2011 Tour de France – Losers

Fotoreporter Sirotti

Yesterday we covered the Winners from the 2011 Tour de France—here’s a look at the Losers.

1. Without a doubt the biggest loser of the 2011 Tour de France is the now 3-time runner-up, Andy Schleck. From the first week, Schleck looked a step below the men challenging him for victory in this year’s race. Mentally asleep at the wheel, complacent, and at times overzealous, the younger of the two Schlecks failed to win a race that many thought was his to lose.

In my opinion, two things derailed Schleck’s Tour. First, he waited too long to attack. By waiting until the penultimate day in the Alps to launch a major offensive, Schleck let his rivals stay in the race too long, boosting their confidence as the light at the end of the tunnel—and the final time trial—came closer and closer. Second and perhaps most importantly (and this has been well-document so stop holding your breath for some incredible insight), Schleck failed to address his most glaring weakness: his inability to time trial. Look – no one expects Andy to challenge for stage wins against the world’s best, but it is completely reasonable to expect that he be able to hold his own, or at least defend a lead—against his main GC rivals.

In the end, a change in mentality might have killed two birds with one stone as some tenacity—similar to but a bit more restrained than what he displayed on Stage 18—might have pushed him to attack in the Pyrenees while spending his off-season improving his TT skills. Until we are introduced to a newer, more aggressive Andy, the build-a-bear, pony, and ice cream party jokes will continue.

2. While we can’t blame them for their bad luck, Radio Shack’s Tour de France was nothing short of catastrophic, as three of the team’s GC contenders—Janez Brajkovic, Chris Horner, and Andreas Kloden—all abandoned before the “real” race had even begun. Ironically, Radio Shack announced before the Tour that it would continue to support the team through 2013, a stroke of luck considering how poorly the team fared. For 2012, Johan Bruyneel faces a major overhaul if he wishes to maintain the legacy that won 12 grand tours from 1999 to 2010. My advice: let Klöden go (he’s already rumored to have signed with Quick-Step) and tell Leipheimer that he’ll have better luck winning races in a top US domestic squad. Move forward with Tiago Machado, Janez Brajkovic, and Chris Horner while developing young talent like Matt Busche and Nelson Oliviera.

3. Katusha brought an all-Russian team to the Tour de France. After missing most breaks and failing to win a stage, the team’s only distinction was having the Tour’s only positive test. Nice job, guys!

4. Wiggo, Vino, and VDBeke all looked to be in good form heading into the 2011 Tour de France. Unfortunately, first week crashes ended all three of their Tours prematurely, sending their teams scrambling for a Plan B. Luckily for Sky and Omega Pharma-Lotto, other riders rose to the challenge. As for Astana, at least they’re able to point out they weren’t the worst team from the former USSR.

5. French teams not sponsored by Europcar failed to impress at the 2011 Tour de France, a fact made all the more apparent following a 2010 Tour in which French teams and riders won six stages. For the first time since 2005, only a single French rider, Pierre Rolland, managed to win a stage. FDJ tried its best, placing man after man in each day’s breakaway, soaking up a score of intermediate sprint primes—but that’s it. Jeremy Roy’s most aggressive rider win, while deserved, would probably be happily traded away for a stage win. The best rider at Cofidis was white jersey runner-up, Rein Taaramae (from Estonia), but the team itself failed to earn anything beyond his day in white and 12th-place finish overall. As for Ag2r, former mountain biker Jean-Christophe Peraud rode a good race to finish 10th overall, but that was really all Ag2r had to show for themselves after winning a stage last year and placing Nicolas Roche in the top-15. And last but not least, after all the squawking by team manager Stephane Heulot after his team was left uninvited to the 2010, you would have thought his Saur-Sojasun team would have done more once invited. Thank goodness for Europcar, otherwise 2011 would have been the most mediocre French Tour performance in years.

6. Early in the season, Rabobank’s Robert Gesink looked to be the most improved of last year’s top-10 finishers. After some early season wins and a noticeably improved ability to time trial, the Dutchman looked to be a good bet for a podium finish in Paris. Unfortunately, first week crashes and bad luck sent the young star into a deep tailspin—he lost more and more time as the race progressed. Some healing and perhaps a trip to a sports psychologist might help—as would a good performance at the Vuelta. If his team is smart, they won’t let him head into the off-season dwelling on such a terrible showing.

7. Despite two top-10 performances, the 2011 Tour de France was a disaster for Italy. Ivan Basso spent an entire season focusing on the race, only to fade at the time when many thought he might reveal himself to be the strongest rider in the race. As for Damiano Cunego, he followed wheels all the way to a 7th-place finish in Paris, but why? A savvy rider with a powerful uphill sprint, one has to wonder why he didn’t make more of an effort to hunt for stages or perhaps the polka dot jersey. A 7th-place finish—while impressive—is hardly a memorable performance. And last but least, there’s Alessandro Petacchi, who put in such an anonymous race that it’s hard to believe he didn’t dope before last year’s two-stage, green jersey-winning performance. July was not a good month for the tifosi.

8. While Omega Pharma-Lotto won three dynamic stages, Quick-Step—the other big-budget Belgian team—did little more than watch the race going on around them. Yes, Tom Boonen crashed-out, Sylvain Chavanel rode much of the race injured, and Jerome Pineau suffered the tragic death of his uncle—but you have to think the team could have mustered more for their time. After last year’s stunning performance, 2011 was a wash.

9. Despite cautious optimism, no news is bad news for Bob Stapleton. His self-imposed second Rest Day deadline came and went, with nary a peep from the High Road CEO. August 1st is right around the corner, hopefully Bob’s found something and will announce it soon.

10. Vacansoleil likely won’t even make the World Tour next year, let alone receive an invite to the Tour de France. You know it’s bad when a team is looking to Ezequiel Mosquera to save its season.

11. With Radio Shack’s injuries and Leopard Trek’s failure to get the win, the folks from Trek have to be scratching their heads. Even worse, Specialized and Cervelo won 10 of the Tour’s 21 stages. Were it not for Andy Schleck’s victory atop the Galibier, the Wisconsin firm would have gone winless for the first time since 1998 (it wasn’t invited in 2008).

12. Had BMC not switched to Shimano heading in to the 2011 season, this would have been Campagnolo’s first Tour de France win since 2006.

13. The person who thought these were a good idea.

14. My Velogames Fantasy League Squad floundered its way to a bottom-10 finish thanks to Vinokourov, Van den Broeck, Horner, Gesink, and Petacchi. Ugh.

15. And last but not least, Thomas Voeckler’s 2012 program is the final loser from the 2011 Tour de France, as the Frenchman is apparently deciding to focus on a strong GC performance. That’s just about the worst idea I’ve heard since making bibs to match the polka dot jersey.

Share your Losers and comments below.

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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8 Responses to 2011 Tour de France – Losers

  1. Steve in Duluth says:

    I think the reason the Schlecks didn't attack with more gusto early was the 6-time Grand Tour winner following their wheel. Consider: Andy Schleck can almost certainly grind uphill faster and longer than Cadel, and Frank was able to put time into Evans on Luz Ardiden. They were worried about Contador, though. An in-form Contador can ride with either Schleck and has the potential to gain time on them both on mountains and in time trials. Even after losing that minute on the first stage he was, to them, the significant threat.

    What we never saw was a straight-up, equally-fresh climbing duel between just Andy and Cadel. Contador was breathing down their necks in the Pyrenees, and Andy had been in a break prior to Alpe d'Huez, and of course was gassed from his solo effort on the Galibier. I think Andy could have dropped Cadel on equal terms in the Pyrenees, as Basso did on the Zoncolan last year, but he never tried–he thought he had to beat Contador, not Evans.

    The mentality you must take to beat Contador has to be tricky–you can't beat him in Time Trials, and you've had little luck beating him in the Mountains. From the quotes (something like "I decided to focus on my strengths, not my weaknesses") it sounds like Andy prepared to squeeze out slim gains in the mountains by being *really good* at climbing them, rather than simply be equal to Contador in the mountains and slightly less worse than normal in the TT. Instead, he was neutralized by Evans in the mountains, unexpectedly crushed on a descent, and walloped in the time trial.

    Even with all the hand-wringing over his time trials, the fact is that all Andy has to do to win the Tour is to gain three minutes in the mountains over the second-placed rider, whomever that is. Depending on what happens in August/November/whenever, that might be a surprisingly achievable task next year.

  2. grolby says:

    I mostly agree with Steve's assessment – the time trial isn't really Andy's problem. He turned in a respectable performance for him; Evans just blew him away. Even compared to other GC riders with good TT reputations, the Schlecks didn't do too badly.

    I disagree that the problem was Contador, though, and it's far from certain the Andy would have been much better at climbing than Cadel Evans this year. Even when you've got a rider like Contador to fear, the real weapon that Andy Schleck has at his disposal is climbing. His modus operandi for winning any grand tour should be to attack in the mountains and gain as much time as possible there to give him that two to three minute cushion in the time trial. Andy Schleck didn't lose the Tour in the Grenoble time trial this year – he lost it in the Pyrenees.

  3. BETH says:

    I'm still shaking my head over the fact Geox wasn't invited, even though I understand the rules and regulations quite well. So many teams have so little to show for their 23 days in France, I have a hard time deciding which team to choose as the one that should have been skipped over. Just 4 teams bagged 15 of the stages: Sky had 2, Garvelo 4, HTC 6, and OPL 3. Admittedly, we have no idea how it all would have gone if there hadn't been such an attrition rate in that first 9-day week. And I'm still shaking my head at Andy and everything he didn't do……………

  4. dan says:

    I wonder if Leopard Trek used the same (failed) tactics that Garmin Cervelo used in the Classics…not picking a clear winner and backing him up completely. Yes, I know…Andy was the choosen one, but it seemed like they were also trying to make sure Frank was on the podium. Had Frank completely sacrificed himself to the point where he wouldn't make the podium, would he have been able to help Andy gain more time before the TT? If Frank went with Andy on the Galibier, would Andy have been able to distance himself further away from Cadel?

    • Steve in Duluth says:

      I didn't really clarify this in my previous post, but I think the reason the Schlecks didn't gain time in the Pyrenees is because they were playing tactics to tire out Contador. The feint attacks seemed to be deliberate attempts to force Contador to chase and tire himself out, allowing one or both Schlecks to escape later on the climb and gain small chunks of time.

      I don't know that the problem is that they didn't pick a #1; I think leaving Frank open as a GC candidate was a good tactical and strategic move, since the other contenders had to worry about him and if Andy had a bad day he would still be available to use. Andy's all-or-nothing attack on the Izoard is impossible without Frank as the hole card. It makes no sense to attack with both–what little you gain by having Andy draft Frank is lost by the increased urgency the Peloton has to reel them back in (remember all the contenders looking at each other, wondering who would chase? That was because nobody wanted to gas themselves and be left vulnerable to a counter by Frank, who was just along for the ride) and if your gamble fails, your Tour is over. That stage was played well.

      The problem, in my view, is that they out-thought themselves in the Pyrenees. As @grolby said, that was their chance to gain time on Evans.They spent too much effort attacking Alberto that could have been used to ride away from Cadel. They were expecting to be racing 2010 Contador, not a 2011 Contador with a bad knee and a brutal Giro's worth of climbing in his legs.

  5. henry says:

    I am surprised that Contador has not been listed here as a loser.

    How can going from winning the last 5 (or is it 6?) that you entered, to finishing 5th not count as losing?

    This leads on to the point Steve made on the "winners" board – I wonder if *any* of this year's "contenders" for the Tour will be at the Giro next year??

    just my 2p

    H

  6. Uli says:

    Did you consider that Schleck may not have been able to attack at other times?

  7. Joe says:

    Point #12 – Ok, I might be wiling to admit a Pinarello equipped with Campagnolo won the 2006 TDF, since its a relatively anonymous fact. But thank god you didn't say Oscar Pereiro… In my opinion no rider won that year.

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