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.