If All You Have Is A Hammer

Jul 17 2010

I just finished reading an article about how Alberto Condator has matured as a rider, and frankly, I don’t agree. While I don’t want fall in with the masses who criticized his attack at Verbier last year (just ask Saxo how “burdensome” that GC lead has been this Tour), I do think—to borrow a phrase—that Contador sees every problem as a nail. Fortunately, the guy is pretty damn good at swinging a hammer.

The final 5 minutes of Stage 12 yesterday (I’d post video, but since the ASO wants to throw down again, I’m gonna hold off on that for the moment) give a pretty good example of where I see the Spaniard’s shortcomings. Condator likes the Monte Laurent Jalabert, Andy Schleck does not. Clearly, this finish should have been near the top of the list of places to Contador to take time out of the Luxemburger, and if he really did talk tactics with Vino’, something should have been planned for this climb before the stage.

But that’s not really what happened—at least it sure doesn’t look that way. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say once Vinokourov got clear in the move of the day, the Official Astana Game Plan was for the Kazakh to try and win, for Pistolero to sit back and monitor Schleck, and for the rest of the squad to enjoy a day of doing nothing on Vino’s tab.

My basis for this is that Alberto’s actions in the final 4km that day seemed like someone fumbling to attain the three simultaneously impossible goals of winning a stage, cutting into Schleck’s lead, and respecting his teammate. Examine the Paris-Nice video: Contador starts spooning out the hurt around the stiff, sharp bends 1.7km from the top of the climb. Today, he went only a few hundred meters down—hardly an ideal amount of real estate for one to open a GC-relevant gap.

Perhaps more tellingly, Contador’s attack doesn’t come until Joaquim Rodriguez pulls out a legitimate amount of space to threaten Vino’ with recapture—I’m guessing for the plausible deniability of marking Rodriguez’s move, but the constant head-turning to monitor Schleck’s position betray an ulterior motive.

After bridging to Rodriguez, Contador doesn’t really pull through—more deniability for any post-race discussion—until, that is, he realizes motorbikes, narrow roads and Andreas Kloeden could form a road blind that might obscure him from Schleck’s field of vision. Alberto dives into the gap, and pulls Rodriguez up to Vino’. Now it’s decision time, and if I have to pick a place where Contador looked worst, it’s here.

Rather than attempt to work with Vino, Contador dances away, pulling himself and Rodriguez clear. While you can’t say what would have happened with any accuracy, Vino alone still wasn’t slow enough for the Schleck group to bring back (he finished seven seconds ahead), and Vino’ with Contador and Rodriguez almost certainly would have been faster than the two Spaniards alone. And if a bigger gap isn’t a given, the improved tactical situation of a 2-on-1 would have made the Astana stage win far more likely.

Still, as Vino’ churned away after Contador went past, he was continuing to build his gap on Schleck. Here’s a still frame from just outside the final KM, showing the amount of clean road between Rodriguez/Contador and Vino—and keep in mind, Schleck is still further back. But coming into the line, Contador begins talking to Rodriguez, turning his head, sitting up, and trying to get tactical for the final sprint to the line, and even then, he failed to take it.

In the end, Contador achieved no real success in any of his objectives. While ten seconds isn’t a bad take—it’s nearly 25% of Schleck’s current advantage and entire Tours have been decided by smaller margins—it’s also less than he would have made up ignoring the stage win entirely. And if Vino’s bar-pounding as he crossed the line was any indication, there was—until Vino’s fantastic win in Revel today—slightly less goodwill on the Astana team bus.

While Contador did show a bit more nuance in his responses to, and eventual cooperation with the attacks of Andy Schleck on Stage 9, I think it’s a bit of an overstatement to say he’s “matured”. When he learns to negotiate a conundrum like Friday’s finale with a bit more elegance—and a far more positive result—I think then we’ll be able to say that Pistolero has finally come of age.

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23 Responses to “If All You Have Is A Hammer”

  1. DJ 18 July 2010 at 5:50 am #

    Ummm Cosmo, although I do agree that Contador could have handled stage 12 with more grace and am very glad that Vino got redemption (eurosport was talking vengeance but that was more Tour than Contador related) on stage 13 – how many grand tour wins would it take for a rider to come of age? In other words: do you think Contador will ever be as graceful and calculated as one would might like him to be? And if he is, wouldn’t watching stages like stage 12 be a little less fun and provide far less copy for the cycling press?

  2. Chester 18 July 2010 at 5:56 am #

    I don’t see it as so much “when he learns to,” but “when he needs to learn to.”

  3. cosmo 18 July 2010 at 7:54 am #

    @DJ – not arguing that the guy doesn’t win races, and when on form, isn’t the best stage racer in the world. But “accelerate” is still his answer to pretty much every problem.

    When I talk about maturity and coming of age, I mean learning to make tactics as much a part of his victories as raw ability. I think his overestimation at Fleche-Wallonne this year would have been far less likely if he’d kept a closer eye on what more veteran riders were doing, rather than trying to take it away early like Monte Jalabert.

    But as Chester mentions, it probably won’t happen until “accelerate” stops being an effective solution in the races he really focuses on.

  4. Pedro 18 July 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    I think Contador was expecting to catch Vino on the top of the climb; not when there were still 200 meters to reach it. If the manouver had turned out well, Vino could help Contador to open the gap to Schleck on the last kilometer and against two Astana riders, it would be very hard for ‘Purito’ Rodríguez to take the stage.

    Nevertheless, Contador also said that he felt that Andy wasn’t doing well (Andy himself later confessed that he was indeed having a bad day) and that was why he decided to attack.

    I honestly think that Contador is a more mature rider nowadays – today’s stage somehow proves it, don’t you think? I believe the ‘old’ Contador would not resist seeing Samu Sánchez and Menchov going away and not doing nothing…

  5. Koke 19 July 2010 at 4:03 am #

    Thank you for using my photo on your blog. Feel free to use any of my gallery, respecting the creatice commons license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en_US

    Quoting the author and not modifying the photo.

    My gallerie: http://www.flickr.com/photos/koke000/

  6. DJ 19 July 2010 at 11:57 am #

    And now today Alberto dropped the hammer when Andy dropped his chain…sure to elicit some more comments! (although dropping the hammer may be too strong – it seems he just didn’t wait…I have yet to see the footage)

  7. Beedee 19 July 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    No fair play from Contador today, a sure indication that the maturation some have cited is an illusion..I hope Andy burns with vengeance and furious anger.. And smites Bertie but good tomorrow up Tourmalet..

  8. Jan 19 July 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    Sorry, but I don’t agree. It’s a race, after all – and can you imagine everybody waiting every time someone punctures on the Roubaix cobbles? Maybe it’s just not the same, TdF is more about a media hype than being a proper race like the classics, but in my opinion luck has as much to do with it as other things. No one waited for Evans at the Vuelta last year, either.

    Having said that, I hope Andy can come back stronger now that he needs to attack, gain 1:30 or more on Contador and maybe even win the Tour.

  9. Robot 19 July 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    I think Contador is an insecure rider. I think he feels the need to remind everyone constantly that he’s stronger, whether those reminders serve any real purpose or not. At root, he’s just not a tactical rider, and he may never be. I see him more in the Hinault mold, always attacking and being a general pain-in-the-ass for rivals and teammates alike.

  10. Oliver 19 July 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    This entry is like good wine: it gets better with age! (See the goings on of today’s stage 15…).

  11. RMM 19 July 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    When you are the strongest rider in the peloton, you don’t have to learn tactics. We can all remember phenomes who blasted through the cat 4’s and then the 3’s based on superior fitness only to thwarted repeatedly when they reached the 2’s. These riders then either learn to race tactically or they stop progressing and/or quit racing in frustration. Maybe having a radio in his ear and the legs is all Contador has ever needed; maybe it is all he’ll ever need.

    As for class, the jury is out. It is a bike race after all, had he waited, everyone would love him, if he waited and then got Shlecked for the yellow jersey, we’d call him a chump.

  12. Lawdog436 19 July 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    I can’t hold it against Contador for not waiting. You had Menchov and Sanchez right there and they weren’t holding up. I think it might have been different if it was Contador and Andy and some way back GC riders. Then Contador might have held up. We’ll never know, and it is the TDF after all.

  13. todd 19 July 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    Lawdog – Gimmie a break. If Contador has waited (slowed, motioned for others to slow etc), Menchov and Sanchez would also have waited. Not only did he not wait, he actually was gapped (by a small margin) when Schleck’s chain dropped and only attacked ONCE he say Schleck stop. Anotherwords, it’s not like he was already up the road and didn’t realize what happened (a la Ulrich and the mussete bag). He saw the whole thing happen and chose to capitalize. I can’t completely blame him for it but to me it confirms what I thought of him – bad teammate, questionable sportsman, not a “great” champion. The greats make sure there’s no question they kicked your ass. Capitalizing on a dropped chain when you’ve just been gapped leaves a lot to question.

  14. DJ 19 July 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    I promise I’ll shut up after this but…
    – Puncturing or crashing because of a spectator who’s waving a musette is mostly plain bad luck. So it is very nice if people decide to wait for the unlucky fellow. Dropping a chain, especially with today’s high end gear (betya SRAM is NOT going to use this incident in their next advertising campaign), is most likely caused by a technical mistake of the rider. Knowing how to change gears whilst putting max pressure on your chain surely is part of the sport and so whether or not one should wait in circumstances like this…I think Contador, nor the others, had to wait for Schleck here. If Schleck is infuriated enough to kick some serious ass on the next two stages all the better.
    – Any idea what jersey Contador would be riding in tomorrow had it not been for his attack on the Monte Laurent Jalabert? Oliver’s #10 comment is spot on!

  15. ES 19 July 2010 at 10:57 pm #

    Too bad Schleck isn’t a better bike handler, then we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. If he were competent in something other than climbing, he would have: a) known better than to shift under heavy lode and b) descended well enough to not lose the jersey. Looking forward to Saturday’s TT, as it will likely make today’s gains meaningless.

  16. ken 20 July 2010 at 1:11 am #

    You guys amaze me. There is no question this guy is and never will be one of the great champions. I do not care how many times he wins. He has solidified my opinion with today’s out right lies that he did not know “he was having mechanical”, and his statement that I was already in my attack (he was not in an attack he was 2 people back and on the defensive). The man has no integrity no matter how many Youtube videos he posts. He is a looser to me and can never erase todays proof. Shame on you who are defending him!

  17. ken 20 July 2010 at 1:22 am #

    I can not wait for Cyclcosm’s next post on Stage 15. Let the debates begin!

  18. Sebastian 20 July 2010 at 9:46 am #

    I was really disappointed with what transpired yesterday. I’ve always liked Contador because he seems like a quiet guy who shows respect for others with his words and lets his legs alone do the trash-talking. People have been trying to find reasons to hate him for a while — e.g. those B.S. accusations of unsportsmanlike behavior at last year’s Tour. But I think that Contador may finally have served up some legitimate red meat here. We’ll see if the future brings more of this behavior . . . I think that Robot may be right, and that Contador may have a basic insecurity that inclines him toward impulsive attacks whose purpose is to demonstrate authority more than to achieve tactical ends.

  19. kkhart 20 July 2010 at 10:11 am #

    @ Jan
    Yes, it is a competition, but one with certain conventions – if the only thing that mattered was being first we would not have the various jerseys – the winner would be the same for mountains, sprints, stages – it would be balls out get first everywhere every time.

    So, yes, Contador should not have attacked. No one says stop, just don’t attack.

    Agree with Cosmo, Contador matured? Not so much.

  20. fireworkboy 20 July 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    Contador was plain wrong to attack Scleck; as Sean Kelly said, it would have been his right to go with Sanchez, had he gone, but to initiate an attack was not sportsmanlike. It’s the Tour De France, not Whacky Races – there’s honour at stake – even if sportsmanship has become a rare commodity in other sports…

    It’s a pity and not only for Schleck, as Bertie will probably keep the jersey, and this incident will marr his win. People booed him on the podium yesterday. He’s perhaps the best rider in the world, but he’s yet to learn how to be a champion.

    Fingers crossed Andy can drop him on Thursday. Unlikely, though, isn’t it? Might be game over right there, and one of the great unwritten rules of the TdF weakened. What’s next? Attack whilst your rival’s having a piss? It’s a shame.

  21. harlond 20 July 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    I think Ryder Hesjdal nailed it when he said, “if you draw your sword and drop it, you’re dead.”

  22. Duane Thune 20 May 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Hello, Really great wonderful post. Thank you very much for your detailed information. Best Regards

  23. Osteo 9 July 2011 at 10:35 pm #

    Judging by the way he had a hissy-fit and tossed his bike a few days ago (sponsors love this I’m sure) I would say he hasn’t matured that much..

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