The high Alps, Part 1: Andy Schleck rides to a big win
By Dr Ross Tucker of Science of Sport
So if anyone saw today’s stage coming, I’d be very impressed. In case you missed it, Andy Schleck, one half of the Schleck brothers who had been widely criticized for their lack of aggression and attacking in the Pyrenees, attacked on the second to last climb of the day, with fully 60km to ride, and was able to first build the lead, then extend it, then defend it, and he won the day by just over 2 minutes from a group that contained brother Frank, Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso, and Thomas Voeckler, who produced enough to hold onto yellow by 15 seconds.
Andy Schleck moves into second overall, and Frank Schleck is third, 1:08 off Voeckler. Evans is still well positioned in fourth, 1:12 off Voeckler but only 57 seconds behind Andy Schleck and with the long individual time-trial to come, still looks a good chance to win this Tour overall.
Notably absent was Alberto Contador, who fell out of the chase group with just over a kilometer to ride, but who never looked particularly sharp throughout the stage.
Schleck attacked on the steep parts of the Col d’Izoard, 60km from the finish, and soon found himself a minute clear. Nobody in the group behind was chasing, and by the summit, his lead was over two minutes. On the descent, he opened up further time and put himself into virtual yellow, and still the urgency from behind was not apparent.
At 16km to go, it was 3:45. 14km to go, 4:01. At 12km, 4:08. It maxed out at around 4:24 with 10km to go, and then it gradually began to come down – it was Cadel Evans who led the chase, going to the front of a big group of over 30 riders and slowing eating into the lead. The steepest part of the climb was the final 8km and this is where the lead would come down more significantly.
Cadel Evans did all the work in the final 10km, and eventually, his efforts did reel Schleck back in somewhat. But Schleck climbed at a strong pace for most of the climb, conceding perhaps 5 to 10 seconds per kilometer, and it was a question of how much time he’d gain, with the stage win already secured.
The final kilometer saw Schleck finally pay for his long, solo effort. Having had a 2:38 advantage with 1 km to go, Schleck finished up winning the stage by ‘only’ 2:07. He thus lost a full 31 seconds in the final kilometer (having lost 52 seconds in the first 7 km), and that was enough to allow Thomas Voeckler to claw back control of the yellow jersey, for at least one more day.
In the end, then, Schleck was the big winner today, of course. But, it’s interesting to note that he climbed the steep Galibier (8.3km) about 1:45 slower than the chase group (give or take timing errors – I haven’t had the time to manually time it, just yet. Maybe later tonight).
That’s obviously because his effort was spread out over the Izoard, the descent, and the more gradual climb of the Lauteret, whereas the chase group really only rode aggressively in the final 10km of the race. All in all, a great ride by Andy Schleck, and perhaps opportunistic is the word for it, because he capitalized on the race situation. However, having said this, I still find myself agreeing with Chris Boardman, who tweeted “I am speechless at these tactics” when he referred to the chase and how lacking in urgency it was on the easier descents and flatter parts of the day.
The chase tactics and a lack of urgency
Not to take anything away from Andy Schleck, but the urgency in the chase was noticeably absent today. Schleck was thus the beneficiary of a game of ‘poker’ behind him, with none of the leading riders wanting, perhaps, to risk expending energy over so long a period to pull him back.
And this is partly understandable, of course – it’s a risk to pull everyone along and be beaten in the final climb. No GC teams wants to do work and lose out in the final reckoning. But the problem is that it wasn’t necessarily about charging on up the road to eat into the 2 minute lead that Schleck was allowed to gain on the Col d’Izoard. Nor was it about going to the front on the Col du Lauteret to get Andy back before the summit with really aggressive riding. All it needed was upping the pace just slightly, showing some urgency, to hold the lead to say 3 minutes, rather than the 4:30 it got to on the easier part of the race (the descent and gradual slopes of the Lauteret), so that the time gaps could be controlled.
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