BENIDORM, Spain (VN) — Love them or hate them, time bonuses are on the menu for the three-week Vuelta a España.
The Tour de France has shied away from the finish-line time bonuses the past few editions, causing sprinters to criticize the measure as it offers them almost no chance of claiming the maillot jaune.
For 2011, the Vuelta has included the finish-line time bonuses of 20, 12 and 8 seconds for the top 3 of each stage (except time trials), adding another element of surprise and tension into the race.
“Time bonuses have their good and bad points,” said Garmin-Cervélo sport director Bingen Fernández. “It adds to the spectacle, especially for the sprinters. That’s their only way to get the race leader’s jersey. For the GC riders, it makes for another layer of nerves. It’s tough to lose a handful of seconds when you essentially cross the line with the same time as a rival. It’s just part of the race this year and we’ll have to manage it the best we can.”
Time bonuses have long been part of grand tours, but Tour de France officials phased them out three years ago. Tour director Christian Prudhomme said the winner of the race should have a “real” time when the maillot jaune crosses the finish line in Paris.
GC contenders, in general, seem to not miss them as much, because it means that they can lose valuable seconds against rivals who have a stronger finishing kick on mountaintop finishes in a matter of inches.
Abraham Olano, technical director of the Vuelta, defended the presence of time bonuses in this year’s edition.
“Every stage allocates time bonus, therefore someone who wins a few stages can win the Vuelta. This time bonus rule makes the race very fast and it usually obliges the GC contenders to catch the breakaways,” Olano said. “In theory, the race leader wants to let a breakaway go and win the stage but everyone else doesn’t.”
Time bonuses typically do not greatly impact the GC battle, but that could change if the race comes down to seconds instead of minutes when the race draws toward conclusion September 11 in Madrid.