You’ve seen it all before: One team at the front in a mountain stage, keeping the pace high while the pack behind them is reduced to the 30-40 strongest in the race. Then the team leader places his decisive move on the final climb and wins.
HOWEVER: Which team is the team leader on? Does the work from the team increase the chances of their own leader of his competition? The speed is the same for everybody, does it matter if the pace is set by a guy in a blue or a red jersey? Cycling seems to believe it does, and obviously all the years that the team was Postal/Discovery and the team leader was Lance, it would seem to be the case. But does anybody really believe Lance rode away from his rivals because it was his teammates setting the tempo instead of Ulrich’s teammates?
The Tour de Suisse 2011 saw Leopard setting tempo “Postal-style” perfectly putting Frank Schleck in position with 5km to go. Then all his rivals proceeded to ride away from him. To Plateau de Beille, Leopard once again set the pace, and once again nothing happened on the climb. And why would it? While Andy sits comfortably at the end of his train, Contador sits comfortably behind him.
If you’re having a really lousy day, having your team set a tempo you can deal with, while dissuading another team from setting a higher tempo would be a good idea. But “making the race hard for others” also makes it hard for yourself and is hardly a tactic. This fact remains intact even if one of these stages a team sets tempo and their leader wins. Wasting your team like that doesn’t help, but it doesn’t prevent you from making a winning move either.
Note: I wrote this on Tuesday, so who knows what happened in the Alps. But it doesn’t matter, the facts remain even if somebody by chance “finishes off the beautiful work by his team”.