You know what I think it is? I think it’s the lack of top-flight competition. It’s not that Etoile de Besseges, Trofeo Mallorca or Tour of Qatar don’t feature some of the best riders in the world—Bozic isn’t exactly a flat iron, after all—it’s that too many of them are holding back in an effort to keep the powder dry.
The days are gone when riders came into Paris-Nice fat, slow, and cowering. Even the riders who are still tuning up are fit, and if push came to shove, the top names could probably throw down with near-peak intensity. But prudence, the ever-present radio, and good coaching intervene, leaving the mouth as the only outlet for the naked aggression that makes splits and wins bike races.
Case in point: the effusive praise Brad Wiggins heaped on his squad after winning a team time trial at the Tour of Qatar
because of a relegation. The press recorded no such elation from Sam Dumolin, despite his significantly shorter palmares, when he defaulted his way into a similarly insignificant win.
I can’t decide whether Sky’s management (or lack thereof) for the notoriously talkative Wiggins is idiotic or brilliant. It certainly gets draws more than its fair share of pixels from the media, but how will it play out if things go pear-shaped for the Briton this July? His former boss made a concerted effort to keep Wiggins out of the limelight—can a fatter paycheck buy a thicker skin?
Of course, that comment about Wiggins was probably the least controversial thing JV said in his recent Times interview. The real drama there came as Vaughters suggested Astana may have been taking things easier to “not embarrass Lance”. I think the statement is entirely reasonable—if Astana’s “chase” on Ventoux had been any slower, Tony Martin might have fallen over sideways—but Vaughters backed away from the statements when Joe Parkin gave him the chance.
It’s too bad, too, because Armstrong seems to have no comprehension how a 38-year-old man with a career that speaks for itself is supposed to react to such criticism. Lance detractors might want to note that leveling a reasonable, easy-to-substantiate criticism, then letting the Texan make an ass of himself in response might be the best method of attack.
In terms of media relations, both Armstrong and Wiggins would do well to take a few cues from Robbie McEwen (“For me, the most important thing is that I have no discomfort in my leg”) or Oscar Freire (“To win the second race of the season is a nice feeling, but we must not exaggerate”). And you thought the sprinters we supposed to be the hot-headed ones.