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The Tour: "The Brilliantly Executed Fumble"
By Staff
Date: 7/15/2006
The Tour: "The Brilliantly Executed Fumble"

The Brilliantly Executed Fumble
Today my message box is being flooded by people concerned about the disaster of Floyd losing the yellow jersey. Some of them heard me predict yesterday on CNN that he’d be victorious in Paris. “How did everything go so wrong so suddenly?”

By Dave Shields

Doing Tour de France analysis for hundreds of mainstream media outlets over the past three years has been an interesting experience. It can be challenging to explain the complex maneuverings of pro cycling to an audience that often underestimates the way this game works. Today my message box is being flooded by people concerned about the disaster of Floyd losing the yellow jersey. Some of them heard me predict yesterday on CNN that he’d be victorious in Paris. “How did everything go so wrong so suddenly?” they ask.

Floyd Landis celebrates in the Maillot Jaune of tour leader after Stage 12
Photo (c) Tim DeWaele

The answer is, Floyd and his Phonak team were brilliant today. Here’s why:
Cumulative team energy is the currency of the Tour de France. It takes 30%-50% more power to ride at the head of the peloton, guarding against attacks from key rivals. Floyd and his team looked at the brutal terrain ahead. It consists of long flat stages where marking attack after attack could become exhausting, followed by decisive mountain stages and a long time-trial. Phonak decided they could gain valuable rest by creating an ally.

They identified cyclists who were both capable of gaining back enough time to overtake Landis for the overall lead, but who would be incapable of holding that lead through the Alps and the time-trial. The perfect candidate would be a weaker rider on a strong team whose Tour, so far, had not gone well.

So when today’s stage began Phonak slowed the pace and invited cyclists to attempt a breakaway. If anybody who endangered Floyd’s win in Paris attempted to go forward Phonak would have to turn on the jets and shut the break down. As each man sprinted forward into the escapist group Phonak’s Directeur Sportif, John Lelange, would have consulted his notes and assessed what their participation meant. Half a dozen break attempts were shut down for various reasons by either Phonak or another team who didn’t like the composition.

Phonak at the head of affairs in stage 12 leading the peloton
Photo (c) Tim DeWaele

Then at the twenty-three kilometer mark a six-man breakaway formed with Jens Voigt (Team CSC), Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Sylvain Chavanel and Arnaud Coyot (Cofidis), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) and Andriy Grivko (Milram).

Oscar Pereiro was the best placed rider in this group, twenty-eight minutes and fifty seconds back of Floyd Landis in the General Classification. Oscar had yielded over a minute and forty seconds to Landis in the first time-trial, plus over twenty-six more minutes in the tough mountain stage to Pla-d’Aran. His team’s tour aspirations had crumbled when superstar Alejandro Valverde broke his collar bone in a crash on stage three. If ever there was a team with the skill and motivation to dig deep and hold onto the yellow jersey for as long as possible, this was it. Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears needed exposure to repay their sponsors investment, to fill out their resumes, and to secure the future of both team and riders. These guys were primed to fight.

This situation fit Phonak’s needs, provided they could lose the right amount of time. That wouldn’t be easy. They had to give up at least enough to put Pereiro ahead of Landis, otherwise they would accomplished nothing more than creating a new rival. Conversely, they couldn’t give up so much time that Pereiro became a threat for the overall win in Paris. Despite his early time losses, the yellow jersey is certain to motivate Pereiro to fight like never before. He’s a tough guy. He won a stage of the Tour de France last year, and also performed well in the mountains. But you can’t win the Tour de France if you don’t have the guts to confidently play with fire. This sport takes nerves of steel.

In order to lose the precise amount of time they wanted Phonak also needed to take into account other teams who might try to change the pace of the main peloton, including the sprinters teams who were certain to ramp speeds up in the last five kilometers. The silver lining was, attempting to give up nearly half-an-hour meant a much needed day of rest for the team. And the brilliant thing is, they accomplished it perfectly.

Tonight Oscar Periero gets to take the yellow jersey home, along with a margin of one minute and twenty-nine seconds over Landis. His team will strategize and fight to defend the tunic through the long-undulating heat of Stage Fourteen, and up the scorching Alpine climbs of Stage Fifteen. They may even defend it until the brutal final slopes of this year’s toughest test on Stage Sixteen, but it will be an epic accomplishment if they haven’t given it up by the end of that day. Phonak is very determined to insure that the shoulders it lands on belong to their leader, Floyd Landis. Cycling fans are excited to see if they can pull that off. Either way, what a tour this has been!

Dave Shields is the author of the bestselling and Benjamin Franklin Award Winning novel, The Race. His sequel, The Tour, is receiving widespread praise for introducing doping issues from the perspective of the athletes. He’s often seen discussing these topics on networks such as CNN, ESPN, and Fox News. By special arrangements with the publisher, personalized copies are available through the Daily Peloton by clicking here.

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