Time Gap Theory: So Far, So Good

May 22 2010

old stopwatchSo before the chaos in Stage 11 of this year’s Giro (here are some new rider interviews on it), I posited that time gaps in the General Classification have a direct, predictable impact on the racing action.

Specifically, I claimed that there was a “sweet spot” where 1-2 minute GC gaps would reduce nervousness while prompting riders to attack, leading to what, in my biased vision, is great racing. And the Stage 11 reshuffle, while it had the unusual effect of burying a few GC favorites, still established the sort of gaps I think lead to good, aggressive racing—with the added effect of giving some of the strongest men in the race constant incentives to pull back time.

And what have we seen since Stage 11? Vino’ ripping a select group free over a climb that would have otherwise only been a test for the sprinters. Vlad Karpets slipping out of the field behind a breakaway, and Liquigas staking out a 1-2 finish by using Basso to grind the field down on the way up Monte Grappa, and sending Nibali off the front on the way back down.

Now, let’s imagine Nibali is 30 seconds down on the lead, instead of 10 minutes—you think he stays clear in a 40 mile downhill TT? Conversely, if Basso and Nibali are perched high on the GC, do you think Liquigas is willing to shoulder the load on the climb, or take the big risks on the descent?

Amgen Tour of California 2010 by Michael RisenhooverIt’s an especially sharp contrast to the Tour of California, where the GC lead was as fine as a few lines of text in the race bylaws. Yesterday’s queen stage was a visual feast, and an important moment for American racing—a real mountain stage for the first time in decades (minus narrow roads and seriously steep sections)—but it also ended in a a 20-man bunch sprint.

It’s not that riders didn’t attack (plenty of squads were active) or that the pace wasn’t hard (anytime a Schleck gets dropped and 20% of the field HDs or DNFs, you know it’s on), but its that no one was really willing to stick their necks out and go for the win. With 35 seconds separating the top 14 competitors and nary a featherweight climber in sight, the one thought on every DS’s mind is to keep their GC leader from losing time.

I suppose, with four categorized climbs and the transmission-shredding pitches of Monte Zoncolan on the menu, tomorrow’s Giro stage will be the truest test of my time gap theory. Conventional wisdom says the strongest riders will set pace and let the course do the damage, but the still-massive gaps from the overall lead—and critical 1-2 minute gaps between buried GC contenders—suggest some real initiative and risk will have to be taken for a pre-race favorite to get back to true contender status.

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10 Responses to “Time Gap Theory: So Far, So Good”

  1. frankielof 22 May 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    Agree completely. After watching what was a interesting, but bland AToC stage to Big Bear yesterday I commented an the ride over to the Saturday training ride that the field has become so level that the queen stages are becoming borefests (ie: Ventoux 2009 Tour). I recorded today’s Giro stage and watched after returning home and all I can say is wow. Nibali’s decending on the Grappa was hair raising at times, Liquigas did an awesome job sheading the field on the way up. I can’t wait to see what happens on the Zocolan tomorrow!!! Did the Liquigas boys do too much work today and will they pay for it? I will be watching intently. After a morning ride, of course.

  2. Christophe 22 May 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    The situation today even spurred a mountain attack out of Wiggins. It’s a whole new wheel game out there…

  3. tourpro 22 May 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    Yup, it does make for much more exciting racing when GC guys aren’t just riding defensively. However, close positions in ATOC could make tomorrow’s final stage a little more interesting. I mean, someone has got to go for it, right?

    Re: Basso/Nibali, I don’t think it was planned for Basso to get dropped on the descent. At least not by Basso.

    Nibali did burn a few matches to maintain his lead on the run-in, while Basso had the luxury of sitting on. In this case, I’m more interested in the intra-team battle between the two Liquigas riders.

  4. Skippy 23 May 2010 at 3:39 am #

    One wonders what was going through Cadel’s mind as he had to choose between Basso & Nibali, perhaps opted for safety?
    At stage finishes i note Cadel rarely puts in a BIG sprint for the placing which begs the question of whether there are “Time Bonuses on the placings”or as the winner is clear why waste energy to prove a point!
    Gratified that Richie survived the stage and limited the loss to 36sec, but wonder if the DS was watching Oroyo eating into the margin and if Richie’s team mates had enough in the tank to perhaps limit further the time loss, seeing Richie leading his team suggests they were happy to finish their day.
    In past years i have ridden that mountain and it is more brutal than the Tourmalet & Gallibier, certainly on a par with the Mortirolo for winding all over the place and i think it was here i had a tyre burst from overheating on the brakes on the descent, fortunately you do not build enough speed between corners to come to too much grief unlike on Alpe d’Huez descents!
    One thing i think was missed is that Silvo Smyd did the hauling most of the way up Mt Grappo and he is the workhorse who ensured Liquigas’s success , rested on the way down so look for him to put in another massive effort in the next days. How i wish Cadel had listened to me when i suggested him some years ago. Every team he is in benefits as he buries himself for his Captain!
    Cosmo it is clear to me that SBS & Thommo could use your talents, i watch him doing interviews at TDF & embarassing the racers by asking them what they think of him! Fact is they are not going to say something he will edit out! TRY posting comment to Cycling Central, if you can get the “validation button you will rarely see the posting, doesn’t matter the value of the content and it has cost me 40MB to d/load on several occasions and where i live i get 20bit/sec too much of the time!
    Got to go the repeat of Giro is now on Eurospot starting at 44.5km & wiggo in the picture, what an Epic Etappe it was!


  5. Sean 23 May 2010 at 7:18 am #

    Got agree Skippy, Thommo is an embarrassment to Australian cycling. I really wish he would just go away and get Keenan on instead.

    I also agree with Cyclocosm. I haven’t seen a major tour as unpredictable and exciting as this years Giro. Last years TdF, was anti-climax after anti-climax of mountain stages with no real attacking or sticking their necks out. Sitting up till 1 or 2 in the morning to see 20 or 30 guys roll in was disappointing. Hopefully next year we can get the giro live and we’ll be cheering.

  6. Sebastian 23 May 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    I think there’s a difference between a situation where there are major time gaps between major contenders and a situation like this one where there’s a big time gap between the best riders (who are still close to each other on time) and a small group of non-favorites. This situation is ideal for attacking because the main favorites A) know they have to do something to pull back time on a crowd of weaker men, but also B) know that the time gaps between themselves are small and open to rewriting. It’s sort of the best of both worlds: there are big gaps that force initiative to be taken, yet these gaps are not actually between the GC favorites, which mean none of the GC favorites can afford to ride defensively.

    (Of course, things are now a bit more spaced out now that the Zoncolan stage just ended.)

    Also, I think that the group finish at Big Bear Lake was mostly a function of the climb’s not being steep enough. This is one problem with running mountain stages in the western U.S. Many major roads in the Sierra Nevadas and the Rockies are build like highways — big broad freeways blasted through the hillsides. (Indeed, the English Eurosport commentator was constantly expressing his shock: “They’ve destroyed half the mountain to make this road!”) Back in the days of the Coors Classic you would get guys like Davis Phinney and Dag-Otto Lauritzen arriving in the winning groups at “mountaintop” finishes like Squaw Valley and Truckee. To get steep, twisty, Euro-style roads you need to stick to the smaller hills. The climbs that they do whenever they criss-cross Napa County (Trinity, Oakville, Howell Mountain) only go up to about 1500-2000 feet, but are significantly more technical, and you could design a great stage the loops around the area and hits four of five of them.

  7. juheesus! 24 May 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    Many major roads in the Sierra Nevadas and the Rockies are build like highways — big broad freeways blasted through the hillsides

    I think the organizer’s money interests played a bigger part in picking the gentle roads. I doubt AEG wants to go so far East where the long, steep climbs are plentiful. Criss-crossing the coastal hills is way more cost-effective.

    The Sierra Nevadas are FULL of category 1 potential. Especially if they had the balls to add dirt roads to the courses. Are they as tight as a European road? Not south of Mammoth Lakes. Are they steep and long? For sure. The history of the Southern region also plays into their decision too. Ever since Owen Mulholland stole their water, the region is written off as ‘hostile’ and ‘resource constrained.’

  8. kkhart 24 May 2010 at 1:41 pm #

    Unless they move the ToCA to September they can’t go up to the real Sierra roads in northern CA – still too much snow this time of year (we are talking 9 + feet). So they are stuck in SoCal. Which I find odd since the whole point of moving it from Feb was to be able to get the mountain roads. So they move it to May, where it still rains, there is still too much snow AND it interferes with the Giro. Geesh!

  9. cthulhu 24 May 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    kkhart: spot on…

  10. Ivano 6 February 2011 at 11:33 am #

    The last time I a raced through mountain road of Quebec I seriously tested my self , even my polar cs200cad heart monitor showed 95 heart bits per minute. You never want underestimate the weather or the road.

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