Friday Group Ride #127

If you are a top pro rider, and you have not met any of your season objectives, it is now officially time to panic. Of all weeks of the year this, the last week of the Tour, especially when the GC is sewn up and so many pretenders to the thrown have crashed out, this is the week when a rider knows whether he’s set for next season or whether he needs to pull some result, any result, out of his ass in the closing months of the campaign.

Riders like Thor Hushovd, on a monster contract at BMC and with little to show for his efforts, must be thinking about what form is salvageable over the coming weeks and what results he might realistically target in order to justify his pay packet. His teammate Philipe Gilbert is probably in that boat as well.

Those guys have contracts though. Their paychecks are secure, even if their status, within their teams and also in the larger peloton, are not quite as assured as they’d like. They’ll be racing for pride as much as to maintain their values.

Then there are guys like Andy Schleck (I won’t even mention his brother), who have had really disastrous campaigns and will probably also need to change teams. Schleck is carrying enough baggage at this point that he’ll need to rent a cart and hail a sky cap at the airport. An undeniable talent, especially when the road turns up, Schleck might now be classified as something of an attitude problem. Whether his troubles are of his own making or derive from poor management at Radio Shack-Nissan almost doesn’t matter. The young Luxembourger would be well-advised to get himself in top form for the Vuelta.

Another rider who has underwhelmed, at least by his own very lofty standards, is Fabian Cancellara. Will there be a hotter property on the transfer market than the big Swiss?

In “When Autumn Comes” Sam Abt wrote:

Out in the countryside of France, the fields are brown and barren, their corn long harvested and the stalks chopped down for fodder. Until the stubble is plowed under when winter wheat is planted, the landscape is bleak and the air full of despair.

For professional bicycle riders, April is not the cruelest month. Far from it. In April, hopes for a successful season are as green as the shoots just then starting to push through the fields that the riders pass in their early races. The cruelest month is really October, when the nine-month racing season ends and the riders finally know what they have failed to accomplish.

I would argue that the cruelty of October is presaged in this final week of the Tour. The riders are already thinking of the end of the season and what they’ll have failed to accomplish. Behind the scenes of the grueling race, business negotiations are at fever pitch. In fact, the Schlecks have reportedly been chatting with Astana just in the last few days. In business terms, next season has already begun.

This week’s Group Ride asks: Which of the peloton’s stars most need results in the run-in to October? What are realistic goals for guys like Hushovd, Gilbert and Schleck? And which teams will benefit by picking up big talents at deflated prices?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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13 comments

  1. michael

    Gilbert should target a podium in either Quebec City or Montreal. Both parcours suit him to a T.

    Shleck? If he could turn down the whine, turn up the legs and go for a Vuelta top 10 that could be a realistic goal. Forget the podium there with Contador and Froome in the picture as locks for two of those spots.

    Cancellara? TT worlds. End of story. Olympic TT would be a nice consolation prize. The coast is almost clear what with Tony Martin in unknown form and still healing.

  2. sophrosune

    I think it fairly unlikely that Schleck will even race in the Vuelta, never mind get a top 10. The fracture to the sacrum (which I suffered 5 weeks ago along with a fracture to my third lumbar vertebrae) has left him off the bike and I can understand why. I will say this about Andy Schleck (or for that matter, Frank), outside of Contador’s sanction that handed him the 2010 TdF, there’s not a chance in hell that he can win a Grand Tour…ever.

  3. Doug Page

    Contador has the most to gain- and lose. His is the shortest season of all. A misstep at the Vuelta could be disastrous. Vino, well, if he can keep his feet on the pedals he can make a final mark. Gilbert could really use some good luck. Thor’s season is slipping away all too quickly I believe. The Vuelta can give us an exciting race for the classement general! As fans, like the racers, we now face a season past its prime.

  4. grolby

    I think Gilbert’s best hope at this point is to aim for the late season races where he has historically performed well: Paris-Tours, Lombardia, some of the smaller Italian races leading up to Lombardia. He could also conceivably run at the podium or even the rainbow stripes at the World Championships, and it’s a course that should suit him, but it’s hard to see how he can make a strong case for having leadership after the season that Tom Boonen has had. We may have to see how he goes in the Olympics, but it’s hard to believe he’ll make a serious impression there. Whatever the case, I hope he comes back to the top soon. It’s been a strange year for him, and with Sagan entering his prime, there will only be more challengers in the races he loves.

    As for Andy… I doubt he will have anything to show for this season. It seems as though there’s been a lot of stress behind the scenes at RSNT contributing to his poor showing. As bad news as Frank’s positive is, having to ride alone for the next two seasons could be good for him – he was at his best, in my opinion, in the 2010 Tour, when he had to assert himself as sole leader after Frank crashed out early on. He showed some real fighting spirit and personality in that race – I’d like to see him rediscover that.

  5. Chuck

    Contador doesn’t really have anything to gain or lose – his contract at Saxo is secure, as is his status as best stage racer of this generation. Sure, his reputation will be tarnished to many, but he’s done his time and now can resume his place atop the pro peloton.
    Haussler is definitely up there in terms of needing to do something. A handful of 2nds at California aren’t exactly results to fall back on (despite the fact that they were all against Sagan).
    Farrar needs to pull a win before the season is out to still be considered one of the top sprinters. Sprinters usually count wins per year, not the other way aorund. He really needs to focus less on the classics next year.
    Goss could also use a win – after a dream season last year, he really hasn’t done much besides a stage win at the Giro. He’s running the risk of becoming a Haussler and having everything from last year be written off as a fluke.

  6. Adam

    Tony Martin needs a win. Dan Martin needs a win. Haussler, Ballan, Nicky Roche, Gilbert, Hushovd, Cunego, Nuyens. The flip side to riders having incredible seasons is that others have long droughts. Anyone on Orica not name Albasini or Gerrans needs a win.
    Contado, A. Schleck and Boonen don’t need wins. They’re part of a small group of riders whose class gets them contract irrespective of the past year.

  7. rashadabd

    I would have to say the Schlecks and Thor fit best here. The Schlecks will be riding for a new team to give them a chance (RSNT has all but imploded with financial problems and doping investigations). Frank might be sitting out for a period of time as well. The Vuelta seems like a great opprtunity for one or both of them to strut their stuff. Thor hasn’t earned a cent of his new contract thus far. The Paris Tours and Giro de Lombardia (the remaining classics style races) seem like they should be key races for him. Gilbert has been dominant in these races in the past and hasn’t had a great year either and may be targetting these races as opportunities to prove his value as well.

  8. randomactsofcycling

    The merry-go-round will never stop. As in football though, there seem to be some riders that are nomads and can conjure up a contract when all seems lost. There are also those who, for unknown reasons, seem to be in demand. Yes, either one of the Schlecks has actually won a Classic (or semi classic….whatever that is) but have they ever lived up to their hype? I’m tired of hearing of either of them as a GT contender. It’ll never happen and I do think that they need to be split up to get the best out of them.
    I don’t know who is out of contract at the end of this season but most of the big names already mentioned, seem to be in longer term deals.
    I think the interesting thing to follow is where the UCI points go. This might actually be the deciding factor for the Schlecks. If Frank is suspended, all his points are nullified. Who wants to hire a rider with no points? The only reason Vinokourov is riding this year is because Astana needed his points.

  9. scaredskinnydog

    Man its tough being Fabian Cancellara. For almost any other rider winning the TDF prologue and wearing yellow for a week would be a career defining achievement but for Cancellara its considered “lackluster”. He’s the Michael Phelps of cycling. The bar is set ridiculously high. As far as who needs a win right now? Thats a long list of riders. Instead I’ll say who I want to get a win before the seasons over, Jens!!

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