As I watched Stage 8 yesterday, I thought the best part of this year’s Tour is that it is an actual race. What I mean by this is there is no clear rider, or team, that is the obvious winner on the first serious mountain stage – as has been the case in recent years.
Lance Armstrong (Radio Shack) had a rough day yesterday, with three crashes. The first one was his fault. In post-race interviews he said he clipped a pedal on the turn, sending himself and others down. This crash caused the team to do some chasing to catch the peloton before the climb, a costly crash indeed. Armstrong ended up behind two other crashes. Neither one caused him to hit the pavement with his body - but the third one did force him off the bike. He claims his Tour podium prospects are over, which means he will support team mate Levi Leipheimer.
Andy Schleck put the hammer down near the finish line and Alberto Contador couldn’t match the pace. This kind of power move ignites the Saxo Bank team with energy and sends all others back to the planning table, most notably Contador’s Astana team.
There were questions pre-race, whether or not the Astana team could support Contador. They seemed to support him quite nicely; he just couldn’t match the power of Schleck.
Staying somewhat under the radar, until now, Cadel Evans (BMC) has been riding a solid Tour. Like Armstrong, Evans contributed skin to the pavement yesterday; but he was able to ride strong through the end of Stage 8, putting him in the leader’s yellow jersey.
Looking at the overall standings, there are six riders within two minutes of Cadel Evans and 13 riders within three minutes. More than likely, the winner of the Tour will come from the current top 14 riders.
Sitting at number 14 on the GC (general classification) is Bradley Wiggins. His SKY team put in a huge effort on the climb yesterday at a time when Armstrong was suffering most. An interesting move, especially given the effort didn’t help Wiggins. Who called that move and what were they thinking? Maybe they just wanted to crush Armstrong? Perhaps they think SKY and Wiggins can make a move on Tuesday’s Stage 9?
I would love to hear the team discussions going on today, a much needed day off. The Col de Madeleine, the first HC (French for hors catégorie, a climb beyond categorization) will surely be a place where teams will try to make a move. There are many strong teams in this year’s Tour so look for at least seven of them to be making moves on the Madeleine.
The big question is if a team can push the pace with the intention of putting their designated leader in a position to gain time on the GC leader board, can that person deliver?
Right now, there is no clear-cut strong man, or team, of the Tour. Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a race!
There are several great things about this year’s Tour de France, one of which is the sport is collecting new fans. Some fans are not cyclists at all, but true sports fans. Others are primarily recreational cyclists, but now they are fired up about the game of racing.
I received several good e-mails after Stage 7 from some Tour de France newbies that all boiled down to these this question:
• Why is everyone so down on Contador, isn’t the point of any race to try to win the race?
This is a reasonable question for a casual observer to ask. Let me try to boil a very complicated situation down to a few key points:
1. Bike racing at this level is a job. Each racer on each of the teams was hired for a particular job or role on the team. It is similar to you being hired to a job because of your skill and talents.
2. Thedirecteur sportiff(Johan Bruyneel in the case of Team Astana) is the boss. The DS of each team is essentially responsible for the performance of the team and they must manage strategy and team tactics. These issues are often discussed more than once per day and can change as the race unfolds. If you work for someone else, you know who the boss is. If you are the boss, well, you expect certain behaviors from your employees.
3. When the boss lays out a plan, it should be followed – unless there are extenuating circumstances. If there is something unusual or unexpected, riders will often make a decision or a move on the race course that does not follow the plan. It is generally expected that this move is for the benefit of the team. Using the workplace analogy, if an employee makes a decision to not follow the boss’s instructions there are typically consequences from the boss as well as other employees – assuming the boss and other employees do not see the benefit of the singular employee’s behavior.
4. Each job (and family) situation has certain codes of conduct that must be followed in order for it to function optimally. In the case of Stage 7, Lance was ahead of Contador in terms of time. Going up the hill, I think it was Popovych (Astana), Armstrong (Astana), Evans (Lotto) and Contador (Astana). Lance said that Contador did not ride to the team plan for that day (see point #3) by leapfrogging past Evans, Armstrong and Popovych to get ahead of the group (he attacked the group) and give himself valuable time against Armstrong. Contador claimed that he saw weakness in his competitors (Evans?) and decided to make a move. This kind of decision is normally acceptable, unless he: a) was given specific instructions to hold his current time gap and ride tempo for the day, b) he attacked his own team mates. The rumor mill says that he was given instructions to ride tempo for the day, hence the Armstrong statement that Contador did not ride to plan.
5. To win the Tour de France, said rider must have the support of his team. In any workplace or family situation, the boss can certainly reprimand the behavior of people that do not follow instructions. In some cases, worse than the boss’s reprimand, is the punishment that other team members (employees) deliver. If Contador has alienated team members by attacking his own team, life will not be easy for him in the upcoming stages. Just as Contador basically stepped in front of Lance and pushed him out of the way, so he could gain personal benefit – or make a personal statement – that behavior is very, very risky. It is particularly risky if Armstrong has been designated team leader behind closed doors or they have been truly assigned the role of dual team leaders.
It is possible that Contador sees this as a situation of him against the world (or at least Astana world) and he is willing to strike out. Rumors had him searching for another team (despite Astana public statements to the contrary) in the few weeks prior to the Tour, one where he could be the designated team leader rather than the “maybe, we’ll see” team leader. I can understand why he would take this chance.
That written, I think it is a big risk to defy your manager, publically attack team mates and defy some of the codes of cycling conduct. Even if you give the best explanation of, “Gee, I was only trying to help.” Whether the risk he took was worth any reward will be seen in about 11 days.
PS… I posted this link on Twitter where Bradley Wiggens says, "There could come a point when they get off the bike and start fighting each other - it could get as messy as that. They both look as strong as each other: Lance looks superb. And Contador looks brilliant as well."