World­tour races are get­ting smaller. For 2018, the UCI is re­strict­ing team sizes to eight in Grand Tours and seven for smaller races. It’s all in the name of safety, but how will it af­fect the riders and race tac­tics? And will it put an end to the dom­i­nan

Cyclist - - Team Sizes | Pro Racing - Words RICHARD MOORE Il­lus­tra­tion STEPHEN CHEETHAM

The young Aus­trian pro rider, Lukas Pöstl­berger, was thaw­ing out in his ho­tel room af­ter a cold and snowy day at the Tour de Ro­mandie last April when there was a knock at the door. In walked his Bora-hans­grohe sports director with some news: ‘You’re rid­ing the Giro d’italia.’

It started in eight days, but Pöstl­berger, who had never rid­den a Grand Tour be­fore, was thrilled. ‘It was like a present from the team,’ he says now.

The next week was a blur as he re­turned home, packed his bags and left for Sar­dinia. His mother went too. When he was 13 years old he had told her that one day he would ride a Grand Tour, and she said that if he did, she would go in sup­port. De­spite the late no­tice, she got time off from her job and left for Sar­dinia in the fam­ily camper­van.

She had the per­fect van­tage point too, 100 me­tres be­fore the line, as the pelo­ton swept into Ol­bia at the end of Stage 1. They jock­eyed for po­si­tion as they en­tered the town’s nar­row, twist­ing streets, and on one tight cor­ner, as some touched their brakes, one rider emerged a length clear: Pöstl­berger.

He had been near the front to help his team’s sprinter, Sam Ben­nett, but Ben­nett’s in­struc­tion was clear: ‘Go for it!’

Glanc­ing un­der his arm, that’s ex­actly what Pöstl­berger did, and some­how he held on to cross the line alone for the win. Thus, the last name on the start sheet for the 100th Giro claimed the race’s first pink jer­sey.

Had it been this year, how­ever, Pöstl­berger would al­most cer­tainly not have been there to seize that op­por­tu­nity in the first place. That’s be­cause for the 2018 sea­son, team sizes in the three Grand Tours have been re­duced from nine to eight, and in the Clas­sics from eight to seven, os­ten­si­bly for safety rea­sons though many sus­pect that it is re­ally an ef­fort to loosen the Team Sky stran­gle­hold on the Tour de France.

Cut down to size

The case of Pöstl­berger might seem like a quirky foot­note, but it’s more than that. A young rider of prom­ise, he was un­proven be­fore his sur­prise Giro suc­cess, and he

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