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TdF Stage 14: an off topic rant

Road Bike 11 59

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.

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  1. cp July 20, 2009 at 9:04 pm -  Reply

    Garmin more or less lost one of their two GC contenders on 15. Karma?

  2. aroonietoons July 20, 2009 at 9:06 pm -  Reply

    Dude, that's bike racing. I watched the stage live and some of the replay and as near as I can tell the four Garmin riders weren't taking long pulls to drive the chase. I believe Matt White when he says he ordered his guys up front to avoid missing a gap as had happened a couple of times to them this tour. With the sprinters gearing up for the Green Jersey fight a brake in the field was possible and seconds count – just ask Hinault about '89.

    I totally wanted to see Hincapie in Yellow, because there isn't a more deserving guy, but like I said that's bike racing.

  3. Anonymous July 20, 2009 at 9:27 pm -  Reply

    You're welcome to talk about anything bicycle related. Seriously though, I think with design topics all the time, your blog gets a little dry. Mix and match sometimes.

  4. Anonymous July 20, 2009 at 11:45 pm -  Reply

    Garmin didn't need Columbia riding to protect Hincapie today, which would make life easier for Astana. AG2R was spent, so letting them keep yellow hurt Astana. Nothing to do with Hincapie personally, or Columbia.

    It wouldn't have hurt Hincapie to drive a little harder for most of the last 15k. As in: you don't get what you don't earn yourself, and stop whining, it's unseemly.

  5. Baublehead July 20, 2009 at 11:55 pm -  Reply

    Agree with the last post. Garmin needed to keep pressure on Astana because they hold all the cards. Why not use two non-gc riders to for a bit to make Astana ride more tempo the next day knowing AG2R could not?

    Seems like good tactics to me.

  6. John the Monkey July 21, 2009 at 2:42 am -  Reply

    Anonymous – "Garmin didn't need Columbia riding to protect Hincapie today, which would make life easier for Astana. AG2R was spent, so letting them keep yellow hurt Astana. Nothing to do with Hincapie personally, or Columbia."

    Is spot on. The other teams don't/didn't need Astana getting help from Columbia on the front. I'd have liked to see GH in yellow too, personally, but Columbia's apparent sense of entitlement, and outrage that other teams would act in their own self interest (as opposed to the interests of Astana and Columbia) is baffling.

    I do wish that Garmin would come out and say as much though, as they seem to be getting a lot of the hate from Columbia over this.

  7. James July 21, 2009 at 10:55 am -  Reply

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I was hoping when I posted this that I would hear from a few people with opposing viewpoints. I wrote the post after watching stages 14 and 15 back to back and admittedly my point of was slightly biased. That said, I still believe that the Garmin/Columbia (or Stapleton/Vaughters) rivalry was a big part of the reason that the Garmin riders were pulling. I just don’t (completely) buy Matt White’s explanation that he only wanted his guys in a good position at the front for the final kilometers. If that were the case, why did Zabriskie write on Twitter following the stage that the riders were “Pawns in their game”? Wiggins made a similar comment saying that he didn’t understand what went on. Zabriskie and Hincapie are friends, so maybe Dave felt compelled to write something like that…I don’t know. Certainly there are different ways to look at it, but I DO still believe that inter-team politics had as much or more to do with the finish as true race tactics did.

    As arnietoons said though, “that’s bike racing.” I certainly don’t want racing to become predictable. Better to have stages like this one than boring scripted races. By the way, arnietoons, you meant ask Hinault about ’86 not ‘89, right? Or were you referring to Fignon in ’89? Either way, both were great Tours that I remember well. In fact, watching the TV coverage of that final time trial in ’89 was one of the most exciting Tour moments that I can remember.

    dré, thanks for that VeloNews link. It is interesting to read all of those reactions in one place.

    Keep the comments coming. I am interested in everyone’s take on this.

  8. Anonymous July 21, 2009 at 10:25 pm -  Reply

    Sorry , Guys you can defend Garmin's pointless attack . But I wondering what Garmin is defending as they're going to lose anyway . Not that giving your best isn't the right way to race regardless . Some realistic tactics would help . Up until Saturday I was a Garmin Slipstream fan , was . Oh yeah , I didn't start following The Tour this year , I rooted on the Cannibal when he was still winning Tours .So don't just say bad tactics and pettiness is " bike racing " blow smoke some where else . Anyone can come up with excuses for bad behavior be they three years old or president of the United States .
    Random Ray

  9. Anonymous July 22, 2009 at 3:37 am -  Reply

    *cough* Stick to posting about cute yuppie designer bikes that don't work. 🙂

  10. aroonietoons July 22, 2009 at 4:10 pm -  Reply

    Man, I always get '86 and '89 Tour lore mixed up. Yeah, I meant Fignon.

    No matter what your job we've all been snaked by someone and probably also snaked someone for credit, a promotion, etc… It sucks, but that's how competition works. So if Garmin were trying to keep Hincapie out of yellow then I'll stick with my original assertion of that's bike racing.

    That being said, Zabriskie, CVV, Millar and Wiggins all live in Girona with Hincapie and train with him and are friends/friendly with him. Matt White went to battle with Hincapie in Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Roubaix for a few years when both were on Postal. I can't see any of them putting the screws to Hincapie for the sake of team rivalry. But yeah, that doesn't explain Zabriskie's tweet.

    I just found out that my fellow Canuck Michael Barry has his take posted on Velonews:

    P.S. I love the design posts, but it is nice that you mixed it up with a race commentary.

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