In the last two weeks I’ve watched this video probably a dozen times. It’s a study in technique, what’s possible, what’s necessary, the limits that survival requires. We love to talk about the teachable moment, but we usually use that phrase in conjunction with some sort of screw up—the politically incorrect screed uttered in public. Sometimes, what’s most teachable isn’t a map to the minefield—what not to do—but the classic how-to.
The occasion is stage 7 of the 2009 Tour de France. Maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara had double punctured. That he would lose the yellow jersey was beyond doubt; there was a break up the road and this was the day Contador would show his teeth on the climb to Arcalis—the stage finish. Still, Cancellara didn’t want to finish the day alone, behind the laughing group so he dropped down the Porte del Comte in a way that a stage leader will rarely risk.
Clearly, when it comes to descending, Cancellara is doing it right. I’ve seen plenty of video of pros at the Tour taking turns in ways that seem to lack an understanding of basic geometry. Cancellara’s body positioning is a manual of physics, an illustration for every lesson I took from Davis Phinney’s interviews in Winning Magazine.
I’ve watched this just to examine his upper body position. I’ve watched it to look at his legs, his hips, when he keeps a pedal down vs. when he keeps the cranks parallel to the ground. And I’ve watched just to look at the lean angle of his bike in those most extreme turns as a means to remind me just what a bike can capably execute.