Few attacks amongst the leaders, no gaps in the end, what’s going on? I think there are three main reasons that led to this result:
- Aerodynamics. You should read this piece by Sportsscientists.com. Nice to see some logical analysis backed up by numbers. First important point they make is that the level of performance is still quite high but not as high as 5-6 years ago.Second, if the performance delta between the leaders is small, even on the climbs the benefit of drafting will keep a group together.
- Individual setbacks. While it would be nice to conclude that we now have a larger group of similarly performing riders, this may be too optimistic. Last year the Tour, Andy Schleck and Contador were way above the rest. Have the rest caught up or is it, by coincidence, reduced form for both of them? Andy Schleck has had mediocre form (by his standards) and several setbacks this whole season, to the extent that even his own team thought Frank had better chances this Tour. Contador has the Giro in his legs, the clenbuterol case in his head and the pain in his knee, so it is easy to see he won’t be performing at his 2010 Tour level. Maybe most contenders are simply riding as could be expected of them (except Voeckler) and the top-2 are struggling for their individual reasons.
- Brotherly love. Many people say that with the Schleck brothers, 1+1=3. I think it’s more 1+1=1.5. It seems neither wants to do anything to further their own chances if it may hurt their brother’s, and you can’t win the Tour that way. Andy did manage to gap most of the other team leaders on a few occasions up Plateau de Beille, but he always looked back where Frank was and then stopped. Maybe he couldn’t do any better, maybe he wanted to keep Frank’s chances alive. It’s unlikely you can gap all other contenders on the same day, so you will need several breakaways with different “passengers” to create room on GC. On Plateau de Beille Andy may have been able together with Evans to gap Contador, and in the Alps he could try the reverse. That in itself is hard enough, to try and do it without allowing Evans or Contador to gap Frank on occasion is impossible. Their complaint that nobody else tried anything seems odd when they didn’t really commit to their own jumps 100%.
So who is in the driver’s seat now? Subscribe to the blog and you’ll receive my opinion tomorrow.