I just got back from a couple of days in the mountains of Western North Carolina with my family. It was nice to get away without a computer for a bit, but I did miss out on a couple of really good Tour stages this weekend. I am all caught up watching Tour coverage now though and based on Contador’s incredible performance in yesterday’s stage, we are in for an exiting final week. Race commentary is not the focus of this blog, but after just watching stages 14 and 15, I want to quickly share my thoughts on the stage that took place on Saturday.
George Hincapie makes his home here in Greenville, SC, so like many of the cycling fans in town I was really hoping to see him in yellow when the Tour rolled into Besançon. I watched live coverage of the first half of the stage Saturday morning and I thought that I knew how the race was going to end. As you can imagine, I was quite surprised when I found out that George missed the yellow jersey by just 5 seconds. After watching a replay of the entire race, I was even more surprised to see how it all went down. Quite a few people, including Hincapie himself in the post race interview, seemed to be a bit upset with Astana for riding at the front of the peloton for much of the stage. Understandably George was quite disappointed immediately after the stage, but I do think Astana had a legitimate reason to control the tempo for much of the race. Even thought they did not have the yellow jersey at that point, it was in their best interest to somewhat manage the time gap and maintain control of the race. I really do believe, as Armstrong and Bruyneel have said several times since, that allowing Hincapie to take the lead by around a minute was Astana’s intention. Sure, in retrospect they could have ridden a little slower tempo and left a slightly bigger time gap, but overall their tactics in the stage made sense to me.
The pace that Astana maintained would have been just right to place their three top-5 placed riders a minute or so behind Hincapie going into stage 15 had Garmin-Slipstream director Matt White not ordered his riders to the front to chase the breakaway group in the final kilometers. Garmin had no clear objective with the chase beyond preventing George from taking the yellow jersey, so it seemed like a petty move. Not just petty though…from a tactical standpoint it seemed like a bad idea. Why would Garmin want to waste so much energy helping AG2R hold on to the jersey a day longer when a tough, potentially race changing stage was coming up next? Hincapie is not a GC contender and would have only led the race by a small margin going into the mountains, so I just don’t see how aggressively chasing the break in the final kilometers could have benefited Garmin at all. Why not leave the chase to AG2R and conserve that energy to help Wiggins and Vande Velde in stage 15 where everyone knew the real action was going to take place? Why do I even care you might ask? Well, in addition to being a local pro, George is a nice guy who is well respected and liked in the peloton. That is certainly part of the reason that I would have liked to see him wearing yellow for a day. More than that though, it bothered me to see one American team chasing down another American team for no reason other than silly personal rivalries between the directors/managers/owners. Wouldn’t it have been good for cycling in the U.S. as a whole to have Hincapie wearing yellow at the Tour for a day? If so, why did Garmin feel the need to work so hard to prevent that from happening? I certainly don’t blame the riders who were following orders to chase the break at the very end, but I did lose some respect for Vaughters, White, and the entire Garmin-Slipstream organization. Oh well, what is done is done, but I won’t be surprised if this move turns out to be one that they regret later in the race.
Like I said before, race coverage is not what this blog is about, so you can expect normal bicycle design related content to resume with my next post. This has been a really great Tour so far though…one of the best that I can remember in a long time. I definitely have a case of Tour fever at this point and am looking forward to an exciting final week with Alpine stages, a time trial, Mont Ventoux, and the final day on the Champs-Élysées. I just wish I could be there to see it all in person…maybe next year.
Photo: One of my shots of Hincapie from the 2008 Tour de Georgia.