2010 Tour de France – Stage 15 Wrap-Up

2010 Tour de France - Contador in Stage 15

Fotoreporter Sirotti

Today we received more drama and controversy from a Tour that’s been anything but uninteresting.  Thomas Voeckler took France’s second consecutive Pyrenean victory—the first win in a Tour for the French Champion since Jacky Durand in 1994.


But while Voeckler was enjoying his day in the sun, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador were continuing their GC battle on the Port de Bales—with Schleck’s drivetrain playing more of a role in the action than we might have liked.  (In case you missed it, here’s a pretty good video of the events as they unfolded.)


2010 Tour de France - Schleck in Stage 15

Fotoreporter Sirotti

So while I agree that there’s already been way too much post-race commentary and ranting to go around—I still want my place at the table.


Here are my thoughts:


1. First of all, it might be a bit much to call Schleck’s chain problems a “mechanical” as that implies a random mechanical mishap—a cruel intervention of fate, if you will.  No fate here—Andy is responsible for what happened; he was shifting under an extreme load, in the midst of an out-of-the-saddle attack.  Every cyclist knows that shifting in such a fashion can cause a chain to drop, skip, or jam—no matter how expensive or well maintained the bike may be.


2. Second, for reasons I have yet to ascertain, Contador was not at the front of the group when Schleck launched his aborted move.  This raises a question: why did Andy attack then? Was Contador at the back getting a bottle or talking to a teammate? Words such as “honor” and “fairness” are bouncing around a lot in reaction to what was to happen next.  But was it “sporting” and “honorable” for Andy to attack at a time when he knew Contador wasn’t present to respond?  Of course, the immediate answer is yes, but we’re treading on a slippery slope here.  At some point, if we want to see “gloves off” racing, then we need to embrace it fully, no matter who benefits.  One cannot bemoan the neutralization of Stage 2 on one hand, while criticizing Contador’s move today on the other.  We can’t have it both ways.


3. Back to the Port de Bales.  Once Contador realized that Schleck had attacked—a second after Vinokourov responded—he closed the move as anyone contender would have: with force, exploding from the group with his head down.  Clearly, it was Contador’s intention to blow right by the Saxo rider, a common move for anyone launching a counter-attack.  (An important note: Contador did not attack, Schleck did—Contador simply countered.)


I think it’s safe to believe that Contador didn’t know (at this point) that Schleck was dealing with a problem. Contador’s main concern was closing the gap and then countering with a move of his own—he simply reacted in the moment to what was happening on the road in front him.


4. That said, once the gap was established and Contador, Sanchez, and Menchov were clear, it’s safe to assume that at least one of them knew what was happening behind.  At this point, waiting for Schleck to join them would have been an extreme gesture of sportsmanship, an unselfish display of fairness and respect.


Then again, there’s a bike race to win.  And after so many people complained after Saxo Bank waited for several men (including Andy Schleck) to rejoin after the crashes on the descent of the Stockeau in Stage 2, why can we blame them for racing?


It’s also important to remember that two riders who profited from the move besides Contador.  Contador attracts the most anger because he’s an easy target—but Sanchez and Menchov didn’t exactly hit their brakes.  Suppose Contador waited and Sanchez and Menchov rode away to take the top two places on GC—what then?  Contador was between a rock and hard place, and made the best decision he could have given the situation at hand.


5. And let’s be honest—we’re talking about 8 seconds here.  Even if Contador had waited, it’s unlikely Andy would have dropped him again by the top of the climb.  Should Contador perform as we expect him to in Saturday’s time trial, these 8 seconds—and how he got them—won’t matter.  And if the fire in his belly causes Andy to drop Contador on the Tourmalet Thursday, the 8 seconds might be meaningless as well.


6. What’s most unfortunate to me is the fact that if the chain were on the other bike and the jersey on the other rider, so to speak, people would probably be saying that Contador got what he deserved.  Which begs one final question: have we ever given Alberto Contador a fair shake?


Yes, he has a different riding style than what we’re used to seeing, one that’s less calculating and more contingent upon the feel of the race, the heat of the moment, and gut reactions.  He’s also come face to face with the sport’s biggest media and public image juggernaut and come through defeated and embarrassed (Contador might have won the race last year, but the everyone’s widespread display of scorn indicates he lost the war).


But does any of this enough to warrant such disdain?  I don’t think so.


7. In the end, perhaps our notion “honor” in the peloton goes a bit too far sometimes. (I’m a culprit too.) Maybe the events at the end of Stage 2 lead us to read too much into the events today.  We can never say for certain how we would have reacted if in the place of Contador, Sanchez, or Menchov—they made the best decisions they could have given the information at their disposal.  Hindsight’s always 20/20, but the lens through which we view the past always seems skewed.  The race will go one—and it’s been a great one so far.  Let’s not forget that.



About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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22 Responses to 2010 Tour de France – Stage 15 Wrap-Up

  1. George says:

    I have to agree with you 100%.

    The American cycling populace has never forgiven him for beating Lance in his come back ride. How dare he not recognize that this 100 year old race belongs to Armstrong. But I digress.

    Personally, I love his riding style. Heart on his sleeve caution to the wind every time he gets out of the saddle. Since Indurain, tour champions have been so cold and calculating that there is very little heart in the race. That may be unfair, but I’m thinking of “the look.”

    Contador’s style is refreshing and fun. Although I’ve been watching and riding since La Vie Claire, Contador has truly refreshed the sport for me. It’s rough the way we direct so much venom at him.

    And, Schleck’s attack deliberately happened when Contador was at the back of the group. AC closed the distance as quickly as he could and blew past like anyone else would have done. Sad, but not unfair.

  2. Nick says:

    Two distinct things happened in Stage 2.

    1. Regroup
    2. Neutralization of the sprint

    A lot more people were upset about the 2nd thing than the 1st.

    I didn’t really care about the regroup. I don’t think Contador was interested in winning the Tour by having everyone of his opponents crash.

    I was upset that the sprint was called off. Sure, give people a chance to get back on. But after that, race is back on IMO. And if they can’t stay on, well, too bad.

  3. michael says:

    Whit, agree on all points. The media have done such a good job portraying Contador as a perpetual bad guy that he can’t get the benefit of the doubt from anyone.

    I am 100% Schleck fan, but i think this issue is all his own fault. A dropped chain is not due to mechanical malfunction, it is due to user error. Perhaps if Andy was more of an actual cyclist than a lithe, watt generating climbing machine this never would have happened.

    He wouldn’t have dropped his chain (and i’ll wager a ten’er that there is a chain catcher on his bike the rest of the race if their wasn’t already) and he would have descended competently (though by his normal descending standards today was stellar, though compared to the other GC protagonists…..).

    Leave Alberto alone on this one. As for stage 2, I still am of the opinion that that was a Bjarne DS master class disguised as “honorable rider conduct”.

    Riis knows he has to temper emotions post-stage 15, as his DS good will was exhausted on Stage 2. He needs some friends in the peloton.

  4. evan says:

    Excellent post. From all of the outcry today, you would think that people almost expected Contador to give Schleck his bike…

  5. Tim says:

    I disagree entirely. Been watching the Tour since ’86 and you don’t attack a mech prob. Bobke said it best that a real champion wins b/c he is the strongest. All this crap about AC not knowing an Sanchez, Menchov blah blah is foolishness. He took it like a b*****. Just imagine. Would LA? Nope although Jan was in a ditch. BigMig? Oh my, no! Lemond? Nope! Hinault? He was even more a traditionalist (except for his dealings with Greg). The crowd there knew. The whistles and boos were far stronger. They aren’t watching Vs. They understand the sport. Bad play, plain and simple.

    • Whit says:

      I hear ya, Tim. There’s a part of me that feels let down because AC missed a chance to add himself to the list of great champions–not in total number of wins–but in esteem and respect. Even if he wins this race by taking 4 minutes out of AS in the TT or on the Tourmalet, the victory will be forever tainted.

      Thanks!

  6. Touriste-Routier says:

    For once, I am not sure where I stand.

    My first thought was WTF was Schleck thinking with his attack? Even if he opened up a decent gap, it wasn’t like he was going to out descend Contador or Sanchez; surely they would have bridged back. I don’t know what Conador was doing hanging back, but I didn’t perceive that Schleck was taking unfair advantage of him. If anything I thought, “what a stupid waste of energy, but at least they aren’t marking each other again”

    As for the mechanical, while it may be Schleck’s own fault, it probably is a mechanical nonetheless. If a contender crashes due to his own stupidity, is it still not a crash?

    While I can understand Contador not seeing/knowing what was going on in the course of his response/counter-attack (http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/procyclings-daily-tour-de-france-dispatch-stage-15 cites the Astana DS as not telling Contador what happened). I find it hard to believe that neither Menchov or Sanchez saw it, figured it out, or were told about it.

    But it was a bad situation; they all had to be in or out together, as they are all threats to each other. But there didn’t appear to be any discussion.

    Most importantly though, we are talking about etiquette, not rules. And as Whit stated, it was a difficult judgment call. If one of them is guilty of poor form, so are the rest.

    But we aren’t talking about the net 8 seconds, we are talking about the shift of 39… Schleck is fortunate to only lose this much today; he rode the descent of his life!

    • Whit says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, T-R. As you pointed out, we’re talking about etiquette, a much less black and white conversation than one about rules.

      As far as the time is concerned, I think we are talking about 8 seconds since that’s now the gap between the two riders. The grand scheme of things is what matters now–not the gap gained on one particular stage. If anything, it just makes thing all the more interesting.

      W.

  7. Joe says:

    No Foul in my book… A chain drop is unfortunate, but it happens. When racing in a USA Cycling sanctioned criterium; If a rider experiences a mechanical event, they return to the pit and an official will permit you to have a free lap, and re-enter the race where you dropped off. Now It could be just the interpretation of our local officials, but a chain drop is not judged as a mechanical, and thus not given a free lap. While I realize a local USA Cycling event is a far cry from the Tdf, I still feel the same logic applies… Chain drop is not a Mechanical, and the race should go on.

  8. Todd says:

    I think that AC has made his own bed so people look for the next “offense” real or imagined. I do find it interesting that AC called it a mechanical in his own words. The interview with Schleck was very fair he would not have ridden that way but he did not get into the whole “fairness” debate. Schleck should be happy to have gotten his chain back on quickly or his position would be far worse. I think the remaining stages will be very charged affairs.

  9. big jonny says:

    There are no gifts.

  10. graeme c says:

    I am not sure the argument of poor bike handling by Andy Schleck is sustainable, especilly that somehow that negates the idea / definition of what is a “mechanical.” If Thomas Voeckler had fallen during his elaborate (and deserved) victory salute, that would be poor bike handling!

    A call of poor bike handling is a judgement call. Is a flat for the maillot jaune a mechanical? No. Would Contador, Sanchez and Menchov have observed etiquette and waited? Before this stage I thoight I knew the answer; now I do not know, but I would like to think they would have.

    What about a flat for the maillot jaune when the probability of a flat is more likely than normal (e.g., on cobbles)? Is that bad bike handling or a mechanical?

    Note that the maillot jaune is central to the discussion – he is “protected.” The jersey needs to be respected. That is the magic of being the wearer. He also has the opportunity (responsibility) to demand others behave in a sportsman like manner if a contendor for the jersey has a “mechanical” (e.g., Fabian Cancerella on stage 2 and Nick’s argument above).

    Where, for example, do the peloton rules / etiquette stop and poor sportsmanship start? The Ullrich and Armstrong incidents were different (correct me if I am wrong factually) in that they were man on man. There was no Sammy Sanchez or Denis Menchov equivalents to benefit from those symbols of pure sportsmanship.

    In my book there was an error of judgement. I was yelling at the TV screen that it was the maillot jaune who was disadvantaged, but no-one took any notice.

    • Whit says:

      Hi Graeme! I’m not really saying that Schleck’s a bad bike handler–a mechanical’s a mechanical ultimately–I was just pointing out that this was different than a flat or being crashed by another rider.

      As for your remark about the yellow jersey flatting on the cobbles, that happened. Sylvain Chavanel–as someone points out–flatted 3 times and changed his bike on the pavé in Stage 3. No one waited.

      You are indeed correct though that this all centers around the yellow jersey–but I still wonder, if Contador had done the same the someone not wearing yellow if some fans would criticize him just as much just because he’s Contador. That’s the bigger story for me–we seem to be quick to judge Contador’s actions and much more forgiving of others’.

  11. cthulhu says:

    I don’t know if Contador should or should not have attacked, but I don’t see it as unfair. It’s a race…things happen and it’s a business, there is a lot of money in it.
    But I really cannot let that stand unanswered what you wrote. Trying to prove Contador not being unfair by implying an unfair move by Ändy is in my opinion cheap.
    So, why was Contador at the back. Well, not to get a bottle, that’s what Vino would have to do, not chatting to his teammate because Vino was the only one left and was able to respond to that attack, talking to his DS? That’s what they have radios for. So there was really no need for him to leave his spot at the front. The only reason I could think of was either he wasn’t feeling too well or more likely feigning it to provoke a reaction from Schleck. So if Ändy would have gotten away I would have been as much his fault as the chain from Ändy dropping his.
    As for Contador’s attack, I saw a video on youtube of that situation from I guess the American broadcast and it was differently cut from what I remembered seeing on Eurosport. Sure, it could be that my memory is a bit off or that the cut displayed it differently, but to me it looked the following way:
    Schleck attacks, only Vino (can) follow(s), AC moves to the front of the group but is not gaining during these two or three seconds. Then they move up thanks to Ändy’s misfortune and as the reach him there is like a split second where Contador thinks weather he should or not attack and then accelerates again with only Menchov and Sanchez being able to respond. This is clearly an indication that he somehow noticed Schleck having some kind of “mechanical” difficulty.
    As I said, it looks different in the cut of the (us?) broadcast, like the counterattack you described. I will try to see if I can get another look at the Eurosport footage.
    And, as T-R said, you got it wrong with the times. Eight seconds is now Contador’s lead, meaning he gained 39 sec. Let’s assume Schleck’s attack would have sticked and he would have gain 39 sec, then he would be leading by 70 sec now, that would have been quite a difference for the final TT. I remember still everybody saying “oh Sastre won’t have a chance in the TT and lose yellow” but he somehow managed it through to win the Tour. And Ändy did improve in TT. Not enough to beat Contador in any way but maybe with the motivation of wearing yellow to surprise, but this is now over. Not seeing him gaining around two minutes on the Tourmalet.

    • Whit says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Cthulhu.

      I didn’t mean to imply that Contador’s attack was justified because Andy made an unfair move himself–but I can see how that can be inferred. Attacking when your rival is not paying attention is simply sound racing–Contador never should have left the front. I guess I was just trying to point-out that is we’re going to bring “honor” and “sportsmanship” into it, we might need to widen the lens and look to see if everything holds-up. In this case, I think Schleck’s move would indeed hold-up, but I wanted to raise the question and expand our perspectives a bit.

      As for the time, we are talking about 8 seconds. In terms of winning the Tour–which is really what’s at stake–we’re talking about an 8-second gap between the two riders. So that’s why I focused on the overall gap rather than what was gained on the road.

      As always hanks for your insights–and let us know if you find a video that does a better job of making things clear.

      W.

  12. ml says:

    Great analysis as always, Mr. Yost. I avoiding everything on the web until reading your blog this morning and I’m happier for it.

    Since a few have brought up Stage 2, I want to say again that for me the biggest issue by far is with the race organizer for allowing the downhill in the race, knowing, I’m sure, how dangerous it is.

  13. Hank says:

    You got the take on the situation perfectly. If it had been Contador who, isolated from his team had dropped his chain while attacking, the same people crying foul now would be yucking it up about what a dolt he was and how pathetic Astana’s team tactics were.

    No one gave Sylvan break when he was in yellow and I don’t see any precedence for a situation at this point in a stage during an attack of a rider sitting up. The examples I’ve heard (Jan and Lance) are not at all analogous. Being the decent guy he is Contador is not happy about the circumstances of gaining yellow but the race is not over. Schleck should follow Riis’s advice, get over it and race.

  14. stanley says:

    Whit, this is by far the most sober and thorough analysis I’ve seen on the matters at hand. Thank you.

    And my sentiments switching between Norwegian and Danish commentators during the descent and after the race echoes your pt 6. The degree of selective viewing and high horsed morals largely stem from the collective crush on Andy, and it really makes me feel sorry for Contador.

  15. mindtron says:

    here is the video from eurosport http://www.cyclingfans.com/node/1111

    the best view is the replay with 7 seconds to go. You can see that Contador is coming flying out of the group after Schleck. Schleck then drops his chain and it looks like Vino is momentarily inbetween them.

    either way, how many of us have been in a race situation on a 7-9% grade and been in full attack mode before?

    if Contador truly isn’t as strong this year as many people seem to think then he doesn’t have that many of his explosive attacks to give and just shutting it off could put him at a disadvantage from the others. So he made a snap decision and maybe regretted it (or not) but it was in the heat of the moment.

    Also, if we are to talk etiquette, I always thought that etiquette went out the window when the racing was in full swing which it surely was.

    but let’s face it, Contador will always be the bad guy to whomever his greatest rival is due to the efforts of Armstrong and Bruyneel last year. If being one of only 5 riders to win all three grand tours doesn’t make him one of the greatest champions already, then nothing will.

  16. michael says:

    AC and AS closed the cover on this chapter of the race with a classy interview on French TV coming down off the podium. Andy remains focused on the race and not on yesterdays events after an evening to cool off and gather perspective.

    Chapeau, messieurs Contador et Schleck.

    Now everyone else should drop this subject and let it die.

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