The ‘Last Kilometer’ Rule

When yellow jersey Stefan Schumacher fell near the end of Stage 6 yesterday, the Versus announcers (Liggett and Sherwen) started talking about the special rules that apply for a stage finish. Liggett noted that it looked like Schumacher would fall back in the standings, but that “it depends on how the judges read the last-kilometer rule.” Sherwen responded, “I’ve got a funny feeling, Phil, we may well see they will not apply the kilometer rule on a climb like this, because this is a mountain-top finish.”

The rule–Article 20 in the Tour de France regulations–applies to the last three kilometers of most Tour stages. It is designed to prevent riders from being penalized if they get caught up in the mayhem of a bunch finish (or suffer some other accident) at the end of the race. The rule (in full below) provides that if a rider falls or flats or has his bike break in the last three kilometers, he will be awarded the same time as the group he was in when the problem occurred (the only catch: he need to be able to cross the finish line to be credited that time).

But there are a couple wrinkles. The rule does not apply to individual time trials. And Sherwen was right: the 2008 version of the rules (96-page PDF file in French with English translation) specify that the rule does not apply to the four stages this year (the sixth–yesterday’s– the 10th, 15th, and 17th) that have summit finishes. Article 20 does seem to give some room for interpretation: at one point, it allows for “exceptional cases” to be ruled upon by the Tour’s committee of stewards. But the article also seems to flatly state that it doesn’t apply to the specified stages.

Here’s the English text of the rule:

Article 20

Stage finishes are signalled by a “red flame” (flamme rouge) hanging from the inflatable arch located one kilometre from the finishing line. In the event that the finishing portal is absent, the finish is signalled by a black and white chequered flag waved by a race official.

In the event that a rider or riders suffer a fall, puncture or mechanical incident in the last 3 kilometres and such an incident is duly recognised, the rider or riders involved are credited with the same finishing time of the rider or riders they were with at the time of the incident. The are attributed this ranking only upon crossing the finish line. If after a fall, it is impossible for a rider to cross the finish line, he is given the ranking ranking of last in stage.

For exceptional cases, the decision taken by the stewards committee is final.

This measure does not apply to:

Finishes of the 4th and 20th stages, which are individual time trials.

Summit finishes of the 6th, 10th, 15th, and 17th stages.

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