Mind the gap!

July 17, 2013

With Froome so far ahead, what can keep him from winning? Mind games and rain. And in that sense, Contador may have scored a first point, albeit unintentionally.

Contador’s crash clearly shook Froome a bit, the five, six turns after that were very wobbly for the Brit. And it seems he wasn’t able to forget about it at the finish either, given that last night at 11pm he still tweeted:

Almost went over your head @albertocontador.. Little more care next time?

It looks like Contador has gotten into Froome’s head, like a pesky Spanish bilharzia bug. Add to that the possible rain on the descents today and the next days and strange things could happen.

We saw it in the Giro with Wiggins, confidence in descending is a funny thing. As much as Froome tries to be different from Wiggo, in this sense he may be similar. I don’t like the train of thought that Wiggins and Froome are mere human robots following orders from their coaches, but it cannot be denied that they do rely greatly on being told what to do. While Cavendish dove into the gap during the echelon stage and was the last guy to make it into the front group, Froome who was 10m behind decided instead to get on the radio.

With a strong team and good preparation, this is a golden set-up. But on the descent, team mates and radios are of no use. It’s just you and your thoughts, and if those thoughts are thoughts of fear, you’re in trouble.

In the time trial, this may pose a small problem for Froome, especially if it stays wet. In the coming days, the problem may grow. I have little doubt that Contador will descend like a maniac off the back of Alpe d’Huez. That road is terrible at the best of times, in the rain it will be the ultimate test of nerves. Especially if Contador decides to take some bad lines to freak people out, we may end up with more than a few riders hanging off the trees there. Or worse.

I can’t say I am looking forward to it, as I just hope that everybody stays safe. But descending is as much a part of cycling as climbing, and it is a legitimate spot to attack. If Froome doesn’t want to be caught behind a crashing Contador again, he’d better make sure he is ahead of him. And Sky fans should pray their sports psychologist has learned from the Wiggins case.

17 Responses to “Mind the gap!”

  1. marcgasch Says:

    Not my favorite… but Contador just got first place. Froome now suffering in the wet descent…We’ll see….

  2. Just watched a ” Nervous Froome ” descending to a victory!

    You are very right about what is uppermost in Chris’s mind at present , getting to Paris in one piece ? Saw that the wet paint got blamed for the Peraud crash , Fan painted a Kangaroo , could just as well been a Tricolor ?

    What was the Bike change about ?

    4+mins cushion , is no longer looking a safe option !

    WTF is Cadel doing today ?

    • I wouldn’t say he descended to victory although he did take time there. But was it him or the bike? At any rate, he again had a few wobbles. But definitely a better descent than yesterday, that was scary!

      • Tim Says:

        he came from 11s back, descended quicker, took time, and won the stage. I’d agree with Skippy calling that “Froome descends to victory”!

        what are your thoughts on a TT rig and rear disc on a technical downhill? I’ve never ridden either, but do you think they are advantageous even when it’s technical like today? On today’s course, what bike strategy would you advise to a team – seemed we saw them all today!

        • The second descent seemed a bit less technical than the first, so then I don’t see a problem with a TT bike (of course if you’re comfortable on the TT bike, neither is a technical descent a problem). BTW, from some hand splits it seemed Froome lost 18 seconds on the first descent so I am still not sure he descended to victory. :-)

          As for strategy, it depends on your equipment. Obviously the best would be to have a Cervelo S5, you give up nothing on aerodynamics and have the road position for climbing and technical descents. And you can build that up with aerobars and everything and still be at 6.8kg. So all gain, no loss. Of course the best climbing style is in the aerobars, if you have the skills. But it’s also clear these guys train 100x more on climbing on their normal road bike than on climbing on their TT bike. And comfort & familiarity also accounts for a lot.

          If you don’t have an aero road bike (or is is just a semi aero bike), then a switch makes sense if you can do it properly. BTW, I am not so sure the big advantage of the switch was the aerodynamics but maybe more the gearing. It all depends again on the road bike of course, but if you have aero wheels, aerobars and a good position on that, then you’ll gain less than if you don’t have any of that. And there are bikes in the peloton that don’t allow you to have all that without busting through the 6.8kg in a big way.

  3. […] Sartre said “hell is other people” and if he wasn’t talking about the peloton, it’s worth borrowing the quote because the danger of a descent can come from other riders taking risks. This is always the case in a bike race and Gerard Vroomen makes the case for descending as a race skill today. […]

  4. Ryana Says:

    Didn’t Cav sprint into the echelon (possibly aided by a handsling)? If so, I doubt many GC riders could follow stay on his Moulton wheels.

    Descent skills need to be tested, but I don’t enjoy a weaker (uphill/TT) rider winning because he has nothing to lose. I know it’s ludicrous, but doesn’t seem as bad when people crash out early, perhaps because they’ve not been able to establish their dominance.

    Nibali is reckoned to be a great descender, yet he crashed in the Giro putting the heat on Wiggins – just good fortune he wasn’t injured and didn’t gave another GT victory to Sky. If Froome DNFed yesterday’s stage after being forced to follow (or lose time to) Contador, and get hurt when the latter caused a crash, it wouldn’t sit well with me.

    I can’t think of an answer to this problem, but find it distasteful that people hope the Tour will be won by a 5 or 7-times GT winner (or his teammate), because Froome is looking to win his first GT and can’t afford to jeopardise his hard-earned leadership. Just hoping Mollema takes ten minutes on everyone tomorrow and makes this a moot point.

    • I have said this many times, I don’t think Nibali is a great descender. He crashes quite often. There is a difference between a great descender and a guy willing to take bigger risks than the others. That said, both are valid tactics it seems. In a way, the win in cycling has gone to the guy willing to take the biggest risk with his health quite often, hasn’t it?

      It’s a reality that you’re all on the same road, and positioning is part of the sport, in week one as you say but also in week 3. Crashing on purpose is not kosher of course, but if you’re stuck behind a poor descender or one who takes unnecessary risks, then that’s just one of thousands of times during a race that you have to make a decision. Pass him or drop back. Or stay close behind and risk being taken down. If you are not able to take that decision or are waiting for somebody to tell you in your ear what to do, that’s a weakness in your cycling skills. And of course, thinking straight and having good judgment while at top exertion is no easy task. That’s why the Tour is for the best of the best.

      • George Says:

        Or the luckiest.

      • Emma Taunton Says:

        Was the stuff about Cavendish sprinting to make the echelon true? I would be interested to know whether Froome was just being negligent and over-reliant on his team.

        The idiotic Sky management clearly made a mistake not picking Eisel. Froome would have had no problems making any echelon with the mighty Austrian shepherding him. His peloton-persuasion skills would have ensured sure Saxo and Movistar didn’t try attacking Froome at inconvenient times too. It’s not just us ladies that cannot resist his charms!

        • Noel Says:

          +1. Even without fancying him, I could see that Sky looked a bit rudderless on the road without his engine and calming influence. His anonymous performance in the Tour of Austria maybe hinted at his disappointment? Sky would do well to promise him the TdF road captain role for 2014 now to ensure he doesn’t do a bunk to quickstep with Uran…

  5. Cinco Says:

    Big nuts dropping down hills can win races…that is racing.
    As Riis said ‘he has brakes’.
    Froome would be stupid to recklessly follow a fast descender and take that chance.

    • George Says:

      And if he loses the time that costs him the overall victory? Still better than crashing, but he’s still lost because he can’t take stupid risks, whereas Contador has nothing to lose – not because he’s braver, more skillful, just second.

      Contador has brakes too. Didn’t use them very well, though.

      Guess it’s just one of the random aspects of cycling. The best/strongest doesn’t all win, so some victories are more deserved than others.

      • I wouldn’t say some victories are more deserved than others. Cycling is more than riding fast. If we’re just interested in the strongest, let’s put them on ergometers in a gym.

        • George Says:

          I’m genuinely amazed you believes all victories are equally deserved. All victories have merit, but luck seems to play a huge role on occasions.

          To me, GT win should be the result of a reasonable balance between bike handling/time-trialling/climbing/long-term endurance/aerodynamics/positioning/descending etc., with team support/equipment being key elements too. Unduly risking race-ending crashes because you’ve nothing to lose, skews the balance. It may well be inevitable, but I believe a win earned in this manner is diminished. YMMV.

          If you can show all of the above aspects on a ergo and overlay the footage with lovely scenery for the spectators, then I’m all for it. It would reduce the environmental impact of races too. Otherwise, bringing mentioning the ergo seems a facile way to belittle an opposing view.

        • I’m surprised you didn’t mention tactics as a key element. I guess that’s where we differ. Plus, who decides what is luck? There are so many decisions made that affect so many outcomes, it rarely is pure luck. Valverde’s flat wasn’t purely bad luck, it’s also a combination of material choice, tire pressure, mechanics checking tires, riding style, keeping your eyes open for glass, etc, etc. and that goes for many “(un)lucky” situations.

          As far as risk taking on descents goes, they all do it. Just because somebody has a tiny but more guts than another first make him a less worthy winner. And who is Froome to decide that his risk limit should be the universal limit?

        • larryatcycleitalia Says:

          Thanks for pointing this out. SKY has tried to make these Grand Tours little more than a theoretical exercise, sadly with a pretty decent success rate. But they’re certainly not the first to try to minimize the importance of whatever they’e not so good at – tricky descents, wet roads, etc. It’s up to the race organizers to stand firm on making these RACES rather than just tests of how many watts can be generated and for how long.

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