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Friday, 31 July 2009

Head of the race

Each July I probably become one of the least productive people in the world, as for three weeks my attention becomes focused on the trials of 180 athletes pedalling their way around France. Watching the tour this year I began to think that there must be a way of creating a similarly flagship race for road running.

One of the great success stories for cycling in Britain this year has been the city centre Tour Series (devised by former pro rider Brian Smith), with great racing and a tight overall team competition. But the format would be familiar to most club runners who take part in local league events: get your first three counters over the line in better positions than the other teams and win on the night with the aim of winning the overall competition. The Tour Series was a great success in my mind because it made national television (albeit ITV 4) and when I went along to the Chester round it was obvious that a lot of people were interested in the goings on as the streets were packed, despite the downpour. If Nike, New Balance, Adidas, Brooks and Puma could put together teams of five of their elite distance runners and throw in some of the top clubs for similar events across the UK and we could get the BBC to put 45 minutes of coverage onto 2, 3 or 4 on a week night we could easily have a series for 10k racing and bring running to the masses.

But back to my original point. The Tour de France is the pinnacle of the cycling world, and there's nothing like it in running, no event to showcase racing, talent and scenery in harmony for days. True there are stage races in running (the Marathon des Sables, the Amazon Marathon etc...) but they're hardly TV friendly and they don't attract the household names of the sport. I'm thinking something like a Tour of the Lake District or something, with stages of between 13.1 and 26.2 miles (no one wants to watch more than 2 hrs running for days on end, the tactics just aren't there - but that's a different topic). Imagine having the big marathon stars turning up for that.

Of course, one of the great things about the London Marathon and the 'monuments' of our sport is that they are mass participation events, like the Tour de France could never be. I'd want to put a limit on the field in the stages of my running Tour so that we can clear the roads quickly and keep the costs and disruption down, but I'd still want some 'normal' people to be involved. And I'd want to tweak the way the different competitions work as well. The King of the Mountains jersey should be given to the best climber - not the guy who is furthest up the road when the race passes the summit of a climb - so stick timing mats at the foot and the top of each climb you want to categorise, and the fastest guy up that climb wins the points. I'd also put the intermediate sprint points all in the first 5k, so the less-elite runners could compete for the green vest, and I'd limit the number of points at the finish to try and spread out the vests a bit. Obviously the overall winner and young runner competitions should stay the same.

I can only dream...

Tour de France podium photo © Ben Ross. And good luck to Brian Smith in the forthcoming Birmingham Half Marathon

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