the back, who are embroiled in their own battle – trying to avoid the sadly famous time cut.

What is cut time, and why is it necessary?

The time reduction is being used by race organisers, ASO, as a way to encourage the spirit of racing and deter those who would rather ride in the wheels of others for three weeks. It is designed to ensure that each participant is up to the task.

The time allowed varies by stage and depends on two key factors: the difficulty of the stage and the average speed of the winner. It is calculated daily and although this is not the final word – the marshals can exercise discretion where necessary – generally speaking if you miss the day’s cut time you must abandon the race.

Have a thought then for the runners who find themselves struggling with the weather cut.

According to a rule that applies especially in the big mountain stages, when the pure climbers and the contenders for the GC push the pace to the front, the most affected by the reduction in time are generally the sprinters and their teams, less specialized for HC. climb. The lead trains must switch roles and tow their most valuable assets – their designated sprinters – over the high peaks in time to prevent them from falling victim to the day’s cutoff.

How is the timing of the Tour de France calculated?

Among the two key factors that come into play in the calculation of the day’s cut, one is decided before the race by the organizers. The difficulty of each stage is determined and a number from 1 to 6 is assigned – also called a “coefficient”. These figures are published in the race road book. Completely flat stages would receive a rating of 1, up to the most demanding days in the mountains with a rating of 6.

The second figure is calculated once the stage winner has crossed the line on a given day. The winner’s average speed is combined with the stage coefficient to determine a percentage. This percentage determines the time outside of the winner’s last time that all other participants must cross the line. Anyone outside this percentage will unfortunately be sent home.

While the time reduction is obviously more forgiving on the more difficult stages, it is these stages that see riders struggling the most to make the cut. In 2021 we saw footage of the Deceuninck-QuickStep team crossing the line as a unit on Stage 9, cutting the time to just 97 seconds as they protected key rider Mark Cavendish from retirement of the race.

Other riders weren’t so lucky. Seven unlucky latecomers missed the cut-off that day, including sprinters Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ). The time limit that day was set using the coefficient of difficulty of 5, combined with the average speed of stage winner Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroën), an impressive 32.596 km/h.

This resulted in a 14% time limit, allowing runners finishing behind O’Connor 37.20 to drag themselves across the line in order to continue the race.

How can runners avoid the time cut?

Aside from the obvious – just riding fast enough – runners can find other ways to get around the time limit, or at least ways to make life a little easier on tough days.

Their best bet is to band together in the gruppetto – the group that forms behind the main peloton and works together to try and finish the day before time runs out. Working with other cyclists is the most reliable way to ensure that you don’t completely lose the rhythm.

If a runner fails a mechanic or is caught in an accident that prevents him from performing the cut time, ASO has the power to make exceptional decisions, at its sole discretion. The regulations specify this power as follows: “The jury of commissaires may exceptionally authorize the reinstatement in the race of one or more particularly unlucky riders, after having informed the race direction.”

The reinstatement of a rider depends on four factors, to be taken into account by the race jury: the average speed of this stage; in the event of an accident or incident, the time when it occurred; the perceived effort made by the rider(s) concerned to overcome the setback, as well as any road blockages that may have occurred.

All is therefore not lost if a runner ends up finishing outside the allotted time.

Maria D. Ervin