It's Good Not To Be The King

Mar 10 2011

Sanchez' finger, from Steephill.TV and ReutersI got to guest post on The Selection today, and my basic thesis was that, despite the fact it means going slower and not winning, being a mid-pack racer is kind of awesome.

Further reinforcement of that theory from today’s Paris-Nice finish: it’s several hours later and the Twitterati still can’t believe it—Sammy Sanchez lost a heads-of-state sprint. Not only did he lose it, but he lost it to Andreas Kloden, who famously lost the closest (and most gangly-limbed) finish in TdF history back in 2005.

Now, it’s not inconceivable that the famously quick Sanchez would have lost—Klodi had a good lead out, and Sanchez occasionally mistimes his final punch. But, being right up at the front in a WorldTour race means a million prying eyes are watching your every move; enter a Reuters cameraman and the discerning eye of @inrng, to catch the Spaniard appearing to use his left lever in the closing meters.

It’s tricky to imagine why he’d be doing this. Braking would seem to be out of the question. Plenty of riders, from experience in cyclocross or on motorcycles, swap the front and rear brakes, but as far as I know, there are no parts manufacturers that have shift/break bodies that are reverseable—right has to shift the rear, and left has to shift the front.

Maybe he was shifting/had just shifted between chainrings because he was worried about running out of gears or chainline, but even with top-shelf electronic parts, a front shift under any kind of power really is sticking your finger in the devil’s eye.

The other scenario (and I think the easiest to explain) is that Sanchez did hit the brakes. He could have done this because he’s a klutz (not unheard of among cyclists) or because he didn’t want the burden of race leadership (the two stages after the TT, while not obvious game-changers, have some potential to be decisive) or because there was some sort of agreement that Kloden would be allowed to win in exchange for money/future support/2012 contract/what have you.

Regardless, people have noticed, and Sanchez will probably have to conjure up some sort of acceptable explanation over the next few days. Much nicer, I think, to be competing at a lower level, or rolling in with the group, to keep any of your dabbling in cycling’s middle layer out of the prying public eye.

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14 Responses to “It's Good Not To Be The King”

  1. bikecellar March 10, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    His finger says brake but his face says sprint ?

  2. Luc Prévost March 10, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    Fort, très fort TTT ;-)!

  3. Touriste-Routier March 10, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    He seemed very frustrated/disgusted with himself after the sprint. I don’t think he is that good of an actor. Maybe he just likes his fingers on the lever.

  4. LastBoyScout March 10, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    I may be completely wrong about this, but Sanchez seemed have especially low cadence going into the final portion of the sprint, prior to kicking it up. (I posted that same question over at CyclingTips prior to seeing Cosmo’s post). Specifically during the final helicopter shots. Thoughts?

  5. emp March 11, 2011 at 1:21 am #

    Its not uncommon for riders to cover the brakes all the time, its just where the finger goes when you jump in the drops

  6. Torben Putkonen March 11, 2011 at 3:27 am #

    There is no visible gap between the upper edge of the lever and the brake body. Sanches is not braking.

  7. cosmo March 11, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    @Torben I agree he’s not currently braking, but the finger there suggests that he was.

    @emp I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rider cover the brakes when they’ve got in their head that they’re going to win. I’ve seen a few finish line shots of guys on the brakes after the winner already has his hands in the air, but even in the Cat 4-5 fields, where there is near-guaranteed disaster in every sprint, people are pretty committed.

    I guess I’ve never really looked for it before, but conventional wisdom is not to be anywhere near them if you want to win. I’m not saying it’s impossible that he rests his finger there as a normal sort of thing, but it just seems, well, weird.

    What would really help sort this out is if someone could find a shot of him with the finger on the brake before the line in a sprint that he wins.

  8. CoreyD March 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Here’s the best image I can find from the Olympic Road Race:

    http://cdn.mos.bikeradar.com/images/news/2008/08/09/82228187_10-670-75.jpg

    Fingers definitely not on the brakes.

  9. Stig March 11, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

    Maybe SS just didn’t have the legs? The same way as maybe Samuel may not be superior descender compared to other pros either?

  10. tomsescu March 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    There goes 15 points in podium caffe VDS ;))

  11. JJ March 12, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    What it really looks like from the replays is that Sanchez botched his gearing or had trouble with his drivetrain. As the sprint starts to wind up, Sanchez is perfectly positioned, but goes from standing to sitting at ~100m to go. As he does, he soft-pedals slightly while looking down at his gears. He then stands back up inside the last 50m, and begins to overtake Kloden, but runs out of room.

  12. john March 18, 2011 at 5:53 am #

    sometimes there is a gaggle of photographers just after the finish leaving a very small space to funnel thru

  13. pakistancycling June 7, 2011 at 5:41 am #

    i agree with you to some extent.

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