Who do you want to win?

April 4, 2011

“Cycling is finishing everybody else’s plate before your own”

Watching yesterday’s Tour of Flanders and the post-race discussions, I started to wonder; who do you want to win cycling races? The strongest rider or the smartest rider?

To me, if cycling was all about the strongest rider, it would be rather predictable and boring. We should reserve that for the 100m dash or ergometer rowing championships.

The rouse of cycling is that while there are no tactics to turn MY legs into winners, the strongest legs can certainly be slayed by slightly weaker legs with superior tactics. Not always, but the fact that the chance exist makes cycling exciting. This concept has really nothing to do with yesterday, if Cancellara drinks enough he goes on to win on one leg. Let’s not have the outliers interfere with the principle.

However, those saying Nuyens isn’t a big winner because he wasn’t the strongest are really not doing his effort justice. He knew he didn’t have a big chance to win (witness the dejection in the Saxo car after the Koppenberg), but he never gave up and was able to maximize what small chance he had and his legs certainly weren’t bad. He saw Cancellara’s move at 3k was the his only chance and he turned himself inside-out for 500m to get on the wheel. Then he perfectly executed my favorite Hennie Kuiper quote (see at the top) by not working in that final breakaway and gambling on Cancellara’s desire to keep driving that 3-man break away from Boonen.

This also applies to Vaughters’ much discussed order to not help in the chase on Cancellara and Chavanel leading up to the Muur. He knew their chance to win was small, everything would have to come back together for a sprint. So why not work to make the chance of a sprint bigger? Because the work effort would have made the chance to hang on to that group over the Muur even smaller. No point working for a mass sprint if that effort means you can’t be in it. The only chance, no matter how small, for Garmin-Cervelo was to conserve energy by finishing BMC’s plates before their own, which were virtually finished already anyway.

Some people don’t like that, they think riders should always “do their share”, a sort of communist-ideal cycling philosophy. But again, that’s ergometer racing. Even Chavanel afterwards said he should have helped Cancellara in the break. Aside from the issue that he probably would have slowed down their escape every time he would have come to the front, it’s hard to see how their chase could have survived any longer. He didn’t appear to have the legs to go on the Muur either. I thought he rode a great race, he had no obligation to do any work with Boonen behind and tried to finish Cancellara’s plate. Aside from sprinting straight for the finish line instead of going through the impossible gap, chapeau!

Let’s hope Paris-Roubaix will be equally exciting.

So, who do you want to win?

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