A Great Tactical Error
Since Johann van Summeren hoisted the winner’s cobble in the Roubaix velodrome on Sunday, much has been made of Garmin-Cervelo’s tactical approach to the problem that is Fabian Cancellara. Garmin team manager Jonathan Vaughters said well in advance of the race that the key to beating the big, strong Swiss is to attack with your whole team, to be involved in every phase of the race and to isolate him from his teammates. Obviously, that approach paid dividends in the North of France.
Much less has been made of Leopard-Trek’s tactical failings. When you have the strongest rider in the race (and will anyone argue that Cancellara is not head and shoulders above the rest?), your entire strategy should revolve around protecting him, keeping him out of the wind, covering breakaways, etc. The failure to win in either Flanders or Roubaix was not a result of Cancellara not being strong enough, but rather a product of Leopard-Trek’s complete inability to support their leader.
At Roubaix, the Leopards deployed Stuart O’Grady, himself a former winner, as their top liuetenant, and O’Grady did his job until a puncture with 50kms to go shook him out of the favorite’s group. From then on Cancellara was on his own while Garmin-Cervelo had four riders either with Cancellara or up the road. It was one-on-four, and Spartacus was still strong enough to take second place.
It’s fairly inexcusable to squander a talent like Cancellara’s. Looking down the Leopard-Trek roster though, you have to ask, who exactly, beyond O’Grady was the team counting on to do the Swiss’ dirty work?
In the schism that split the Schleck brothers from SaxoBank and Bjarne Riis, the main players initially were the Schlecks and Alberto Contador. It is unclear, to this writer, which happened first, the Schleck’s planning to leave, or Riis planning to bring in the Spaniard. Regardless, the symmetry of those moves seems to have worked fine for both SaxoBank and Leopard-Trek. Each has a grand tour contender and supporting cast built for putting that contender on the podium.
But where a squad like Garmin-Cervelo or even the new version of SaxoBank-Sungard have filled out their teams with guys who are useful in one day races, Leopard-Trek brought Cancellara over without ever securing him the help he would need to achieve his goals. The Swiss strongman has spoken of his desire to help the Schleck’s win the Tour de France, but what have you heard his teammate’s wanting on his behalf?
The tactical error, the one that seems to have cost Cancellara his shot at repeating the Flanders/Roubaix double this season, wasn’t his decision to sit up with 25kms to go on the road to Roubaix or his failure to see the threat Nick Nuyens posed at Flanders. Rather, it was his decision to leave a team with the talent and tactical nous to win a monument, and join a team whose vision was too narrowly focused to bring success to the strongest rider in today’s peloton.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International