Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sucker Punch Them - Tour de France Stage 18 Preview

You never say, "I'm gonna fight you, Steve." You just smile and act natural, and then you sucker-punch him. – Steve Zissou, “The Life Aquatic”
I know that 'Stomach of Anger' Andy Schleck is on all the covers of the cycling magazines and everyone has waited a year for him to exact his revenge after 2010's 'Chanigate", but I haven’t been sold on form since the middle of June with his participation in the Tour de Suisse. He got gapped rather easily on some of that Tour’s climbs and just didn’t look fresh. The other reason I didn’t pluck any money on the twice runner-up in the Tour was the tactics that his team were clearly going to employ when they announced their Tour team. True, there was a lot of climbing in this version of the Tour, but there always is, and the team protected against that surrounding Andy with some capable climbers, but no real studs that could also match his brother Frank and offer additional support, almost guaranteeing isolation when things heat up in the stage.
Setting up a situation that the brothers were almost always going to try and use their 1-2 punch to try and put time into Andy’s rivals. When their uppercuts and jabs didn’t work during the last two weeks, it has been clear that they didn’t know what else to do. Just look at this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege race, where they totally muffed the finale and handed the race, one of the monuments of the sport, to Philippe Gilbert. He literally turned around laughing at the Schlecks as he raised his arms in victory.
Another nail in Andy’s coffin may be his relatively poor descending skills. There was also a lot of climbing on this year’s tour, but what goes up must come down, unless it’s a mountaintop finish. This year’s route has a ton of really tough climbs sprinkled in the middle of stages and there have been numerous chances for someone to capitalize and gain time on the way down. The number of successful breakaways this year that have resulted in a stage winner is proof.
So when Frank and Andy said prior to Stage 15 that they didn’t expect any surges on the climb of the Col de Manse, then complained that the descents are too dangerous, they essentially gave their rivals a strategy for the day. Andy Schleck was subsequently caught out about 20 seconds at the top of the climb and lost even more ground when attacks came on the descent. He lost 15 seconds to Ivan Basso, 48 seconds to the Yellow jersey- Voeckler, 1:06 to Contador and Sanchez, and 1:09 to Cadel Evans. 
Don’t tell people you’re going to hit them and also don’t tell them when to hit you, especially if you don’t want to become this generation’s Raymond Poulidor.
Stage 18 Pinerolo - Galibier Serre-Chevalier 189km

Celebrating the100th year of the Tour’s use of the Galibier, the giant of the Alps, The Galibier, will feature the highest finish (2645m/8678ft)for a Tour stage in its long history. That's a tall order after a day that includes a total of 3 hors categorie (beyond classification) climbs in a single stage. The Col Angel is 23km long (and has a stretch of 8km with pitches averaging 9/10%), the Col d'Izoard 14km, and the Galibier 23km long with a nice biting 9% pitch to finish off a brutal day. I don't know who is going to win tomorrow, but at the end of the day we might know who just won the Tour.

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