These Surprises Just Aren't That Surprising

Jul 20 2010

ContadorMore bad luck for the yellow jersey! Contador showing little deference to the nuances of the Tour! Lance failing to live up to the hype! It’s like I’m practically psychic!

In all seriousness, though, this is a Tour that has never wanted for drama or surprises—almost a shame, considering the fireworks we were treated to just over a month ago—and perhaps the best part of the excitement surrounding this year’s event is that so much of it is actually coming from the race. Uncomfortably thin margins separate the leaders in the GC, KOM and points competitions; battles among both the breakaways and the heads of state seem to be de rigueur over ever practically major climb, and hilltop finishes are no longer a pre-requisite for a GC shake-up.

On Chaingate, my feelings, while mixed, return to the earlier statement that this is Tour de France—not some Mickey-Mouse race. I’m personally disheartened at the break in protocol—more than can be said for the veritable murderer’s row consulted by French television—but as a racer, I don’t need to imagine too hard to see myself riding exactly as Contador did. Best to view the breach like Renshaw’s maneuvers last week—they’re split second decisions in the heat of battle, and the jury (or in this case, the peloton) is seldom consistent in their reaction.

At any rate, the biggest victim in Chaingate may prove to not be Andy Schleck, nor SRAM, nor even the time-honored traditions of the Tour. For all his reverence to the unwritten rules of the pack, Lance Armstrong’s decision to wait for his fallen rival carried a heavy psychological component: I can wait for you and still win this race. Considering how battered Contador looked on the climb to Ax-3 Domain the day before, slumping back down onto his saddle after every effort, I don’t think he could have sent a clearer message to his rivals about his own vulnerability than riding past the hapless Schleck.

Johan BruyneelAnd while Armstrong’s legacy may shine brighter in light of Contador’s decision on Stage 15, his great escape will be a net negative in the long run—feelings I will not elaborate on until after the Tour. I do credit Armstrong for a hair-raising first hour—one that apparently came as no surprise, as riders were warming up to prepare—but even with Horner convoyed up to him (along with Ruben Plaza, to neutralize the Team GC battle), Lance never showed himself as a serious stage contender.

With two men in the move, you’d think a tactician heralded with as much fanfare as Johan Bruyneel would have been able to come up with something better than having Horner pull while Armstrong sat on—especially in light of the fact that sending Horner up the road could leverage the suddenly-relevant Team GC lead against the two Caisse d’Epargne riders.

Instead, the “best” director in the history of the Tour sent two proven soloists into a 9-man sprint that included some of the most realibly savvy breakaway sprinters in the peloton, with nary a feint, misdirection or tactical flourish; copies of “We Might As Well Win” now making an appearance on a B&N closeout rack near you.

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24 Responses to “These Surprises Just Aren't That Surprising”

  1. harlond 20 July 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    Is it a break in protocol? Is there an example in the past when the yellow jersey suffered a mechanical at the point where he had distanced his rivals with a vicious attack and his rivals all waited for him to compose himself? Unwritten rules suffer from ambiguity, as the views of the murderers’ row demonstrate, and it’s not at all clear to me that this is a breach of protocol. In any event, I think you’re spot on that things that happen in the heat of the moment cannot be parsed too finely.

  2. Nick 20 July 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    I thought Lance crashed and Jan waited for him. Not the other way around. Lance didn’t wait for anyone. Did he?

    Was there another example out there?

  3. Douglas 20 July 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    In 2001, Ullrich went off the road on a descent and Lance slowed down the favorites group. This may have been a large reason for Jan’s decision (with Hamilton) to slow the pace down on Luz Ardiden after Lance went down in 2003.

  4. CMAC 20 July 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    Yeah, Jan crashed over a barrier and Lance sat up. They famously sort of grabbed hands in acknowledgment of it when crossing the finish line.

  5. dirty_works 20 July 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    Cosmo,

    Things are so bad at The Shack, suddenly after generations of disregard, the Best Team prize is now their Big Win.

    The teleconference with the sponsor won’t be pretty. Boss Hog says, “No stage wins, but we’re doing GREAT in the Team category.” Someone at The Shack mutters something unintelligible then asks if they need any more Shack coupons for $5 discount on a $200 Realistic branded English-only iPod knockoffs.

    Boss Hog forgot that the coupons were supposed to be thrown out the window of the team car and distributed around the team bus.

    Meanwhile back in Pro Cycling, no one cares about the Team classification.

    Next morning, Boss Hog’s gives a speech about “We’re all winners… So let’s help Lance at the back of the field some more…”

  6. Tom 20 July 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    In addition to all the other stuff that’s already been said, I think it makes a big difference that Andy’s chain dropped while he himself was attacking. That throws the entire sportsmanship protocol out the window, at least in my eyes.

  7. DJ 20 July 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    @ dirty-works #5
    Not to say that things are all hunky-dory at the Shack, but a stage win they do have (Paulinho, stage 10). There are a few teams in the race that have been less successful – though they didn’t enter the race claiming to be serious contenders for GC victory.

  8. Tommy 20 July 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    I think it’s bush-league to attack when your top competition has a mechanical issue. It shows insecurity on el Pistolero’s part—Cosmo hit it on the head—he feels he HAS to take that, since he is not confident he can beat Schleck on even footing.
    Almost like when you’re playing one-on-one basketball, and a guy whines about a non-call. You hand him the ball and say, “fine, if you need it, take it.”
    I just hope that Schleck makes him pay. I was bummed that Schleck couldn’t catch up on the stage.
    I care for El Pistolero less than I do for LA.

    On another note, any word on Petacchi and the doping allegations? What’s the word out there?

  9. Chris E 20 July 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    Ignoring the actual sportsmanship issues aside about Schleck/Contador, I couldn’t agree more with the perception’s about Contador as being the weaker climber this year. Did anyone else notice how much Schleck ate into Contador’s advantage as they completed the climb. If Sammy Sanchez hadn’t been there to lead the way on the descent I think there is a pretty good chance that Schleck and Contador would have come home together.

    The saddest thing about this is how dramatically it changes the whole race. A net positive for Schleck (he looked like his attack may have driven him clear of Contador) turned into a net negative and with the route for Stage 16 being neutralised by the 50km of flat after the last climb it means he has an impossibly difficult task to accomplish after the rest day on the Tourmalet.

  10. Dan 20 July 2010 at 11:23 pm #

    There is just something about Contador that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it was fine to attack Schleck when his chain popped off, and maybe not, but I hate the way he squirms and doesn’t really take responsibility for his actions.

    After seeing the video, there is no way in my mind that he didn’t know that Schleck was having a mechanical. Schleck had a gap of about 10 or fifteen yards when his chain popped off. Contador was trying to bridge the gap when it happened. I’m sorry, but trying to bridge a gap is not the same thing as attacking, yet here is Contador:

    “Right when I attacked Andy had a mechanical on the last climb. The race was in full gear and, well, maybe I made a mistake, I’m sorry.”

    The attack didn’t come until he saw that Schleck’s chain popped off. “Maybe I made a mistake”?! Come on dude! Did you or didn’t you? Saying, “hey tough shit, that’s racing” would be honest and is a perfectly valid position to take. Instead he tries to spin it and gives weak ass apology over youtube. Quit trying to have it both ways!

    The other one that annoyed me was his response after screwing his teammate out of a stage win for a measly ten seconds.

    > As for Contador, he proclaimed himself “very satisfied with today’s stage.”

    “It’s always important when you can take time,” he said. “I didn’t see Andy attacking, so I decided to go. I always like this climb and I had good sensations. The team did a great job today. I am only sorry Vinokourov couldn’t win.”

    Really? Very satisfied? As Cosmo pointed out in an earlier post, he tried to do three different things and failed at all of them. Yet he is “very satisfied”. Oh well.

  11. Bikerider54 21 July 2010 at 12:39 am #

    You waste time talking about Contador and Schleck, really inconsequential when it comes to the injustice done to Roche by his teammate. I’m tired of hearing people yap about the same thing on several blogs.

  12. H 21 July 2010 at 6:22 am #

    no one waited for contador when his spoke broke on stage 3

  13. Chris E 21 July 2010 at 8:19 am #

    He had a broken spoke in the last KM of the race when his main rival had already finished. Not to mention the guy leading that group home was his own team mate…

  14. cosmo 21 July 2010 at 8:42 am #

    @H, I think the “rules” are a little bit different on the cobbles. The game is really to time your efforts to get a good position and can pick your line and avoid dangerous sections; dangling toward the back of the bunch and getting a flat on the stones is pretty much the same as hanging on at the back on a climb and getting caught out when an opponent attacks.

    @Bikerider54, agreed on the Roche thing, but viewed within the race as a whole, it’s a pretty minor event. Roche did write a great, heartfelt article about it, which seems to confirm Fignon’s criticism that French teams are very undisciplined, from the team car down. I hope they can make up as I like both riders—though Gadret a bit less now.

    @Dan, I could really square myself with Contador better if he’d said “It’s bad luck for Andy, but this is the Tour de France and we’re both trying to win. I wouldn’t expect him to wait for me if the positions were reversed.” To have him say “eh, didn’t see anything happen to Andy” and then later videotape an apology feels like the worst way to handle it; the message is “I only care that I got caught”, and it’s another sign Contador really ought to learn a few tricks beyond simply “accelerate”.

  15. skippy 21 July 2010 at 8:42 am #

    Started a new blog whilst riding the TDF!

    More follows on rest day

  16. skippy 21 July 2010 at 8:42 am #

    been catching up with “pascal the rascal also!

  17. skippy 21 July 2010 at 8:44 am #

    new blog http://www.tourdafarce.blogspot.com now going to eat

  18. Skip 21 July 2010 at 10:54 am #

    @ Cosmo, I can see where you are coming from when you say that his apology smacked of “I got caught,” and it would be better if he had just been more definitive that he is here to win the race and if Andy’s bike breaks then too bad. But, like how you accuse Contador of just having one solution to everything, your meme about Contador I think is too simplistic.

    There’s a lot going on inside him that is contradictory causing what seems to be wishy-washy actions. Unlike most riders in the peloton, he places an unusual emphasis on his relationships. Think of last year’s Tour, stage 17, where he inadvertently dropped his teammate Kloden,and when he saw that he pulled up on his attack, letting the Schleck’s back on. He could have said at the end of the stage that Kloden being dropped was fine with him as it was he who is going for the overall win and not Kloden, so Kloden was just being a domestique who was no longer needed.

    Or some such manly man talk, which I think is what you really want from him.

    In a larger sense the whole Astana soap opera last year, where IMO Lance was a grade A asshole, could have been stopped before it started if Bert had just come out after winning the Vuelta in 08 and said something along the lines of, “It’s nice that Lance wants to join my team but he has to toe the line and do what I say. It’s no longer his team.” Such a definitive statement would have gone far to lower the polemica last year.

    But he didn’t and it’s now obvious that it’s not in Bert’s nature; it’s not a moral thing to do. He does not approach a bike race to see who’s Faster or The Best or Tougher. He’s not that type of stereotypical he-man. And that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. He’s not the simplistic alpha male. In other words he’s more like most people and most men. He’s much more feminine than what we expect with our sporting champions. He just happens to also accelerate faster than a bat out of hell.

    So how does such a person survive in a simplified version of life that is bike racing? He is naturally gonna frustrate the average fan. If he had reacted like you wanted him to do in the apology, he would have also picked himself off the floor on stage 2, left Andy 5 minutes behind, given the finger to Cancellara, and knocked the Schlecks out of the race then and there. He didn’t of course and got crucified in the Spanish press for showing sympathy. Basically he can’t win according to the traditional male testosterone-fueled homophobic rules of sport.

    But we live in the 21st century and I, for one, am glad that he shows nuance in his person. We will over the next decade actually get to see him grow up, something that we haven’t seen with Lemond or Armstrong or Jens! or Hinault, etc: guys trapped at age 18 in the maturity scale.

    There’s the old saying, “I must be learning because I am making mistakes.” It would be better if more people in cycling applied that rule.

  19. LDR 21 July 2010 at 11:48 am #

    @Skip. Contador may be nuanced as a person, but certainly not as a bike racer. It’s simply do what ever is necessary for him to win.

    “Inadvertently dropped Kloden”? I don’t think so. It was simply a me first, all out attack like he employed against Vino this year. When it benefits Contador to attack, he will attack, regardless of blow back on team mates. Team mates are there to support Alberto. He owes them nothing but a pay check. (Maybe a wrist watch at the end of the race for a job well done “Couldn’t have done it without you, eh”).

    Reminds me of another very successful T de F racer . . .

    Lorin

  20. Sebastian 21 July 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Cosmo: Do you think that Armstrong is planning to assume some kind of DS-like role at RadioShack next year? This idea made the rounds briefly last year and I’m curious to know if there’s any truth in it. Armstrong does seem to want to stay involved in the sport (he called himself a “doctor” of cycling once), and I can see him managing a very efficient system that leads up from his feeder Trek team to the big-time Bruyneel squad.

  21. brufus 21 July 2010 at 6:39 pm #

    Re: chaingate. Comes down to this: ask yourself “if Contador wins by less than 39s, was he the best/strongest rider?” If he had waited and won, there would be no doubt. A 2-time champion, should show some class and wait so that there can be no doubt.

  22. John the Monkey 22 July 2010 at 7:55 am #

    Re: chaingate. Comes down to this: ask yourself “if Contador wins by less than 39s, was he the best/strongest rider?

    Err – yeah. And how much time did the ludicrous neutralisation of the stage two save Schleck minor? Discount that from your 39s margin. Oh, and the time gained when the pack was split by crashes on the cobbles.

    Skip: That’s a fascinating take on things, will re-read that.

  23. timon 22 July 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    Skip,

    I half-agree with your view of Alberto. He seems to place an emphasis on treating people with respect without sacrificing his own interests. This is chivalry, not femininity. If he re-assessed his attack on Schleck in the light of others’ opinions, it is merely polite deference, which is the whole point of the unwritten rules. He isn’t soft and delicate, he’s politic — like a bullfighter. Even when he apologized he brought up the cobbles stage. This is the same thing Sastre said after today’s stage: nobody waited for me. They’re just playing off the finer points of civility, when to withdraw and when to attack. Remember how Sastre complained about Armstrong’s disrespectful remarks on his victory, and the indirect and impersonal apology. Alberto apologized candidly and in person.

    It’s the same reason he may not have loudly shouted down Lance’s role in the TdF. Before boasting over the seven time champion, he would have to prove himself. He began to declare his rights a little more loudly after the time trial, and then the first mtf, when he missed the yellow but took the team lead. And it wasn’t until he took yellow in Paris, and Lance had moved towards a new team that Alberto gave his opinion of what happened. And it was candid and brutal. I’m not saying I don’t admire Lance’s condescending and corporate comments about “according to the plan” and “a lot to learn.” And the death cries were truly pathetic.

    Same with Vino, Alberto attacked and evened the score with Schleck. It was Vino who didn’t keep up. AC is the master, and the TT will be the kill. I’m sure he would have preferred to (try to) conquer both Schlecks (again), but you take what you’re given.

  24. john 23 July 2010 at 2:07 am #

    My take on the dropped chain is that to me Schleck tried to put it into the big ring while on one of the biggest sprockets. The chain derailed and jammed between the crank and the chainring ,keep pedalling and the whole mess jams up lifting the back wheel . This is a skill that needs to be done with care because if you try to bang it into the big ring going uphill under pressure then a dropped or jammed chain is the result. Waiting for a rival for after “not in your control mishap , punture or fall “is fine but Contador was wll within his rights to continue to race after a rival makes a mistake due to an error in skill.

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