Déjà Vu in Romandie

Monday, 5 May 2014


Simon Špilak outsprints Chris Froome to win the Queen Stage of the Tour de Romandie last Friday. The exact same thing happened this time last year in Les Diablerets, just 20km away. With this Froome distanced his rivals and used the final time trial to seal the race overall.

But not everything is the same. Froome’s had different challenges. Here’s a look back at the race with a look ahead to the Giro and beyond.

Špilak vs Froome
Coming in to the finish the two had a good sprint. In cycling little deals are often made and it would have made perfect sense for Špilak to do the work on the descent in return for the gift of a stage win:  Špilak and Katusha get a good win in the race and have to defend the yellow jersey on Saturday’s circuit race, while in exchange Froome gained time on everyone and can hope to ditch the Slovenian in Sunday’s time trial. But even if match fixing is part of cycling perhaps it would be too much to try it in Aigle of all places. Why? Because the finish line was a rulebook’s throw away from the UCI headquarters.

Then again there’s no need for trading, Špilak would normally hope to beat Froome. Besides if they did rig the sprint they deserve an Oscar as it was a convincing sprint with Froome throwing his bike to the line to lose by less than half a wheel.

This time it’s different
Not that everything is a repeat. This time last year Froome was in yellow already and it was a lot colder. A year ago he was still in the phase of having to get used to race leadership and an unknown quantity for the media and perhaps even team mates in the sense that they didn’t know how he’d cope. He fared fine and dispelled fears his insect-like build was prone to the cold.

This year his abilities, team leadership and media work aren’t in doubt – L’Equipe always seem wowed by his good manners. But there are other concerns. Back problems are a fundamental concern with a cold as a short term worry. Froome’s win does plenty for a team that’s been struggling and should see his odds for the Tour de France begin to shorten again after going out in recent weeks as Alberto Contador’s danced to several wins.

Not that all’s well, Froome still got concerns about a cold: I gather the post-race media appearances were briefer than usual so he could keep warm and dry. Plus his attack didn’t drop everyone as Špilak was able to ride across. Team Sky aren’t the black steamrollers of the past. Richie Porte hasn’t finished a race since February.

The Basking Shark
Vincenzo Nibali was the first to attack on the climb to Villars. The TV showed an Astana rider on the move. Was it a team ploy to soften up the race? No it was Lo Squalo di Messina, The Shark of Messina in person. The nickname owes itself to the Sicilian port town of Messina where the straits are known for occasional sightings of the great white shark. But too often Nibali is looking harmless, not a predator but smaller who sits lower down the food chain than his rivals.

The tifosi would counter that he’s the one to animate a race. Who could disagree? His loss is our gain. Just like in Milan-Sanremo where his attack livened up the race the Sicilian is a television producer’s team and the darling of many fans. But even he’s feeling the pressure now and in the post-Romandie press conference he said he’d barely take a few days off because he’s got work to do.

But what if bravado proves a stealthy ploy in the Tour de France? Imagine a day when the others let him go up the road thinking he’s just going to waste energy once again… only for him to win? His consistent losses could allow him more room. We’ll know more in the Dauphiné.

Albasini x 3
The Swiss rider took three stage wins. Impressive especially because of their diversity, he even won a bunch sprint. A much quieter ride by MTB world champion Nino Schurter. This Swiss overall had a great race with local team IAM in action and taking home the mountains jersey. BMC are half-Swiss but they didn’t fare so well with Tejay van Garderen crashing in the prologue and abandoning.

Tony Martin beaten again
It was only by less than a second but Tony Martin was beaten once again in a time trial. His record this year is 4th, 3rd, 4th, 1st and now 2nd. In 2013 he won 11 ITTs and only “lost” two, one in the Vuelta and the other was the mountainous Embrun-Chorges stage of the Tour de France which nobody thought he’d win.

The Iceman?
What of Simon Špilak? He won the Tour de Romandie in 2010 although thanks to a decision taken in the nearby Court of Arbitration for Sport which stripped Alejandro Valverde of the win and rewarded the Slovenian. Špilak’s been a regular in this race with eight place overall in 2012 too. He seems to be a rider you tip when the weather’s awful and it’s true that some his rare wins have come in poor weather, notably in Romandie where this time he was climbing almost as fast as Froome and leaving everyone else behind. But he won the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain and the GP Frankfurt in fine weather last year so the ice/rainman label is handy… but inaccurate. A strong junior who won the Liège-La Gleize race, the junior version of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In the U-23 ranks he was fourth in the 2007 Tour de l’Avenir behind Bauke Mollema. Aged 27 he’s aiming for the Tour de France next. Note it’s “schpee-lak”:

Giro Notes
It was only one day but the climbs give us some clues for the Giro already:

  • Rafał Majka managed to crash uphill on some tramlines at the top of the final climb. Without this he would have made the Nibali group. Team mate Nicolas Roche was further back and the Pole’s leadership of Tinkoff-Saxo looks more solid
  • Rigoberto Urán was struggling to follow the wheels on the mountain stage, he was the front of the group when Nibali and Froome were making the moves but faded. However he was an excellent fourth in the final time trial which suggests all’s well
  • Trek’s Riccardo Zoidl had a solid ride. He’s recovering from a broken collarbone and if the team has Robert Kišerlovski as their leader and Julian Arredondo as back-up, don’t be surprised with the Austrian signing

We shouldn’t extrapolate too far. The Giro might start in a week but that means it’s crucial stages are almost four weeks away. Andrew Talanksy isn’t doing the Giro but he lost out today after his chain fell off just as the others were jumping while Thibaut Pinot was brought down by Majka’s crash.

Conclusion
The final podium of the Tour de Romandie had the same three names as last year with Chris Froome, Simon Špilak and Rui Costa. But if the result was the same, the context was very different. Froome’s win is a relief for Team Sky but if he won, the team weren’t so visible and Richie Porte’s still struggling. Simon Špilak had a great race as did Orica-Greenedge with Albasini. Meanwhile Vincenzo Nibali has yet to look like a threat this year; is this a media thing or will it begin to worry him?

Main photo credit: Team Katusha / Tim de Waele

Darkly Threwerglass May 5, 2014 at 11:02 am

Must admit I’m not that excited about this year’s Giro. Partly due to the dropouts and partly due to expecting Kittel to dominate on the flat. Usually, I’m all for a big bunch sprint, but unless FDJ and Cannondale leave Giant to do all the chasing, so Kittel has to freelance while the others have trains, the result will be a foregone conclusion (despite Viviani’s recent good form). Hopefully Quintana and Rodriguez will duel it out in the mountains to liven things up a bit.

Thinking about the sprints, it was interesting to hear Cavendish claiming his kick is still his key weapon. I thought his kick might diminish as he gets older (though he’s still relatively young) and his aero advantages might be more important for top speed. Obviously, I’ve no appreciation of the science behind this stuff, but I expected power would be more important for acceleration (just from looking at the likes of Bauge on the track).

Presumably, it’s difficult to take full advantage of a kick when your opponents have decent trains of their own? All well and good having Renshaw and Petacchi leading you out at great speed, but not if it suits Greipel and Kittel more. I guess it’s considered dodgy for a train to hit the front and back off, and Giant and Lotto will be able to keep the speed high themselves, so in a boulevard sprint, I can’t see how OPQS plan to allow Cavendish to use his kick against them.

Brian May 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm

I’m afraid that Nairo is going to turn it into a repeat of 2011 when Berto took everyone to the woodshed for 3 boring weeks.

Nairo vs Cadel Evans & Dan Martin? LOL.

Leo May 5, 2014 at 11:39 am

“Lo squalo dello Stretto” in Italian, “the shark of the Strait (of Messina)”.

david May 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm

I’d only heard it as “lo squalo dello stretto” as well, never as “il requino”. I just asked my italian co-worker and he couldn’t translate it, so… is this a multilingual joke I’m missing here?

The Inner Ring May 5, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Squalo it is, fixed the bit above.

Anonymous May 5, 2014 at 3:06 pm

French ‘requin’.

hoh May 5, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Froome probably waited as even for his ITT calibre, the decent & the long flat run to the line would be too much.

On the other hand. Good run for Albasini & Oric.

lllludo May 5, 2014 at 1:50 pm

About Spilak’s superior potential in youth categories : in 2005, aged 19, he was suspended before the World Championship in Madrid before of his hematocritis > 50%. Naturally high Hct or young cheater ?

The Inner Ring May 5, 2014 at 2:06 pm

I’d missed that. As for your answer, we’ll never know and readers are left to speculate. It can be a third factor, an unnatural high caused by a short problem, even dehydration.

lllludo May 5, 2014 at 5:50 pm

True. Short problems such as dehydration may also be the cause. If so then it was a collective short problem as Spilak’s teammate, Kerkez, was also suspended for high Hct. Also “prevented to start” that day 2 Bulgarians, including guess who ? Ivailo Gabrovski. The readers can only speculate whether Ivailo was dehydrated that day ;-)

The Inner Ring May 5, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Interesting. About the same time a Slovenian doctor was part of the Fuentes operation and was visiting Italy a lot on behalf of Fuentes.

Tovarishch May 5, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Whilst Eurosport regularly name check INRNG, it seems SkySport need to refer to this site as well. Magnus Bäckstedt complaining about the UCI World Tour points system and suggesting it should be reformed indicates that they are not as well informed as they should be. And why do commentators on both channels ignore the first rule of sports commentating – Never talk over the pictures?

The Inner Ring May 5, 2014 at 2:07 pm

To be fair the UCI points changes are hard to find. You keep hearing riders, commentators and others unaware of the changes. Even the UCI won’t communicate them very loudly/clearly.

Chris May 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Regarding Urán’s Romandie performance, it would seem more that he was just putting the final touches on his pre-Giro form. He put in a decent prologue, worked for race leader Kwiato when he was holding the lead then, according to Twitter accounts of the race, did the queen stage with his eyes fixed on his power meter. Finally, he put in an excellent performance in the final TT.

This, plus his experience as GC leader in his last two Giri (?) (the first one with just Henao helping him out and the second one having inherited the team lead from Wiggins) bodes well for a podium repeat.

Kelly's Bidon May 6, 2014 at 7:46 am

Rigo’s record, especially in grand tours, show that resilience is one of his key advantages. He’s a strong lad as well, and according to his ex-team mates at Sky, a humorous, up-beat, influence at all times. I remember that last year, his Italian being excellent, he often had the Rai reporters in stiches with his post-race comments and answers. I hope he does really well (again)and I’m convinced that he will…
Also, Froome-dog said, in a French interview, that he waited for Spilak. Like you, INRNG, I can’t believe that the duo didn’t work out a deal that mutually acceptable, but they sure gave a convincing sprint.

Sam May 6, 2014 at 10:16 am

Until last year, Rigo’s problem was always consistency. His Giro last year saw him overcome that.
He is without question one of my favourite riders in the peloton. One of the nicest guys, and an awesome rider. He can make the podium again, though I think the win is just out of his reach.

tourdeutah May 6, 2014 at 4:51 pm

I have never read too much into riders having average performances prior to a GT. It usually works out for them. Of note would be the entire CSC team riding in the autobus at both the 2008 Dauphine and Suisse. Then dominating the TdF in the GC, youth and team competition. They held the yellow jersey for the last seven days. Frank Schleck for two and Carlos Sastre the last five days. Andy Schleck wore white for the last six days.

Speaking of the Schlecks, outside of a few classics wins, they normally peak for the TdF and are usually in the autobus in all other races.

As to the Giro, this looks like a wide open race in both GC and Points. I doubt we will see any one rider or team dominate the race.

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