A Bib By Any Other Name…is a Dossard

The ASO have finally posted bib numbers (dossard in French) for Act One of the Etapes du Tour next month (the one in the Alps). These numbers have some importance, maybe, and are handed out based on certain criteria, including age, sex (I’m assuming), and most importantly, previous results in long, hard events like the Etape. Here is mine from last year, with no races under my belt and my middle age pushing me nearly to the back of the crowd of nearly 10,000 riders.

You might remember that, although this number meant I was starting about hour after the first pen (yes, an hour!), the timing began as we crossed the threshold of the start line, so little damage was done on overall times. I was in pretty good shape then and had lots of fun passing people on most of the ride, till I died a slow and hot death on the Alpe, along with the rest of the world that day.

Well, this year I think my strategy will be slightly different. Because my overall placing was surprisingly good last year (2037) my bib number this year is 2756, and I doubt I’ll be cruising up the ranks like in 2011 (although I’ll try!). My biggest concern will be holding off my partners in pain, John (in the 7000s) and Erik (in the 5000s), who will be starting long after me. Guys, if you pass me, do me a favor and sneak by quietly. I’d rather find out after the race, preferably with something in my hand to drown my sorrows!

But back to the possible pros (or cons even) of having a relatively low bib number. My initial thought is that, obviously (but very generally) you will be surrounded by faster and stronger riders. Now on a flat or rolling course I can definitely see the advantage here, by getting to hide in a fast paceline, but in an event like the Etape, where you are basically just ascending and descending the whole day, I’m not sure how much more I can squeeze out of my surroundings.

On the negative side, it might very well be the case that I get dropped by those in my pen. This, the reverse of last year, could result in, among other things, a search for a short cut, a resort to sabotage (but admittedly, this could be difficult with thousands of cyclists to throw tacks at), or simply a loss of motivation. Luckily, the only way I know how to ride up mountains is to go at my own pace, so I think I’ll be unaffected. Still, it’s a consideration.

My feeling is that being farther up will be that much better because there’ll be fewer riders ahead of me, that is, more open road and, hopefully, a faster ride. Thank you for reading this stream of consciousness post. I feel much better now for getting it out of my system.

Update: The bib numbers are out for Act Two now (Pyrenees) and I have a much higher number – 4485. Not sure why this might be, unless it means the ‘competition’ in Act Two is stiffer. That is interesting, if true.

15 thoughts on “A Bib By Any Other Name…is a Dossard

  1. Starting in the 2000s, unless you’ve been training HARD, you’ll finish with most of the same numbers. Not all, but definitely some.

    I think I was 2600 or so last year and finished 1500th after blowing up up the AHD.


    • A man can dream, I suppose. I have a feeling that, even though the average ability of the Etape crowd is lower than what I find in races in France, the upper end (top 1000 or more) is full of very strong riders. I’ll test my theory soon enough, I guess.

  2. You are a racer…..not a cyclist, next training might want to include training with racers then the feeling you are having will not appear…. You will do well, seek your innner confidence. Good Luck

  3. Nice starting position Gerry. Starting closer to the front is always better, as it’s easier to drop back through the field if the pace is too high, than bridging a gap to a group up front.

  4. Bet you’re right about the fastest group of riders being fast. Last year’s results would probably give you a pretty good idea. Are the bib numbers published ahead of time for all to see?

    You’ll be fine, do great and be thrilled with the ride. Didn’t I read that the only person you compare yourself to is yourself? Something I believe, but in practice I wonder how welI actually do it.

    • I’m pretty good at using me (or the old me) as my comparison point. It’s why I’m not very competitive, like some out there (I think you might have a bit of it, if memory serves!). I really couldn’t care less if someone passes me on the road, but there are times when I do that ‘to’ someone else I see the shock and awe in their eyes, then the inevitable chase begins.

      Having said that, in races, the best way to see if you are improving is to compare with others (in your age group or overall), I believe, since time alone means nothing unless all other factors are controlled.

      Oh, I’m starting on a stream of consciousness again…I’ll stop before it’s too late!

  5. Hi there
    I’ve got a number in the 2000s whilst the guy I’m cycling with is 8000-something. That’s a real shame as we wanted to ride together. What are the chances of getting him starting with me? I imagine they are pretty strict with the pens. Is it easier to drop down pen numbers or is there a chance of getting him into mine? Alternatively, I set off then wait for him a few km out, but that isn’t ideal. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    • Hi Ali,

      It’s a good question and one that I had last year when I did the Etape. Unfortunately, the answer never came and I just went into my pen obediently. My guess is that if you wanted to go into your friend’s pen they’d allow it, but definitely not the other way around. You could tell them you aren’t feeling well or haven’t trained much, etc. maybe. Since you’d be going backwards I have a feeling you would have luck. That’s the only way I’d try and do it because, as i’m sure you are well aware of, if you start then wait, you’ll lose probably an hour on your final time. Not good. Hope that helps. I’d love to hear how it turns out, whatever you try.

      • Thanks for that. I’ll let you know what we work out. There must be hundreds of people wanting to do the same, but it is the one answer I’ve struggled to find on anyone’s race reports or blogs.

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