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ASO and Velon trying to reshuffle road racing format with new 'pursuit' events

Josh Cunningham
26 Apr 2017

The new 'pursuit' stage for the women's La Course race is remarkably similar to Velon's 'Hammer Chase'. Is it the future?

The Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) released details on Sunday of a new women's event, due to be held in Marseille, that will precede the men's penultimate stage of the Tour de France.

The event will be the second instalment of a two-part 'La Course by the Tour de France', which is a women's race organised by Tour owners ASO, but which has up until now been held on the Champs Elysees.

Reshuffled for 2017, La Course will now be split into two: the first a road stage finishing on the Col d'Izoard, and the second a pursuit-style event in which only the top-placed riders from the road stage compete.

'The women who finish within five minutes of the winner at Col d'Izoard will earn the right to take part in the pursuit hours later,' said ASO in a press release about the event.

'Instead of starting every minute, or every two minutes (usually the case in a time trial), the riders will start based on the time differences recorded a few days earlier in the stage ending at the Col d'Izoard.'

Road bikes will be used instead of time trial bikes, and drafting will be totally legal, meaning that as the riders set out on the 23km course there will be every possibility that they will join forces and create racing groups out on the road.

'This will provide an authentic pursuit in a spectacular setting,' says ASO, 'with the possible groupings of riders making the event a completely random one. The aim for the competitors is simple: reach the finish line first.'

Not the first

It's an intriguing prospect, and one that has already been launched - although not yet proven - with the new Hammer Series, organised by Velon CC alongside Infront Media.

Like La Course, the Hammer Series' final stage is a road-based pursuit in which starting times are dictated by previous results in the competition, with the winner being the first one (in this case a team in team time trial mode) to cross the line.

In this case the event is called the 'Hammer Chase', and is raced over a distance of 50km. The team leading after the previous two events leaves the blocks, with the second placed team leaving 30 seconds later.

Then 20 seconds after that the third placed team leaves, and then the rest are released at 15 second intervals. Time bonuses that teams have picked up in the first two rounds are also counted and deducted from the time gaps.

The winner of the TTT, and therefore of the whole three-day event, is the team that crosses the line first.

Will it work?

'This new race format will put the female champions in the spotlight and allow the whole world to discover a completely new kind of race by taking advantage of the media exposure of the Tour de France,' said ASO about its new-look La Course.

Velon meanwhile aims to put the team element of racing in the spotlight, rather than women. And while its brand new Hammer Series event can't take advantage of that pre-existing fame, it has the backing of a multitude of Velon-registered teams and participating pros.

'Cycling needs to find new frontiers that can combine sport and entertainment,' said Vincenzo Nibali upon the Hammer Series' launch.

'This series will give a new energy to the world of professional cycling, and this for the teams will be very important. The teams will have new visibility and the opportunity to grow their image.'

About its new pursuit-style event format, ASO added: ''It is also a format that will delight sports fans in general as it combines suspense and tactical battles and is easy to understand.

'It emphasises what makes cycling beautiful: the first to cross the finish line wins the race.'

Of course there have been detractors too, with some people believing that the traditional, century-old format of road racing need not be tampered with to make it interesting, or that the sport risks being turned into a version of 'wacky races'. 

But altering the format of both team time trials and road stages has been tried and experimented with before, and of course the traditional bunch-start, first over the finish line format of a road race, will - as it always has - remain the centrepiece of the sport.

The pursuit-style format certainly has good grounds to make itself an entertaining, spectator-friendly addition to the current formats available though.

Whether or not its success is realised come the summer remains to be seen.

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