Friday, July 10, 2009

Post stage 6 Tour update

It has been interesting watching the performance of Astana in the tour so far. Tradition says that the team of the Yellow Jersey are the marshals of the peleton and are responsible for pace making until other teams self-interest propel them to the front. Deals can be made between teams saying "I'll help you with pace now but you have to help me later". But amongst all that the Yellow Jersey team are supposed to be the organising and controlling force in the peleton.

Saxo Bank have had the Yellow Jersey since the prologue, but for the most part Astana have been behaving as if they have the Jersey. Not only because Astana done their fair share of pace setting, but also because of their behaviour in the peleton. When a narrow dangerous road approaches, Astana jump on the front and ride tempo to string the peleton out and make it safer. Last night (obviously day where the tour is) when they had a simple climb with a tricky descent, again Astana hit the front and rode tempo up the climb. They weren't looking to hurt people on the climb, more to string out the peleton so they could block the road on the descent and force the peleton to descend slowly and safely. All things Saxo Bank could have done, but seem happy to leave to Astana.

This behaviour is typical of a Johan/Lance team. Very dominant and bullying when necessary to ensure their GC contenders face the minimum possible risk. It's this attention to detail and building such a strong team that won Lance 7 tours. Lance is also the ultimate team leader. If you watch the team time trial, you will notice that when Lance peeled off the front of the group he would be talking to each team member as he drifted to the back. A couple of times I noticed him pace a team mate for a few seconds, up on his toes yelling encouragement to them. I didn't see any of the other team leaders do that.

So what does all this mean for the tour? The first stage in the Pyrenees tonight is a tough one with a very high mountain top finish. The Pyrenees are generally considered a little easier than the Alps and so you wouldn't expect the race to be won or lost tonight, but foundations could be laid.

Logically, this is how the stage should go:
  • Astana set the pace over the early climbs and at the base of the last so that it is difficult for the other GC contenders to break away.
  • Saxo Bank lets them.
  • A pure climber with little GC hopes may get away on the early climbs and Astana will let him go, although they may try and get Kloden up the road with one of them.
  • Other GC contenders attack on the final climb as they need to pull back some of the time lost in the TTT.
  • Cancellera battles valiantly to hold onto yellow but loses time in the last 3-5 klms.
  • Armstrong and Contador watch all the GC contenders and just cover their attacks. Neither of them attack unless the other GC contenders are showing extreme weakness.
  • The majority of the GC contenders end up crossing the line together.

The one thing that may throw the cat among the pigeons is the dispute over team leadership at Astana. Armstrong has been seemingly taunting Contador in the press about his lack of leadership and how maybe the strongest rider is actually the strongest leader. He has been suggesting that Contador needs to attack this climb to take leadership of the team. He is effectively saying "hey Alberto, I have your team, if you're man enough come and get it".

Now this could be brilliant mind games by Armstrong, getting Contador worried about him and pressuring him into making rash attacks and burning energy wastefully. It would be a very Armstrong thing to do and would demonstrate how much of a master tactically he is. Of course it is also possible that the whole thing is a ruse by Armstrong and Johan to draw attention to Armstrong, confuse the opposition teams and give Contador the best chance possible. I reckon the former but would not be shocked if the latter turned out to be true.

We may well find out which tonight!


  1. I don't see the intra-Astana battle being decided coming over the Pyrenees (unless Lance is a lot weaker than we're giving him credit for, in which case he'll be goneski) but I do see a couple of pretenders from other teams being burned off and put in their place.

    I see the Basque nutters going for glory though.

  2. It shouldn't be decided tonight, but Lance has been egging Contador on so maybe he is hoping for something rash. If Contador does attack tonight without a really good reason, then he is a fool.

    Pyrenees, Basque nutters going ballastic, it's a given really.

  3. An insightful piece - I didn't expect that of you!! j/k!

    Hopefully Punter will have his double by the time stage 7 is decided. Will be interesting to see how the Astana battle pans out!

  4. Lerm - I am not just incredibly good looking but smart too. It's not fair really.