The moment the race was won

Monday, 5 March 2012

Everyone knew crosswinds could blow the peloton to pieces. But when it happened most could only watch as the others rode away.

Once a gap opens up, closing it is very difficult, normally only the strongest rouleurs can manage. Up front the pace is intense as the leaders know they have everyone else in trouble. As you can see there is next to no shelter from the wind on such exposed terrain.

At first Garmin – Barracuda and Omega Pharma – Quickstep drove the pace so hard there were only 11 riders in the lead group. This swelled to 30 riders at one point then crashes and the fierce pace saw several riders dropped. In the end a select group of 21 riders made it to the finish of Stage 2 in Paris-Nice and Tom Boonen won. Thanks to his clever positioning, team support and excellent form, he made the front group. They say it was his one hundredth win as a pro but others have him on 101 already.

Note Boonen was one of the few riders able to follow Fabian Cancellara’s attack in windy conditions during the Tour of Qatar and later he was able to follow Sep Vanmarcke in the Het Nieuwsblad when most couldn’t.

Other winners today include Bradley Wiggins who takes the yellow jersey – he also pipped Valverde in the intermediate sprint to take three bonus seconds – and other contenders for the overall like Levi Leipheimer, Alejandro Valverde and Tejay Van Garderen all boosted their chances.

Note Rabobank missed the move. Normally the team provoking the selection, this time they missed out. I think they had a rider or two in the successful move but they crashed out.

For the overall the biggest losers today were Andy Schleck, Rein Taaramae and Janez Brajkovic who all finished in the third peloton and conceded over ten minutes.

Taaramae at least is in excellent form and now has the chance to aim for stage wins but his Cofidis team will be feeling nervous given they have yet to receive an invitation to the Tour de France. Worse for the French team they are in last place on the team overall classification and will drive tomorrow with the team car at the very back of the race convoy.

Playvelo March 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm

I love that picture.

Tomorrow’s finish looks like it has a 200m climb at the end. Valverde your favorite? I could see him winning but it doesn’t look like it is high enough or long enough for a large time gap to develop.

Q March 5, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Does anyone know who Garmin is riding for? Based on their roster for this race, I would have guessed Le Mevel, but he finished way down today. Did he crash out of the front group?

It’s early in the season, but Andy Schleck missing the selection seems like the same kind of problems he’s had in the past. He and his team need to be there in these situations to win the Tour.

On the other hand, looking at the classics riders who did make the selection points to an exciting spring: Boonen is clearly on form, Vanmarcke is showing his recent success was no fluke, and Phinney is showing he’s strong enough to live up to the huge expectations put on him.

Bundle March 5, 2012 at 9:49 pm

I dont’ see why Monfort was pulling up front, with Frank Schleck and Klöden struggling behind, but it was an amazing race. Tommeke was superb. There’s a guy with a passion for cycling.

Martin March 5, 2012 at 10:02 pm

When I see the peloton split like this, I often wonder if there’s any animosity toward the riders who lose the wheel of the chap in front of them and causes the break? It seems different to a bunch of riders going off the front in a normal break and other riders choosing not to go with them.

Robert Merkel March 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm

“For the overall the biggest losers today were Andy Schleck, Rein Taaramae and Janez Brajkovic who all finished in the third peloton and conceded over ten minutes.”

Isn’t this just typical Andy Schleck?

The guy just cruises around (in relative terms) for everything but the Tour and the Ardennes.

michael March 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm

From what I managed to see it sure looks like that wily old vet Andreas Klier is the one who noted the change in road direction and wind and told VanMarck to get ready to put on a show ;)

Boonen later said after the stage that he was not in position when the Garmin boys hit the gas and just barely made the selection, pulling Leipheimer along with him. Likewise for Van Garderen, who got dragged to the front by Phinney who was a real workhorse today.

Lastly, Wiggins is just absolutely FLYING. Some of the pulls he took when he hit the front were clearly too much for the rest of that front group. The last time I recall seeing anyone in such resplendant form was Indurain during his 5th tour win, when his legs and ass were so chiseled it looked like he would literally tear the cranks off his tt bike.

Barring a catastrophe this is Wiggins race to lose, by far – though would love to see VanGarderen push him hard on the Col d’Eze!

cd March 5, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Wiggins – peaking for the real meat of the season. Bodes well for the TdF.

Christian March 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm

@Q, @Robert Merkel: “Joost Posthuma (…) stayed with an ailing Andy Schleck for the remainder of the stage. Andy suffered flu-like symptoms in the morning and felt no better by the end of the day.”

@Bundle: “I cooperated in the echelon group of 21. You have to. If you don’t and stay in the back, you are in the wind and you are dropped.” – Maxime Monfort

Both quotes are from the race report on the RSNT website:

http://www.radioshacknissantrek.com/news/monfort-move

Bundle March 5, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Christian: do you buy Monfort’s argument? I’m not sure either way.

Bartek March 5, 2012 at 11:49 pm

This comment is being made before reading the article. Someone lately sparked quite a storm about photos being watermarked etc etc.
I saw today’s stage report @ cyclingnews and you will not find the photo of that kind there. You can see who won and who crashed but very rarely can you find that show the very extract of things happening in the pack that prove to be decisive.
And that is not to critise Cyclingnews but rather to applaud this picture and author’s selection.
Off to the story now :-)

Bartek March 5, 2012 at 11:58 pm

@Bundle. Montfort seems to be right. Was it Stephen Roche co-hosting Tour of Qatar for Eurosport who said that the easiest tactics at echelons is to do job at the front and settle back?

Benjamin Hall March 6, 2012 at 12:24 am

There were some amazing shots of moody skies and echelons today! Gotta love this time of year!

Peter March 6, 2012 at 12:43 am

Martin,

Yes, there is a lot of at least short term animosity when you let a gap open in front of you in these winds. To be clear, that is often a sign of frustration that I (sitting in back of the new front line) did not have the legs or mind to be in the right place. Instead of blaming my own mistake, it is easier to yell at riders who could not hold the wheel in a tough situation.

All that does not excuse the yelling and cursing and resentment. That definitely happens. And it reduces the mental and leg strength of the group that is now sliding further back. To me, it is part of what makes bike racing so much like playing chess while running a marathon.

Peter

Ablindeye March 6, 2012 at 12:47 am

@ Peter “Playing chess while running a marathon” like that one, very good description.

El Tejan March 6, 2012 at 1:30 am

@bundle…yes, I believe it. It is the absolute truth. Real protection from the wind is when you move up the inside of the echelon. Trying to sit at the back is a fools errand. Either you’ll get stuck in the gutter or your constantly closing tiny little gaps. It is just a matter of time until the person trying to sit at the back in heavy crosswinds gets dropped. Moreover, a rider like boonen isn’t inclined to ride you off the back if you’re pulling through.

Sean YD March 6, 2012 at 2:22 am

“Worse for the French team they are in last place on the team overall classification and will drive tomorrow with the team car at the very back of the race convoy.”

Caravan vehicle order is determined by a team’s top rider on the overall classification, not the team classification.

The Inner Ring March 6, 2012 at 7:21 am

Sean YD: yes, I meant to imply plenty is going wrong for them.

Simon March 6, 2012 at 8:16 am

I’m enjoying Tommeke’s racing this year, he always seems to be up for a scrap, even if it’s not coming as easy as it used to. Bodes well if P-R is a mudfest.

As far as Schleck, A. goes, I’d be interested to know what his boss is thinking. His former charge used to be AWOL until the dauphine, too.

I love these photos of guys grovelling off the back: makes me feel better…

stuartrc March 6, 2012 at 10:11 am

Really enjoying these little race vignettes. Much better that standard reporting.

thanks Inrng

Alex March 6, 2012 at 10:15 am

At least when the boss gave little attention to any ‘lesser’ races, he won the tour. Currently A Schleck seems like he has really no results to back himself up. Contador on the other hand said he wouldn’t turn up to a race unless it was to win. Put on a show I say

Bundle March 6, 2012 at 10:32 am

@Christian: Roche certainly knows a lot about echelons, and also a thing or two about coups and internal conflict within teams. The fact that Monfort underlines that Klöden was not strong, and that he is now the leader of the team might suggest potential cohesion issues for Bruyneel. Cancellara will solo this season and miss out on the Tour, and the Schlecks might be as vulnerable in July as yesterday.

Christian March 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm

@Bundle: Tbh I have no idea since I don’t race but El Tejan’s arguement seems to confirm it. In any case it seems like a valid reason to me.

Regarding potential conflict within RSNT I am not sure. Monfort does not at all seem like the type to go looking for conflict. On the other hand he is one of the most screwed over riders after the merger since he will have to share Vuelta leadership with Horner or Klöden I imagine. Plus, sadly, the Vuelta is the GT this year that suits him the least. But I think they didn’t give him Giro leadership because he is too important to the TdF team (as we saw last year). They can pass up Fuglsang (who has never shown great domestique qualities), but Monfort is a true asset.

Why do you say Cancellara will miss the Tour? I haven’t heard anything about that yet. In any case I am very happy for Monfort to be in the leader role now for such a big race, he deserves it and I am confident he can get a good result!

Martin March 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm

@Peter

thanks for the insight. And yes, playing chess whilst running a marathon is a good metaphor! Although I did have a friend who did not enjoy the sport refer to cyclists as “lazy marathon runners”, which I thought was thoroughly entertaining!

Peter March 7, 2012 at 2:50 am

Martin,

You are most welcome.

P

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