– By Chris Carmichael –
Why did Saxo Bank feel compelled to chase a break containing Vinokourov when Alberto Contador is the team’s primary yellow jersey contender? Because you can’t hand a guy like Vino the yellow jersey in the second week of the Tour de France and assume you’ll ever get it off his back again. Plus, it wasn’t just Vino in the break. Andreas Kloden was there for Team Radioshack. He started the day nine minutes behind Andy Schleck, but he’s finished second in the Tour de France on two occasions. But perhaps the most dangerous man in the breakaway was Garmin-Transitions’ Ryder Hesjedal. He started the day in 12th place, 5:42 behind Andy Schleck and he’s the now the leader of the Garmin team. An 18-man breakaway has the horsepower to finish 10+ minutes ahead of the peloton if you don’t organize a solid chase, and you can’t let Vino, Kloden, and Hesjedal gain that much time at this point in the race.
There’s no sitting back in the bunch when a break containing Vino, Klodie, and Ryder goes clear.
Having Vinokourov in the breakaway was also a great tactic for Team Astana because it meant that the team was not obligated to chase the breakaway. If they had no riders in the break, it would have been in their best interest to make sure the main peloton caught the breakaway, but with Vinokourov among the 18 men out front, they had no incentive to chase. That helped the entire team – except Vinokourov – conserve energy while Saxo Bank had to call on every one of their riders to take hard pulls at the front of the peloton for hours on end. Similarly, Team Radioshack and Garmin-Transitions were saved the necessity of contributing to the chase.
Much of the stage was spent fighting to hold the wheel in front.
As the a result of their hard work, the gap to the breakaway never grew to more than about 4 minutes, but life in the main peloton was quite difficult for everyone. The pace was very high for a stage that could have been a moderate-intensity race, and there will be a lot of riders who will be feeling the sting of today’s ride in their legs tonight. It even proved to be too much for Tyler Farrar, the sprinter from Garmin-Transitions who has been racing with a broken wrist ever since Stage 2. It was sad to see him abandon the race, but you have to give him a massive amount of credit for racing 10 stages – and sprinting for top 5 finishes twice – with a broken wrist.
How much energy did Saxo Bank burn chasing today?
In the end, Saxo Bank was successful in keeping the gap to the breakaway small enough that the men in the breakaway were overtaken on the final climb to the finish – even Vinokorouv, who held on for third place. Katusha rider Joaquin Rodriguez was the biggest beneficiary of Saxo’s efforts because they gave him the opportunity to launch an attack on the final ascent. He was joined by Alberto Contador and he won the final sprint to the finish for a great stage win, but his team didn’t do any pacemaking work today either.
After everything Saxo did, their leader Andy Schleck lost 10 seconds to Alberto Contador, which isn’t a bad result on a climb as steep as the Montee Laurent Jalabert (yes, it’s named after that Laurent Jalabert). But you have to wonder whether the real damage done to Schleck today will become apparent in the days to come. The team burned a lot of energy chasing the breakaway in Stage 12, and that may make Schleck more vulnerable in the Pyrenees. Today may have been a body blow to Saxo Bank, to soften them up for a knockout punch later on.
• Chris Carmichael is Founder and CEO of Carmichael Training Systems and coach to Lance Armstrong. In 2010, CTS is celebrating its 10th Anniversary of being the premier destination for coaching, camps, and performance testing. For information on what CTS can do for your performance, visit www.trainright.com, call 866-355-0645, or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carmichaeltrainingsystems.