I bet that out there, somewhere, are people who think today’s Giro win by Carlos Sastre somehow justifies the ridiculousness of the Cervelo Test Team’s tactical blunder yesterday. From the moment the team car pulled alongside Serge Pauwels, the squad has been trying to explain away what was nothing but team mismanagement, pure and simple.
Things can get confusing in bike races, yes—but in an era of race radios, helicopter coverage, GPS tracking, and TVs built directly into the consoles of team cars, I find it completely inconceivable that the events of Stage 15 were simply caused by bad timing, as the Cervelo Test Team report describes below:
“At that time, Basso had escaped and Carlos asked Serge to wait…In fact, a little earlier Basso had his teammate Stangelj drop back from Serge’s breakaway to help him. Maybe Serge didn’t understand, but we let him know a couple of times that he really had to wait… at the time Serge actually slowed down, the situation had already changed and it was no longer necessary.”
The reason Stangelj dropped back was because Basso was attacking alone. Yes, he did acquire Garzelli almost immediately, but the duo was working against the entire gruppo maglia rosa, which, so long as it stayed together, was like an army of riders—around 17 strong—all working for Sastre, but stronger and better positioned than any of his actual teammates.
It wasn’t like the reigning Tour champ was struggling to hold on, either—at 16:45 CEST, Sastre was the man dropping bodies as he drove the leaders’ group forward after Basso’s move. The only time I can imagine Sastre would have considered asking for help was when DiLuca attacked toward the top of the climb at 16:55 CEST—a move that the Spaniard covered easily less than a minute later.
It’s worth noting that at this point, Pauwels had a full 3:15 on the maglia rosa and was already over the top of the climb, which puts a fairly serious dent in the “we asked him back at the top of the climb when Sastre needed the help” excuse. By the time Pauwels (who may come off OK from this snafu) received his tongue lashing at 17:08 CEST, the gap between Basso and Sastre was 19 seconds. Short of climbing off his bike and slipping off into the woods to take a dump, there was no way Pauwels could have caught Sastre before Sastre caught Basso.
Clearly, this was a case where, if Sastre really had demanded help, a DS has to make a managerial decision and say “no”—and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Johan Bruyneel, in The Road To Paris and countless other features has displayed tremendous talent for calming crazy riders, and is seldom seen screaming out the window of his car. I’m willing to bet he considered ordering Popo back to help Levi at some point today, but in the end, realized the Ukrainian would be better used chasing the stage win.
The case may also have been that Jean-Paul van Poppel, who is as steeped in the world and traditions of cycling as much as anyone, simply lost his temper and decided to punish the perceived insolence of a young rider refusing a command to help the team leader.
Whatever the reason, I’m getting tired of Cervelo leaning on the “small team” crutch in their public statements and media materials. You’ve got the reigning Tour de France champion on the roster and you should have taken three Giro stages in a row. The only way you could possibly be construed as small is by leaning on such ridiculous excuses.
thoughts on “Sastre's Win Still Doesn't Take Cervelo Off the Hook”
Mate, Cervelo have admitted they made a mistake, and explained how the mistake was made, and said they had a bad day when they could have got a win if they hadn’t made a mistake… what more do you want from them?
I was hoping something a little less like “shucks, what bad timing” and more like “we in the team car totally screwed up, it’s entirely our fault, and we’re sorry”.
My impression from the Cervelo press release immediately after Stage 15 was that the team felt embarrassed and upset by a bad decision from the team car MADE WORSE by Pauwels refusing to immediately do what he was told. Yes, it was found to be unnecessary for Pauwels to drop back, but as a rider, you either work for the team and do what the DS tells you, right or wrong, or you ignore your DS and ride for yourself (and maybe don’t have a job next year). Pretty sure the former is preferable to the latter, especially for a young rider like Pauwels. Why would any DS want a rider who blatantly ignores orders and makes the team look bad; how could such a rider be trustworthy?
Pauwels gave up his stage win for sure, but now instead of letting van Poppel completely shoulder the blame for that (by dropping back when he was told to), Pauwels gets to look insubordinate and stubborn too. Not ideal for either the team or for Pauwels. So yes, a bad moment by Sastre causing him to panic and ask van Poppel to send Pauwels back. Yes, a bad moment by van Poppel for doing what Sastre asked. And the whole thing compounded by Pauwels not being a team player at the moment his team thought they needed him.
Had Pauwels simply done what he was told, then your “we in the team car totally screwed up, it’s entirely our fault, and we’re sorry” story would be the right one. As it was, no, I still think Pauwels deserves the lion’s share of the blame here. If he wants to become his own DS and decide what to do in races, he’s welcome to go start his own team. While he’s riding for Cervelo, he needs to do what they tell him to do or risk embarrassing himself and the whole team like he did.
Disclaimer: I come from the world of team sports, so the whole concept of not second-guessing what your coach says and sacrificing your own goals for the good of the team isn’t new to me. Maybe this attitude is more rare in cycling?
Just how I saw it.
Come on smaryka, do you really think that Pauwels is to blame in this situation? He is a young rider that is on his way to an almost certain stage win a grand tour. It is entirely up to van Poppel as the DS to assess the situation and make a decision based on fact and not on what the team leader insists he needs back in the maglia rosa group. The DS has the information that is needed to make a factual decision in the car and needs to be able to assess the situation and calm the team leader down. The maglia rosa group was shutting down the Basso escape, period. Sure Menchov had no reason to chase, but if you think that DeLuca was going to let Basso and get away and gain any time after the Liquigas/LPR polemica meltdown from the day before you really don’t understand Italian racing.
But at least they have a pair of stages, no? What about Astana’s shit direction yesterday? Strongest team, but they lost the stage and the podium (and possibly the tour) in the same day–not to mention LA’s back and forth. What about that?
See, I don’t think Astana played it poorly at all. There aren’t a whole lot of ways to get out of having a worse day than your rivals on a climb, especially when you don’t have the GC lead. Johan stuck with Popo as a long shot for the stage because there wasn’t a whole lot more he could do to help Levi.
As soon as he was caught, Popo completely threw in the towel so as not to be a target to draw the other riders further ahead. Levi had Lance to pace him and limited his losses the best he could.
I think that’s a decent attempt at trying to make the best of bad situation. What should Astana have done differently?
[Sorry – I didn’t mean to post anonymously before]
Monte petrano was clearly a tough climb and without Horner in the mix, Levi needed as much help as possible. To send Popo so early meant that he would be of no use when caught (and certainly not if he won). And it wasn’t just this key lack of support either. When Levi flatted, no one ,save LA, dropped back to pull him to the front. He usually had only one teammate in the wind for him (again, LA) whereas both Menchov and DiLuca had 2 or three until the climb got fast. Even with LA in the group, Levi always seemed to be alone towards the back. This lack of support surely contributed to him blowing up on the climb.
I’m not sure I blame LA for going with the attack, he really seemed surprised that Levi couldn’t match, and the group had already gapped before he recognized this. Sure, LA eventually came back to pace, but by then the maglia rosa had 30-40 seconds and there was no way to get back on. Sure they made the best of the bad situation, but they shouldn’t have been in that position to begin with.
Then again, if Levi just couldn’t match the speed, he was done-for anyway. It just seemed like really bad tactical management in a stage that everyone knew had the possibility to be a game-changer.
Frankielof, I’m 100% in agreement with you that Cervelo’s DS misread the situation and erred badly. I just think that regardless of that, if you’re the rider up the road and your DS tells you to back off, you do it no questions asked. That’s where Pauwels went wrong. And that’s why in the end he’s partly to blame for making Cervelo look stupid.
Had he just backed off when he was told to, all the blame could have fallen to van Poppel and Pauwels would have been just the guy doing what his DS told him to. Had he said “forget it” and continued on full-steam to win the stage, then he would have been the undisciplined daredevil hero (wherever that gets him). The fact that he hemmed and hawed before finally doing what he was told is why he’s just in no-man’s land looking just as bad as van Poppel.