Editor’s Note: Dan Wuori is the author of Velo Magazine’s monthly column, At the Back. For more of his Tour de France humor and commentary, follow Dan on Twitter at @dwuori.
The 2012 Tour de France is only days old, but it’s already a study in contrasts. Consider the cases of Fabian Cancellara and Mark Cavendish.
As the peloton approached the stage 1 finish in Seraing on Sunday, Cancellara powered away from the field like a runaway locomotive. It’s a move he’s made so often and employed to such perfection (most notably in stage 3 of the 2007 Tour and 2010’s Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix) that speculation once ran wild that the four-time world time trial champion had a motor hidden in his bike.
He doesn’t of course. Fabian’s just a beast — and arguably the peloton’s single strongest rider.
But “ride away from the field and power to victory” is a card you can only play so many times before the world becomes wise to your plans, as Fabian found at the cobbled classics the following year – when nobody, and I mean nobody, would share the work with poor Spartacus.
And can you blame them?
I mean, who’s going to trade pulls with a guy planning to eat them alive over the closing kilometers? You know it’s a bad plan. They know it’s a bad plan. Everyone knows it’s a bad plan.
Everyone except Fabian apparently, who — in a page right out of “The Gingerbread Man” — continues to request (using the universal “now it’s your turn” elbow gesture and repeated looks over he shoulder) that anyone lucky enough to hold his wheel during one of these epic escapes take on a share of the work. (“Hop on my back, Gingerbread Man — I’ll take you across the river,” said the handsome, yet increasingly predictable Swiss fox.)
Simon Gerrans of Orica-GreenEdge wasn’t dumb enough — or strong enough, as he said — to fall for this trick at Milan-San Remo in March, and picked off a win by tucking safely into Cancellara’s slipstream until just before the line. Liquigas-Cannondale’s 22-year-old sensation Peter Sagan employed the same tactic during the Tour’s first stage on Sunday.
In both cases the craftier riders (Gerrans, in particular) have been subjected to the criticism of armchair pundits — as though either or both had some obligation to lead out the Cancellara Express. Perhaps sensitive to just such barbs, Sagan actually expressed remorse Sunday that he’d been unable to share more of the work with Cancellara. (SMH, Peter. SMH.)
I asked Orica-GreenEdge team director Matt White about the criticism of Gerrans’ Milan-San Remo victory on the eve of Paris-Roubaix in April.
“I think those kinds of comments are pretty naïve,” explained White. “If Gerrans had not sat on [Cancellara’s wheel] and had [come in] second, he would have been an idiot, wouldn’t he? It’s racing. They’re called tactics.”
Exactly. So leave poor Peter alone.
As for Fabian, he could learn a thing or two from Mark Cavendish, who successfully leeched onto the Lotto-Belisol train on Monday, using André Greipel as his leadout man en route to his 21st career Tour stage victory in Tournai.
It may have been the world champion’s most impressive sprint victory ever. Having lost nearly 10 pounds in preparation for the Summer Olympics in London — and lacking even the hint of a leadout train — the “Manx Missile” took the win solo, bouncing amongst the trains of his competitors like a Lycra-clad hobo.
During his post-race interview, the world’s greatest sprinter explained — apparently without frustration — that he has been cast into the role of “bonus rider” as his team supports the GC ambitions of Bradley Wiggins. Then in what I’m declaring a calculated response to Sagan’s stage 1 “Chicken Dance” victory salute, he described his win as “plucky.”
And that’s what I love about Cavendish. It’s not just his talent, it’s his tactical mind.
Lacking the dedicated team support the world champion might reasonably expect, the guy still played the competition like a fiddle, and not the other way around.
Take note Fabian.