Part 2 of our round-table talk gets into some of the issues around this year’s tour: Froome v Wiggins; Cavendish’s role and the seemingly inevitable doping scandal
Sky essentially controlled this race from the first mountain stage all the way to Paris. What can BMC, Liquigas or indeed any other team do to challenge them next year?
Jack: For starters, make sure their riders are in peak condition – to me it was obvious that at this year’s race many riders weren’t in top shape – and secondly, build a team to win the race. Sky’s domestiques are all extremely strong climbers, but the same can’t be said for the likes of Liquigas and Lotto-Belisol’s teams, who were also chasing the green jersey and stage wins. They have to abandon all focus on sprint trains and the like if they are to beat Wiggins and Froome, even if that risks upsetting their sprinters.
Tim: Three things: strengthen their squad for the climbs, focus solely on GC and take the fight aggressively to Sky before they have a chance to exert a stranglehold on the race.
Kitty: Make sure they take all their chances when they can – and try to isolate the GC contender from his teammates. Make him do it alone.
Sheree: Take a leaf out of Sky’s book: planning and preparation are the keys to success. Leave nothing to chance.
Panache: It really depends on the parcours of next year’s Tour. I believe there will be fewer TT miles and much steeper, longer mountain climbs. The return of Alberto Contador and a healthy Andy Schleck will change the game for all teams. Their ability to apply vicious accelerations will cause Sky grief next year. They are the gunpowder that this tour was really missing.
One could argue that the risk of losing valuable WorldTour points in a potentially futile attack outweighs the benefit of adventurous riding. Do we think this drives conservative racing among GC contenders?
Sheree:Oh absolutely and don’t forget a rider’s market value is highly dependent on his UCI points haul. Plus, GC contenders are rarely allowed off the leash – look what happened when Nibali tried to escape with Valverde on stage 17 – so they can generally only win TTs or mountain top finishes. I would however like to see more short, sharp punchy stages as they’re the ones where we’ve seen more exciting racing.
Panache: I don’t understand this question, so I’m not going to say anything!
Kitty: Not sure if I understand this question either – do you mean people don’t lay it on the line so they might lose in order to win? If that’s the case, yes, it does drive conservative racing but I also think the longer stages just makes everyone think ‘well, I can’t try anything now, we still have 150km to go’. So, I agree with Sheree, the shorter stages were much more exciting.
Tim: In a word: yes. But I do think that Sheree and Kitty’s suggestion of shorter stages is a possible remedy.
Jack: I’m not at all convinced that GC contenders are really that bothered about WorldTour points, and I’d be surprised if any of the top riders gave it any thought at all during the race. I think often they’re not willing to attack for fear of losing time and any chance of winning yellow, but not because WorldTour points are on the line.
To what extent have the Remy Di Gregorio and Frank Schleck doping incidents damaged the race?
Kitty: It didn’t seem to make much impact on the fairweather fans but it did make me think, oh bloody hell, I have to defend cycling again! But I don’t think it damaged the race that much – possibly because Schleck and di Gregorio were minor players this year. In fact, Frank was so minor, I was kind of surprised he was even in the race by the rest day.
Tim: The Schleck incident is far more damaging because he’s a big name, but some of the inaccuracies in the way the media reported it didn’t help. He wasn’t caught doping as such, it was an adverse finding where a non-permitted substance showed up. It’s a subtle but important difference.
Panache: Ugh… doping scandals always damage the race and the sport. I can tell you that US news sources were focused on USADA and Lance during the tour. These additional incidents only added fuel to the speculative fire of cycling as a legitimate sport.
Sheree: I don’t think either of these were big enough names, or highly placed on GC, to cause much more than a ripple; certainly nothing of the magnitude of say Rasmussen and Vino. However, I agree with Tim that inaccurate reporting doesn’t help matters. It’s like Contador all over again.
Jack: Maybe it’s because I’m a Briton living in Britain, but the sheer amount of ‘Wiggomania’ has meant that it hasn’t really damaged the race itself at all. Tim’s right though, the fact that in Schleck’s case it’s only a diuretic rather than a banned performance enhancer also means that it hasn’t had quite the impact that it could’ve.
L’Equipe rolled out some pretty spiky quotes from Chris Froome to try to ignite his intra-team rivalry with Bradley Wiggins. Do we think he was treated fairly?
Panache: L’Equipe was clearly trying to sell papers and the race alone just wasn’t cutting it. Enter intra-team rivalry! I have heard that Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins really aren’t that great of friends, but Chris Froome is a great teammate and a consummate professional. He did exactly what he was asked and expected to do while at the same time upping his profile and value. The time has come for Sky to now deliver on the promises they have made Froome. I would not be surprised whatsoever to see him be the team leader in next year’s Tour.
Tim: Making a mountain out of a molehill. Froome’s quotes, taken in their proper context, showed that he has plenty of self-belief (he thinks he can win – good on him) but was also a good team player. He knew he was always coming to the Tour as Sky’s plan B and he accepted that.
Kitty: Honestly, I have no opinion on this. [Looks of astonishment from everyone around the table…]
Sheree: Not sure we can lay the blame wholly at L’Equipe’s feet, they weren’t the only journos trying to stir it up and, one has to say, that WAGWAR didn’t help. However, hats off to Froome for the dignified and loyal way in which he subsequently dealt with the situation.
Jack: Yes. He was Sky’s second in command, and shouldn’t have expected to be treated any differently. If Wiggins had cracked (as in last year’s Vuelta) then he may have had a case, but obviously, that situation didn’t arise.
World champion and defending green jersey Mark Cavendish played a very different, secondary role in this Tour. How do we feel about that?
Tim:I’m disappointed Cav didn’t receive more support in the sprints, but at the same time I accept Sky had to focus fully on GC. I think he himself accepts that. He’s been an absolute trouper on the road, though – fetching bidons from the team car, setting tempo on climbs, everything that’s been asked of him, without complaint. I hope he’s proven to people in this Tour that he is as much a team man as he is an out-and-out winner. I’m so proud of him. Having said that, I reckon it’s better than 50:50 that he’ll end up at either Omega Pharma QuickS
tep or Garmin-Sharp next year.
Kitty: I don’t think they should have taken him to the Tour if they weren’t going to protect him. Sure the team wasn’t built around him and it was never going to be a green jersey and yellow jersey challenge, but he was involved in crashes that he never should have been near if he had some other teammates around him. I think they were playing it pretty fast and loose with one of their greatest assets and I think it was disrespectful to him. I’ve said that to a few people and the remark was always ‘you can’t not take the World Champion to the Tour!’, to which I think that’s bollocks. They weren’t respecting the rainbow jersey by leaving him out there. I had no problem with him fetching and carrying, it was the lack of protection that bothered me.
Sheree: Cav knew the score when he went to Sky and he’ll get his reward when effectively the team works for him in the Olympic road race. The rainbow jersey doesn’t give you immunity from bottle carrying duties. I recall a certain Tom Boonen doing it for his team mates when he had that jersey. However, I would agree that Cav’s played a major part in Bradley’s victory and has been a real trouper.
Jack: It was certainly a novelty! Cav got his stage win on the Champs and Wiggins won the yellow jersey, so clearly it wasn’t too bad an idea. How long Cav will be happy spending time collecting bidons however, is another question all together. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him leave Sky in the near future.
Panache: My hat is off to Mr. Cavendish. He showed that he’s still the fastest man in the world and a fantastic teammate. For him to win three stages with very little team support shows that he is in a class by himself. His victory in stage 18 is one of the fastest, most beautiful sprints I have ever seen. I can’t wait to see him at the Olympic Games!
Finally, sum up your thoughts on the Tour in three words.
Sheree: Clinically displayed domination
Tim: Aggregation of marginal gains. (Yes, I know that’s four words. Sue me.)
Kitty: Way too controlled.
Jack: One-horse race.
Panache: Free Chris Froome!