Tirreno – DNF go home

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

It seems many riders have been pulling out of Tirreno-Adriatico. Yesterday we heard Philippe Gilbert, Edwald Boasson-Hagen, Matthew Goss and Lars Boom all left the race.

In fact 22 riders left the race yesterday for a variety of reasons. It sounds like a lot. It is. But it leaves 148 in the race which is exactly the same as this time last year. Only last year 160 riders started compared to 176 this year.

Certainly pulling out makes sense for several riders. After some long stages – some were over seven hours – and riding past fields still full with snow, now is the time to recover ahead of Milan-Sanremo. Some have a cold to shake, others prefer caution and don’t want to get a cold. Perhaps others just want to recover. In training terms this is sometimes called “tapering”, easing off prior to a big objective in order to stay fresh.

Today’s stage is “only” 10km but this will put plenty of strain on the muscles, eleven minutes of leg presses at, say, 500W, plus all the routines and hassles of life on the road and in the hotel.

If there is one race where arriving fresh counts, it’s Milan-Sanremo. The Italian one day race is the longest race on the calendar at 298km. So long in fact that it benefits from an exemption to the rules which normally cap the maximum distance of a race at 280km for big races like the Worlds or Olympics. Over the distance, the slightest fatigue is amplified the Cipressa and Poggio climbs which lie near the finish. Here a single mistake can cost the entire race.

No love for the east coast?
It can seem a little disrespectful. Whilst those living on the west coast of Italy got to see Cavendish, Gilbert and the other stars of the sport, those on the Adriatic won’t get so many riders. You wonder how the race organisers RCS feel about this although their consolation is that the riders are pulling out now only to perform better in Milan-Sanremo which is organised by the same company.

Note there is a rule saying if you drop out of one race you cannot start another until the first race you were in has finished. This is sensible as it protects the first event from becoming a training race where half the field abandons or makes sure sprinters can’t quit a grand tour before the mountains appear only to start racing and winning elsewhere. But more sensibly exceptions can be made via an official appeal, for example if a rider crashes out of a race and cannot continue thanks to injury then sometimes they can resume in another race.

natalie March 13, 2012 at 9:50 am

“But more sensibly exceptions can be made via an official appeal, for example if a rider crashes out of a race and cannot continue thanks to injury then sometimes they can resume in another race.”

Or if you’re Mark Cavendish and wanting to race the 2011 Tour of Britain after departing early from the Vuelta.

I think non-starters/DNFs can be a poor deal for fans – especially those attending the race in person – but as athletes it completely makes sense.

Bartek March 13, 2012 at 10:05 am

If we assume that Cavendish wanted to withdraw the same way as Gilbert, why bother to start?
Is there any procedural difference between DNS and DNF?

CAT4Fodder March 13, 2012 at 10:22 am

Let’s face it….

There are only a handful of races which truly merit the position that they are “never” a training race.
A) The Tour De France
B) Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, and Milan-San Remo
C) The Worlds

Feel free to edit, but it appears that all others have some level of being “B” level races to some portion of the world’s best riders. They are either training races (Het Volk) or are test races (Paris-Nice and Tirreno…see Evans and Wiggens…although one leaves satisfied, the other leaves frustrated at his form right about now). But again, all of these races are being raced with some other goal in mind. Only a select few always are the “Goal”.

It happens in most sports. Go to a regular season baseball game in April, and you are bound to see some pitcher on a pitch count as he continued to try to gain form for the meat of the season…or see any regular season NBA game versus a playoff game, and the intensity is not there. Only difference, cycling is “free” to most to watch and unlike my two examples, in any given race, once the selection is made (or the final run down to the sprint), the race is on, and no one is holding back in those groups.

flahutespyjamas March 13, 2012 at 10:50 am

CAT4Fodder – surely LBL, the Giro Di Lombardia and the Giro D’Italia are “never” training races.

David B March 13, 2012 at 10:58 am

Agree with you on LBL and Lombardi (esp given its the last race of the season – what else are you preparing for?), but the Giro is often used by Tour contenders as preparation.

Rider Council March 13, 2012 at 11:12 am

Sorry, but we saw Cavendish on the road yesterday, a number of times. That kid is only pure class. He pulled out, sure, but not until he got back to Offida. On the way there he got in a break (!) just before the first climb, was caught and still rode with the selection group up the steep climb to Ripatransone. Almost to say, ‘hey, look at the form I have’ to Freire, and thanks to the tifosi! As for Gilbert, I’m started to dislike him a bit now. Dominates all last year then nothing this year so far and is far from pleasant when interviewed because he is not winning. Putz! How can you go from being untouchable to sucking in 4 months…..big? Anyway, anyone who pulled out will more than likely be chilling in the hotel in San Benedetto today, and head with the bus north later. The TT would not have killed them but the second half of the race was a lot for this time of the season. But it’s Italy so it’s always savage beyond belief.

Also yesterdays route was very hard, it was either climbing or mange e beve. These are our training roads and the beginning of the last climb on the circuit kill your legs right away. Di Luca was very impressive, he was the only one to make a real attack at that point.

Mark Cavendish is a very welcome hero for cycling and is is looking very very good going uphill this week, and dont forget not only is he fast but he should get more credit for his super intelligent positioning in a race.

L_Islandais March 13, 2012 at 11:58 am

CAT4 – You can probably add the Olympics to your list as they are somewhat of a rarity.

flahutespyjamas March 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm

@ DavidB – on the Giro, when was the last time someone rode in the Giro and went on to win the Tour? I think the answer is Pantani in 1998.

Just riding the Giro effectively puts you our of contention for the Tour, so I assume anyone top rider entering is doing it for the purposes of winning.

CAT4Fodder March 13, 2012 at 1:30 pm

@flahutespyjamas:

As for the Giro….it has been used as a training race for the Tour (ask Evans and Basso in 2010). The difference, and I think riders have finally realized this, is that the combination of specialization and specificity for the Tour, combined with a Giro that in recent renditions has decided to amp up the difficulty, climbing and carnage it does to one’s physiological condition, means the Giro is no longer an ideal training race. And maybe this is a good thing for the Giro. Better to have A- riders versus A+, who are going to go “balls” out. But it has been a training race in the long and recent past.

LBL? On the fence. Not sure it is the same as Paris-Roubaix or Flanders. Giro di Lombardia…agreed, if only because if one is riding this race, it is likely the last race of the season (ignoring the Chinese races, which are the B and C riders from each team).

Olympics….agreed somewhat. I guess because so many opt out of making it their “A” race due to Tour considerations…but that is a tangential issue.

Benjamin Hall March 13, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Looking at some of the names on that list i am both surprised and a little concerned that Sagan is still in the race. He has to be a favourite for Saturday.

JimW March 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Wow.
Cavendish DNF is a touchy subject.
What worries me more than a sprinter climbing off is the rainbow jersey potty mouth interviews.
Let’s hope he can get that under control.

Rider Council March 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Just thinking of how exciting La Primavera is as a race especially the build up. You have to credit the organisers for having shaken things up a bit in the last few years, leaving it slightly more open to the possibility of an attack that might work and open up the race without guaranteeing a complete elimination of all the sprinters in the process. Sagan, yes, a new young gun that could can make a bit of his own history if Nibali and himself do the 1, 2 to perfection but Nibels needs more mass to pull that off. Cancellara has his horsepower tuned up, mighty impressive, Friere is flying. Cav looks like he is on fire, just about now, hells bells! and last time he won MSR he also won the last stage of Tirreno, which was a gallop not a TT like today. I would bet therefore the winner, not discounting Gripel, will have done Tirreno not Paris Nice. @inrng, please cover Tirreno next year, too much going on over here to ignore.
P.S. It will be interesting to see if Kreuziger finally comes of age today.

Ken March 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Ever since Lance Armstrong demonstrated the benefits of focusing on one big race, the Tour has dominated the A list riders. I enjoy the early season races for what they are: a chance for the A- riders to shine and hopefully earn a shot, in a later year, contending in the Tour.

trounder March 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm

The days when riders actually competed in every race they entered are long since over, if they ever existed at all. Sights are set and targets are locked well in advance of the sign-in ceremony. I’ll give an A+ to any rider who is consistently high placed or winning throughout the season.

David B March 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm

@flahutespyjamas
Cat4fodder got in before me (sorry had day at work today).
Can add to the list for 2009; Armstrong – stating it was training miles after his collar bone, and Wiggo – not that it really seemed to help that year.
Would agree with other posters than riding the Giro isn’t the best prep for the Tour – but some riders still do it.

Patrick March 13, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Its unrealistic to expect every rider to be at peak for every race and riding to win every day. Instead we see the real team aspect where in some of these “lesser” races the “A+” riders will sometimes work for the “A-” riders who will return the favour in the major races. That’s good for the riders and good for the future of the sport. Though sometimes you see teams misguidedly still working for their “A+” rider who just doesn’t have the form to justify it – must be demoralising for a domestique to bust a gut for someone who can’t finish it off.

I do wonder about riders pulling out of stage races though, having perhaps won an early stage knowing that they didn’t need to save anything for the next day – is that fair on the guys that maybe could have won but had to think of the big picture? I don’t imagine many hold back as such when there’s a chance of a victory but it doesn’t take much to make the difference.

You could expand that to 1-day races where domestiques will pull out part way through having done their job in the early part of the race looking after their team leader but i think that’s part of the sport.

If you’re sick/injured or just plain dead on your saddle then fair enough but planned withdrawals are not playing the game by the rules so far as i’m concerned.

Pete March 14, 2012 at 2:15 am

Throw into the mix the Olympics this year – quite a few (Cavendish, Gilbert, Martin and Boonen) have openly admitted that they are prioritising the Games over the Tour this year, which isn’t to say that they would do the Tour half arsed but might lead to a number of exits in the last week before Paris.

Rooto March 14, 2012 at 6:18 am

@JimW : “What worries me more than a sprinter climbing off is the rainbow jersey potty mouth interviews. Let’s hope he can get that under control.”
I’ve not been following the interviews, what’s he been saying? If it’s just a bit of bad language, then I think most Brits wouldn’t be too fussed. If it’s bad-mouthing other riders, then serious demerit marks for him…

Bundle March 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm

ALL races are preparation races if you have objectives beyond it. Even the Tour de France for those who have a stake in the second part of the summer. The only exceptions are Lombardia because it’s the last one and Paris-Roubaix because it’s too dangerous.
And one should never forget that not finishing a race is always a stain in a rider’s prestige. We shouldn’t be too condescending about it. When we go out for a 50k ride in our bikes, and we bonk or crash, we make a point of returning home pedalling, regardless of our next plans.

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