A little over a week ago I wondered aloud in a Tweet if the Amaury Sport Organization might make a preemptive move against Radio Shack and withdraw the team’s invitation to the Tour de France. It would be an incredible blow to the team, but in the wake of Floyd Landis’ accusations against Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Levi Leipheimer and others, were the organizers to take Landis’ accusations as credible, history suggests they might just take such action.
Responses all ran the vein of ‘dead wrong.’ And yet now we have Team Radio Shack being denied a spot in the Vuelta a Espana. Like Garmin-Transitions, Radio Shack joined the ProTour since the 2008 agreement forged between the UCI and the organizers of the Grand Tours in which the UCI and the ProTour teams acknowledged the autonomy of the organizers to select only those teams they see fit.
Selections are not made in a vacuum. To help the organizers gauge a team’s potential competitive power, each team is asked to submit a roster of riders likely to ride the event. After all, if you’re Unipublic and you learn a team will send the same nine riders who rode both the Giro and Tour (not that that has ever happened), you’d be within your rights to conclude that team would be too tired to be truly competitive. Bruyneel’s short list of riders he submitted was an all-star squad: Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden, Chris Horner and Janez Brajkovic. Radio Shack also skipped the Giro d’Italia this year with an eye toward riding the Tour of California and just two Grand Tours.
Bruyneel says he was “speechless” when he learned of the exclusion. Representatives for Unipublic, the organizers of the Vuelta said they left Radio Shack because the team would not be competitive.
It’s true that Radio Shack has been criticized for not being more competitive this year, but let’s take a moment to measure them against the six teams that were invited to the Vuelta by wildcard and their ranking in the world according to the UCI:
Team Katusha: second
Cervelo Test Team: ninth
Sky Professional Cycling Team: 17th
Xacobeo Galicia: unranked
Radio Shack, following Brajkovic’s victory at the Criterium du Dauphiné, is ranked eighth in the world. Prior to that they were ranked 14th.
In his The History of the Tour de France, Volume I, Bill McGann writes that one of the key features that makes the Tour a better race than the other two Grand Tours is that its organizers have largely avoided petty, nationalistic spats that have hurt the other races.
I’d have to say that’s at work once again. In 2006, the ASO refused to allow nine riders to start the race due to their alleged involvement in Operacion Puerto. Because five of those riders were members of the Astana-Wurth team it fell below the minimum number to start the race, so some thirteen riders didn’t start the Tour.
It’s no secret that since the 2009 Tour Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel have been portrayed in the media as public enemy nos. 1 and 2. Whether most Spanish cycling fans feel that way is harder to say, but Marca and As have done much to foster the conflict between Contador and Bruyneel/Armstrong.
It’s impossible to say what Unipublic’s motivations are for the exclusion. No one would be surprised if the snub were as a result of the Landis allegations. It seems that most of Europe will concede both that he’s crazy and telling the truth about his drug use and the drugs he alleges Lance Armstrong took as well. However, Unipublic took a different approach saying that Radio Shack wouldn’t be competitive. I’m sorry, but you could send Chris Horner to almost any race in Europe aboard a Schwinn Varsity and he would still be competitive.
Of the six teams invited by wild card, only Team Katusha was more highly ranked in the world standings. We can objectively refute the organizer’s claims that Radio Shack would not be competitive. Put another way, as good a year as Garmin-Transitions seems to be having (Tyler Farrar is having a truly breakout season), in winning both the Tour of the Basque Country and the Criterium du Dauphiné (not to mention third at the Amgen Tour of California), Radio Shack is having a better season; at least, that’s what the UCI’s numbers say.
Had Unipublic declared that they believe Floyd Landis and harbor too many suspicions about Armstrong, Bruyneel and the rest to allow their race to be besmirched by the presence of a team under such strong suspicion, some racers, officials and many fans would have cried foul. However, such a decision is not without precedent—think 2007 Astana—and given the number of inquiries opened up into the pasts of so many former US Postal riders, many people wouldn’t have flinched at the announcement. More importantly, the decision, while presumptuous, wouldn’t have smacked of the irrational.
But Unipublic didn’t do that. They claimed that Radio Shack wasn’t competitive enough. That’s like saying Los Angeles doesn’t have enough roads. Everyone knows that’s crazy talk, and unfortunately the damage it does is three-fold. Radio Shack loses an opportunity to try to win a second Grand Tour in a season. Racing fans lose an opportunity to see racing influenced by what would be almost surely a dominant team, and Unipublic loses some of the respect we reserve for events whose integrity we believe helps to elevate sport beyond mere entertainment.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Anyone who’s married or has been in a serious, long term relationship knows that there are ups, and there are downs. Sometimes you’re in love, and sometimes you’re not. In successful relationships, the good times more than make up for the not-so-good. The highs are always higher than the lows are low.
And so it is with me and my bike.
During the spring, when the days are growing longer and arm warmers give way to short sleeves, we are in love, and we do what any couple in love does, we pine for one another. We struggle and strain and juggle our schedules to try to find more time to spend in one another’s company. Inspired by the cobbled classics and other of the pro peleton’s one day flings, I find myself dashing down the basement steps in the morning, pulling my beautiful, two-wheeled transport from the wall and whooshing out the door to introduce rubber to road. As we whiz along together I envision myself bumping over the pavé of the Flandrian countryside. I am Francesco Moser on his way to an office job. You can tell, because it says so on my down tube.
Then spring turns to sweaty summer. We enjoy one another’s company, but the passion of the spring cools in the escalating temperatures. I’m caught up in my work and in watching Grand Tours play themselves out, slowly, on my television. We are together everyday. We are on each other’s minds, but we have settled into a steady companionship. The miles pass comfortingly beneath our wheels.
Then one morning the fall falls, that subtle, breezy coolness that begins to pluck leaves from unsuspecting trees. There is a new wind at our backs. The pro season goes all autumnal. Everyone is scrambling for results. The smell of embrocation follows me into the kitchen at work, where I stand, steam rising from my shoulders, to pile coffee on top of endorphins in an intoxicating brew. Love is rekindled. The riding is effortless. We’re fast for the hell of it, because it feels good.
The Vuelta reminds us that time is passing. The Worlds reinforce the message. Paris – Tours. Lombardia. Cyclocross. And it’s over.
Now it’s cold. Rainy. December is on us. I love my bike, but the fire is burning low. I’ve ridden thousands of miles to this point, only to arrive at winter’s doorstep, gaping into the maw of a windy, snowy, frigid season.
How to maintain inspiration? How to keep the fire burning? In years past, I’ve sustained myself on the ego aggrandizing feeling of being a hard man. My bike and I, we brave the punishing weather of this Northeastern burg. We are tough. Robots, after all, don’t get cold. Thus are nicknames made, and a shocking need to live up to such a name drives me out into the wind more often than you would think.
More motivation is derived from frequent visits to YouTube to gee up the morale with scenes of Sean Kelly’s gutsy triumphs, the sprinting exploits of Steve Bauer, the bone-jarring heroics of the aforementioned Moser. This sort of thing almost always rallies my flagging energies, but as I’ve seen just about every bit of digitized racing in the YouTube vault, I am rapidly approaching the point of diminishing returns.
Faith becomes important, faith that, if I continue to push the pedals, we’ll be able to continue on together, faith that winter will eventually give way to spring and that our love will return if only we keep on. The indoor trainer does not help. The rollers do not help. They’re phone calls, when a visit was what was needed.
I honestly don’t know what sustains my marriage. My wife and I fall in and out of love. The periodicity of the thing is unpredictable. We’ll be together 18 years in the spring. Communication is important. Everyone says that, but that too is a sort of alchemical enterprise, Rumpelstiltskin spinning the straw of the mundane into the gold of persistence.
The bike and I are on a similar trajectory. Will this be the winter that breaks us up? Will the ice freeze thick on the streets and force us apart? Will that enforced absence cause our hearts to grow fonder, or will we lose the will to flog each other over hill and dale for another year? Don’t know. Hard to say.
I wonder what you and your bike will be doing this winter.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
In the time since the Tour de France finished in Paris, images have been pouring in from John Pierce of Photosport International. While I’ve said what I have to say about this year’s Tour, most of Pierce’s Wal-Mart collection of photos have yet to see the light of day. The images have literally been coming in faster than I can file them. I’ll do a couple of these.
The ongoing talk and writing on the subject of Lance Armstrong vs. Alberto Contador has pretty well played itself out. The world is full of two alphas fighting for dominance. Whatever. The most interesting observations and most challenging disagreements have been made concerning the tension between Contador and his director, Johan Bruyneel. (Oh, and I apologize to all of you who thought of the 1980s sitcom starring Tony Danza.)
When is it okay for a rider to disobey his team director?
The question may seem academic, but our perception of what’s acceptable can determine our attitudes toward riders, their directors and even whole teams. Opinions have been so sharply divided on Armstrong and Contador, they might as well be charted as red or blue states. But the issue of Contador and Bruyneel isn’t necessarily as clear cut. Sure, plenty of Contador fans see Bruyneel as having been in league with Armstrong, but the fact is, Contador disobeyed his DS. It’s one thing to consider your teammate another competitor, but it’s another to think your DS can’t or won’t guide you to victory even if they know you’re the strongest rider in the race.
Tour de France chronicler Bill McGann, occasionally of these parts and more often of Bike Race Info asked me what I thought of Stephen Roche’s attack of Carrera teammate Roberto Visentini at the Giro d’Italia. Visentini was in the maglia rosa when Roche attacked.
The English-speaking press has traditionally portrayed Roche’s actions as justified, the acts of a guy who never was fully supported by his team. The fact is Roche attacked his teammate who was already in the lead.
My initial reply to McGann was that Roche’s attack was almost certainly wrong at the time but that history had vindicated his attack. Wait a second, though. At the time of Roche’s attack no rider from the Ireland or the U.K. had ever won a Grand Tour; statistically, his eventual victory was unlikely. McGann believes Visentini would like have won the Giro had Roche not attacked.
Cyclists may like Roche’s self-confidence, but that doesn’t change the fact that he attacked the Giro’s previous winner and current leader. It’s easy to come up with objective arguments in either Armstrong or Contador’s favor for why they should have been unquestioned leader of Astana, but there was virtually no reason to consider Roche for leadership.
Again, this may seem an academic argument, but the potential for this sort of conflict comes up all the time. It is increasingly common (likely, even) that a team will have two riders capable of a strong GC ride in a stage race. Some times it is easily resolved; consider Garmin’s example with Bradley Wiggins and Christian Vande Velde. Other times there is some tension, but the upstart asks for permission to ride for himself. Consider Silence-Lotto’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck who asked permission to ride for himself following following Cadel Evans’ implosion.
The ’09 Tour has been often compared to the ’86 duel between Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault, but it is the psychic alter ego of the ’85 Tour when LeMond was the young upstart who by many—if not most—accounts was stronger than Hinault and could have beaten him. LeMond fans wring their hands about how he was screwed by his team, how Paul Koechli lied to him, how the promise of support in ’86 was penance for his incredible sacrifice in ’85.
But here’s the real question: If winning a race requires your utmost in fitness, strategy and even politics, when isn’t the winner deserving? Should winning come at any cost, even if it means virtual destruction of team cooperation?
Do, as Macchiavelli wrote, the ends really justify means and does that give a rider the right to overrule his director? In starker terms, does the fact that Roche won justify his attack.
Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International
When I was a kid the Fourth of July was summer perfected, a day devoid of household chores where my family and I moved from one party to the next, and ending in the mother of all parties (relative to my short life). Consequently one of the worst days of the year was July 5th. It should have been summer at apogee—the smell of sulphur hung in the damp morning air and the shells of dazzling light littered neighbors’ lawns. Yet I always felt a sadness. In my head, summer was all downhill.
Today, July 5th has been replaced by the Tuesday following the finish of the Tour de France. That Monday has always been a day of processing, reading follow-up stories, post-race interviews and looking at photos. Even in the 1980s when I was a shop rat, that Monday was the last coverage of the Tour de France in the New York Times. I’d pick up a copy on my way to work at the shop and I’d be joined by the other wrenches as we poured over the list of results.
And so Tuesday has traditionally been the day where the absence sinks in. No online coverage, no live updates, no TV, and the only fresh news possible is a non-negative result—the last thing in the world I want from the Tour.
But honestly, how often could I have taken another week of the Tour de France? The combination of online and TV coverage takes over my life, short-circuiting my ability to have even the most important conversations.
“What are we going to name the baby?”
“I don’t know; can we talk about it during the commercials?”
Kidding, but almost not. During the ’89 Tour I dreamt about the race three different times. In one, Laurent Fignon and I were teammates and worked for the same shop; we’d race in the morning and fix bikes in the afternoon.
It took me more than 20 years of following the Tour de France to realize that each year, no matter how entertaining the race is (and with the exception of ’94 and ’95 it is always very entertaining) I need it to end. I can’t spend 365 days a year the way I spend July. It’s the party that, while not yet over, you pull yourself from, knowing that there’s a ride in the morning and to stay to the bitter end will involve a conversation with the cops.
Even in this age of parting shots and counter shots, though the race may wind down later than usual, it does conclude in our hearts. Thank heaven; now I won’t cut the visit with friends at the coffee shop short. And that’s the embarrassing part: We might joke about going through withdrawal, but for those of us who come under the race’s sway the way a werewolf does with the moon, we’re different people, short-circuited in a way that only a junkie could identify.
But now that we’ve got our wits about us once again, bring on the Vuelta!
Image: John Pierce: Photosport International
Johan Bruyneel’s personal website states he is the “most victorious sports director.” It doesn’t distinguish which sport.
As marketing claims go, this is one that is tough, if not outright impossible, to refute. The man has guided four different riders to an incredible 13 Grand Tour victories—each of the Grand Tours with two riders. Since he retired from racing and became a sports director he has only missed a Grand Tour victory in one year: 2006. You’d have to add the resumes of Jose Miguel Echavarri and Cyrile Guimard to even come close to his achievement. Bruyneel is nothing if not a king maker.
As to those other sports, Don Shula is considered the greatest NFL coach of all time and his Super Bowl record is 2-4. Chuck Noll is 4-0 and he’s only considered fifth best. Phil Jackson’s 10 NBA Championships is a record in that sport. It has taken the New York Yankees several owners and 77 years to amass its 26 World Series titles. And based on my limited research, no FIFA coach comes close to these records.
So one can reasonably make the argument that Bruyneel is the best coach in professional sports.
Does a sport director have an obligation to achieve more at a Grand Tour than win the overall classification? Of course, the answer is yes. There are stage wins, classification jerseys and, yes, overall classification places at stake.
What makes the ’86 La Vie Claire team memorable? First, second, fourth and seventh on GC. In addition to Greg LeMond’s yellow jersey, Bernard Hinault took the polka dot jersey, Andy Hampsten won the white jersey for the best young rider, the team took the team classification and Hinault took the combativity award. And then there were the six stage wins: one each for LeMond, Nikki Ruttimann and Jean-Francois Bernard and three for Hinault.
Astana may have gone into the 2009 Tour de France as the most talent-rich team ever assembled, but this was one supergroup that flamed out before the album was finished. Astana had five riders who had previously finished in the top five on GC; ultimately the team placed two riders in the top five. The team’s only two stage wins came at the legs of Alberto Contador.
So how is it that a team with so much promise couldn’t deliver more? There are several reasons. First, the course worked against them. Because Bruyneel places such emphasis on achieving the overall win, individual exploits that gain team members stage wins (such as George Hincapie’s stage win at Pla d’Adet in 2005) were reined in due to the lack of mountaintop finishes. Overall, the team conserved its efforts in order to be prepared to defend the yellow jersey.
Next, the competition was good, really good. Armstrong stated that he was better than 2003; we have no reason to disbelieve him. The Andy Schleck was a little better on the climbs, Wiggins was better on the TT and Contador was better, well, everywhere. It’s tough to win stages if the field isn’t constantly on the defensive. In ’86, LVC had the competition almost invariably on the defensive.
Finally, Armstrong played the role of teammate as it should be played. While some may see him making the stage 3 split as an offensive move, it was really a defensive move—he didn’t instigate the move but made sure not to lose time. Hinault showed what it looks like to have a teammate attack the yellow jersey on stage 19, the day after the finish atop l’Alpe d’Huez when the team’s leadership was supposed to have been decided. Andy Hampsten said it was one and only time he ever chased a teammate.
The difference between La Vie Claire and Astana is one of inversion. On La Vie Claire, the rider who freelanced was the lesser rider, Hinault. On Astana, it was Contador who went off the playbook. However, the lack of stage wins or other distinctions really can’t be blamed on that, it’s the fact that Armstrong simply didn’t attack Contador on the mountain stages.
The greatest failing of Astana in 2009 was Alberto Contador’s attack on stage 17 on le Grand Bornand. Without that attack the Schlecks would not have moved from fifth and eighth on GC to second and third; it is the single biggest reason Andy Schleck finished on the podium.
Attacking and undermining a teammate’s GC position—two teammates’ positions, in fact—isn’t an unwritten rule, it’s written. Don’t take my word for it. Andy Hampsten said, “A racer in 2nd can’t work with an opponent in 3rd to move them both ahead one place.” While the situations aren’t exactly the same, Hampsten was referring to the reason why LeMond wasn’t permitted to work with Stephen Roche in a breakaway in the ’85 Tour.
I know there are riders out there who think Contador’s attack was justified, but it hurt the team by moving Armstrong down a spot on the GC at the finish in Paris and ensured that Andreas Kloden had no shot at the podium. A sweep of the podium spots (even though it was unlikely Kloden would have overcome Bradley Wiggins) would have been an historic distinction in the modern era for Bruyneel. It would have been a fresh feather for the sport’s best director.
So what went wrong for Bruyneel? In short, Contador. Contador exposed his naiveté to team goals following the 2008 Vuelta by saying after the finish of the race, “I will only say that it’s not normal that someone that is supposed to be working for you finishes less than one minute back in the GC.”
Contador was insecure. Why? Team leadership is earned; it’s not an elected office, and had Leipheimer leapfrogged him in GC on the climb up Navacerrada, what would he have had to be upset about? Any team’s first goal should always be to win the race. For some reason, Bruyneel’s goals for the team weren’t Contador’s goals.
Bruyneel’s job was to reassure Contador that he was the strongest Grand Tour rider in the world. Despite more than adequate evidence to back this up, he didn’t succeed. When Armstrong came out of retirement, the problem only got worse. Put yourself in Bruyneel’s shoes. What would you have said to Contador?
I would have told him, “Relax, let Lance play his games and play his hand. It’ll be good for us. It will confuse the competition in the early days of the race. Rest assured, you’re the strongest rider on the team and you’ll have everyone’s full support. And once Lance knows you’re stronger, he’ll have your back.” Had Lance proven to be stronger, Contador’s freelancing couldn’t have done much to hurt the team. At that point Bruyneel would have been free to say, “I’m sorry Alberto, but my first duty is to win this race and you’re simply not strong enough.”
It’s hard to imagine Bruyneel would have said anything different. But whatever he said, it didn’t work. That’s the stunner. Many sports writers would spin this as Bruyneel’s great failure. I’ve met the man and couldn’t say that to his face, so I won’t say it here. Besides, I just don’t see it that way. It’s a miss, something that didn’t go to plan. I’m sure it is a frustration that has him stymied. Imagine playing a game of chess and not being certain where your queen would move next. It might check the king, but leave a rook open at the same time. Thanks bro.
Contador’s actions will give some of the smarter team directors pause. Even if Tralfamadoreans carried the Schlecks off to mate with Montana Wildhack, I don’t think Riis would hire Contador next year. Will Vaughters still want him if he believes he won’t take direction? Rest assured, he won’t have any trouble finding other employment. There are plenty of teams that want him and three or four that could potentially pay him what he’s worth.
The problem is that even if he didn’t need help this year, he’ll need help next year against Saxo Bank, Radio Shack and Garmin—if they don’t sign him. And thanks to that parting shot about not respecting Armstrong (You may not like him, but what sort of rider wouldn’t respect his accomplishments?), we can all rest assured that even if Radio Shack can’t beat him, they will send nine men to ride against him.
What might make the 2010 Tour de France most memorable is if the sport’s greatest director can defeat the sport’s greatest Grand Tour rider … with a lesser rider.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Heading towards the first small hill of our first day, I was talking with new team member Tony Cruz. As we caught up on each other’s lives since racing against each other as juniors, I had to excuse myself for not answering his questions. I apologized, in a ragged voice, that after reaching the top of the hill I would resume our conversation. He played down the fact that while I was suffering, the team was climbing at a casual 20 mph! A hole in the pace line opened and he excused himself as he closed the gap. This left Bill and me to wallow in lactic acid as we shook our heads at how calmly these guys flew over the undulating Spanish countryside.
The big news for the Postal Service this year is the signing of Roberto Heras to the team. He was 2001’s mountain revelation in the Tour de France and winner of the Vuelta a Espana, Heras brought much needed strength to help Lance in the mountains of the Tour that year.
The magnitude of Heras’ signing did not hit me until we were rolling through a town early on during a training ride. The whole team went under a pedestrian overpass just as about 100 children crossed the bridge. Dressed in school uniforms and matching backpacks, the children went wild as they stopped in their tracks to watch us pass beneath them. Screaming and yelling out, “Andale-Roberto Heras, Lance Armstrong, Arriba, Arriba!” Bill and I looked at each other dumbfounded by the children’s enthusiasm as the team didn’t miss a beat tearing through traffic and into a large roundabout in downtown Carpe at a mellow 25 mph.
Bill and I were absolutely wasted after only three days of riding with the team. We awoke to aching, dead-tired muscles on the fourth day of camp. Lying motionless, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the other to attempt getting out of bed, Bill broke the silence, “Isn’t it amazing how much more fit these guys are? They are on a whole ‘nother planet. Did you see how Cedric and Benoit just coasted through those little towns, looking sideways at each other and chatting as if we were standing still? If people tried that on the club rides or even in the Cat. II races, bodies would be everywhere!” I nodded my head then winced; even my neck was sore from being in the drops for so long the previous day.
“And going up the hills,” Bill went on, “Heras and Rubiera just kept talking and cruising along like it was no big deal. Did you see that? I think that was right before you got dropped.”
I remembered the moment vividly. I cracked and slowed down before grabbing onto the team car. Dirk DeMol was driving and leaned over the passenger seat, to say to me, “We were wondering who would come off first? Your friend, he looks like a sprinter, but you … you surprised us. We thought you would be the climber!” As my lungs failed to adequately get oxygen to my muscles, or brain for that matter, I had no response. My 5’-8” frame and 150 lb. body seemed fit for a part time racer, but riding alongside the best pro cyclists in the world, I looked and felt like a chunk.
Over the top of one particular mountain, Bill had been gripping the car’s door and chatting with Alan the head mechanic when George Hincapie slipped back to grab some food and full bottles. Wanting to stay out of the way and feeling revived from the respite of the car, Bill let go and rode in the car’s draft.
As Hincapie came alongside the car, we were heading into the descent and the team was riding at around 30mph through some tight turns. He, in a word, was smooth. Every move I saw this guy make over the course of a week was like water. He flowed. From waiting for the elevator after dinner, to hopping off his bike at the end of a seven-hour ride, Hincapie was as graceful as Gene Kelly.
So the car heads into the first turn, a pretty tight one, and Hincapie has his left arm in the window and his right hand on the brake hood. He’s not gripping the hood, just resting his hand on it. He grabs some bottles but is not yet finished when he’s interrupted by the winding road. Staying glued to the car—and without a single unnecessary movement—he slides right through the tight right bend at about a sixty-degree angle, all the while his elbow still rests in the doorframe. Then he puts some food wrapped in foil into his jersey pocket, stands up out of the saddle, and bridges the gap from the car, not just to the back of the group, but all the way to the front, so as to lead the charge down the mountain.
“It’s hard enough just hanging onto the car going straight, much less a stunt like that,” Steve Swartzendruber, the Trek representative to the team, pointed out at dinner after Bill told us the story.
Mark Cavendish is as entertaining a sprinter as we’ve had since Mario Cipollini retired from the sport. As small as a Cooper S and just as fast, he’s as interesting on the road as off. Unafraid to talk a little smack before a stage, you can be certain he’ll back it up with an acceleration befitting a top-fuel dragster.
Just one problem, his mouth cost him the green jersey. No matter what you thought of the bunch sprint on stage 14 (it seemed no worse to me than many I’ve seen), Thor Hushovd thought Columbia-HTC’s Cavendish interfered with his progress and filed a protest. The race judges agreed and relegated Cavendish to the back of the group.
Had the result stood, Cavendish would have gained 13 points in the green jersey competition and Hushovd would have picked up 12. Instead, Cavendish got no points and Hushovd picked up 13.
Afterward, Cavendish said that if Hushovd were to win the green jersey of the points competition when the race finishes in Paris, it would be because of the relegation, suggesting that Hushovd might not be a worthy victor. Hushovd answered him on stage 17 by entering an early breakaway and taking the 12 points available in the first two intermediate sprints.
It was a gutsy move. It was real racing, apart from the larger considerations of the yellow jersey and even the inevitability of the stage victory by a climber. Even if Cavendish hadn’t been relegated, Hushovd would have increased his lead in the Green Jersey competition from 4 points to 16.
Had the relegation not occurred, and Cavendish kept his mouth shut, he would have gone into the final stage of the Tour just 4 points down on Hushovd. A victory on his part would have given him the Green Jersey for keeps. Without the stage victory, Hushovd would only need to finish a place behind him to keep the jersey,
But because Cavendish suggested that Hushovd could only win the jersey with the points gained due to the relegation, Hushovd got mad and, as the proverbial “they” say, he went on a tear. With the 12 points he gained during his breakaway he was 25 points ahead of Cavendish going into the final stage. The only way he could win the final Points Classification was if he won the stage and Hushovd finished in 15th place or lower. Oops.
History will show Hushovd won the Green Jersey by 10 points, two fewer than he gained on his breakaway on stage 17. Without those 12 points, Cavendish would have taken the Green Jersey off of Hushovd at the finish line in Paris.
Cavendish’s off-the-bike statements have animated the race as much as his legs have, making him arguably the most entertaining rider at the 2009 Tour de France, but I wonder if watching the Green Jersey slip away due to one remark might make him think more before speaking. We have to hope not; the race already has too many guys making guarded statements. The race is more fun if Cavendish speaks like he sprints.
Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International
The waiting is over. No Starbucks, no Nike, no Oracle. Officially, what we know of Lance Armstrong’s new team is that it will be sponsored by Radio Shack and that the seven-time winner of the Tour de France will compete at the Tour of California and the Tour de France as a cyclist, but that he will also compete through the season as a runner and triathlete.
Yes, sports fans, Lance Armstrong will make a return to triathlon.
No other sponsors, riders or team personnel were named except that the team will be managed by Capital Sports and Entertainment (CSE), the same team that managed the US Postal and Discovery Channel cycling teams. Radio Shack said the team would compete at the ProTour level.
Those are the facts. What can we infer from the announcement?
First, the ProTour license will likely come from Astana. Second, the team will be directed by Johan Bruneel. Third, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Yaroslav Popovych and Jose Luis Rubiera will ride for the team; many others from the former Discovery Channel formation are likely to follow. Fourth, the LiveStrong Foundation is likely to have a sponsorship role in the team. Fifth, the team will ride Trek bikes with SRAM components.
Will Alberto Contador be a part of this formation? It’s too soon to tell. Bruyneel and Armstrong may not want a rider, even one as talented as Contador, who can’t stick to the game plan and rides only for himself. Contador may not want to be on a team where he feels even the faintest whiff of a challenge to his leadership.
When Alberto Contador attacked on le Grand Bornand and dropped teammate Andreas Kloden, he did more than just dash Kloden’s hopes for the podium. He torpedoed Astana’s historic bid to sweep the podium of the 2009 Tour de France, a feat not achieved in the modern era of the event. Maybe that didn’t matter to Contador, but this should have: He damaged his team’s ability to defend him on the slopes of Mt. Ventoux.
Had Contador not attacked, it is likely Armstrong would have come back to the leaders, if not on the climb, then on the descent. Given the way Kloden had to raise his pace to try to regain the leaders, Armstrong wouldn’t have had to work as long to pull back the gap. In a lead group of Contador, Kloden, Armstrong, Schleck, Schleck and Nibali, there would have been no reason to gift the stage to Frank Schleck, and Astana, with three cards to play, would have had a good chance of taking the stage.
Coming out of the stage 18 time trial, the GC would have still been Contador in the lead, but Wiggins would have been second at 2:28—enough to dismiss him as a threat to Contador on Mont Ventoux, but Armstrong would have been third at 3:06, with Kloden at 3:10, both close enough to have a real shot at taking second and third overall could they drop Wiggins on Ventoux, an act they both have previously managed. Schleck would be an also-ran to this quartet with obstacles on all sides to GC advancement.
With two teammates so close in time to Contador, their defense of yellow would have been easier by neutralizing virtually any attack before it started. Instead, Contador’s attack lifted the two Schleck’s from 5th and 8th on GC to 2nd and 6th.
As it stands now, there are four riders within 34 seconds of each other, each within striking distance of a podium spot. If Contador hadn’t attacked, he could well have had a tranquil ride up Mont Ventoux, but now the Tour organizer’s very wish—fireworks—is guaranteed on the slopes of the Geante de Provence.
Based on his unwillingness to listen to his team director before attacking on le Grand Bornand, and his previously stated distaste for Levi Leipheimer’s podium finish at the 2008 Vuelta, it is fair to surmise that Contador isn’t comfortable having other capable GC riders on his team. In his particular instance, as both the best time trialist and best climber present at the 2009 Tour de France, we must grant that Contador doesn’t need a team to win the Tour. But what of those riders who toiled for him no matter how superfluous their efforts might seem?
Even Eddy Merckx knew when to throw a domestique a bone. Why deliberately torpedo the aspirations of your teammates? Armstrong had already conceded the win to Contador. Contador said he attacked to neutralize Wiggins. What? Wiggins was already dropped. No one attacks a dropped rider. When you attack, you are attempting to drop someone on your wheel, which makes Contador either a liar or not very bright.
If it seems that I have a personal stake in this, a desired outcome, that’s not the case. I find the possibility of an Astana podium sweep to be an interesting and historic outcome, but I also find historic the possibility of Great Britain’s first podium finish. Wiggins’ transformation from Olympic Gold Medalist on the track to Tour de France contender to be fascinating. And should the two Schlecks take the lower two podium spots that will mean Contador will face a very formidable threat in 2010. Maybe Contador didn’t need a strong team this year, but the confidence that would come with finishing second and third could make the Schlecks a force majeure in 2010.
Carlos Sastre won the 2008 Tour de France not because he was the strongest rider, but because he was on the strongest team and the strongest rider in the race—Cadel Evans—stayed with Andy Schleck when Sastre attacked. Evans knew he couldn’t follow every attack and so he chose to stay with the stronger of the two teammates, hoping they would bring Sastre back. He rolled snake eyes on that one.
The 2010 Tour could play out similarly: Contador on a weak team isolated and Frank Schleck attacks and Contador stays with brother Andy. And who would Contador have to thank for boosting the Schleck’s confidence? Himself.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International