July 20, 2017

Last Climb

One Tour image that has stayed with me happened a week (or two..happily, one loses track of time once in the Tour bubble) ago when Chris Froome had a mid-race bike change. What struck me was how calmly and carefully Froome took his Garmin head unit off the old machine, and while all around the world was spinning into panic over his situation, the unflappable champion almost lovingly attached it to his new F10, and, without even looking up to see what was happening in front, took the time to pair the unit with the new Stages powermeter. I’m sure he performed a zero reset sometime soon after.

This devotion to data is what defines Team Sky and their tactics in the race, and what squashes any attempts at improvisation and “panache” from the other riders. Contador’s farewell gesture to the Tour yesterday, so reminiscent of Bernard Hinault’s solo Alpine attack of the 1986 Tour, was an example of what makes cycling great. Unfortunately, the data didn’t back up the Spaniard’s bravery, and his efforts were poorly repaid. Same with the equally courageous Dan Martin who showed real guts in his attacks that again did not pay off.

All of this data-driven racing, and I know, people hate to hear this, comes from the brain of Doctor Ferrari and his top pony, Lance Armstrong, who invented VAM (velocità ascensionale media) a measure of the speed of elevation gain. So while Contador and Martin are placing their attacks, the Sky technical team are back at the Dark Star measuring VAM, power readings and who knows what else, relaying their findings back to the Sky team car who are coaching their riders through the earpieces on EXACTLY how hard to ride and when. It was clear to see when Landa was dropped the couple of times yesterday and how perfectly and calmly he made his way back to the front. And while the other teams have similar systems, no one has the scientific brainpower of Sky (nor budget to collect Kwiakowski, Landa, et all into one team) and that’s the difference you see and the reason for the suffocating style of racing - although the echelon the other day was pretty aggressive – but again, the spot to mount it had been pre-measured for greatest effect.

At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the American team, headed by Lance of course, lost radio communication during the road race. The boys were completely confused, didn’t know that the break had gone up the road and clearly didn’t know how to race without being directly instructed. The incredible sense of tactics and timing of a Greg LeMond had been lost and it showed in that terrible collective performance by the Yanks. What would happen if the power meters were banned? Radios ok, I get the safety issues they address, but doing away with powermeters makes for an interesting conversation.

Rigoberto Uran continues to impress: the French are furious with him, calling him an old fox (vieux renard) who follows, follows and then scoops up seconds where he can. On stage 1 he was 1’03” behind, stage 8, 1’01”, stage 11, 0:55”, stage 13, 0:35”, and now he’s second by 0”27” a couple of milliseconds ahead of Bardet. Vaughters, with his own calculating style, has clearly accepted the facts of the new data world, and is guiding the Colombian perfectly and according to the rules of modern cycling. We’ll see what the truth is on top of the Izoard today, but don’t forget, Uran once beat Fabian Cancellara in a Vuelta TT and won a TT at the Giro as well. The entire peloton knows he has that weapon sitting in his back pocket making his race, so far, perfect.