Monday, July 17, 2006

le Tour--a quickish note on the Phonak controversy

So there’s a colossal hoo-ha in the press over whether Phonak (Landis’ team) was right tactically to deliberately give up the yellow jersey to the talented Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, who won the jersey (though not the stage) the other day after a 28-odd minute breakaway. While I was surprised by Phonak’s decision, I gotta say the press should lighten up. First, Pereiro’s exceptionally fine and deserves the honor he won, but he’s not an Alpine specialist, and didn’t look great the first day or two in the Pyrenees either, so it’s not unreasonable to think he won’t hold the yellow jersey once the really high passes kick in. The timing also wasn’t unreasonable, since Phonak may have (incorrectly, it turned out) expected to be able to take a couple days off from pacemaking with the sprint teams having a strong interest in positioning their men for stage wins between the Pyrenees and Alps—which they didn’t, whether due to disorganization, disinterest, or exhaustion was hard to tell though all seemed to have been factors at various points, so Phonak ended up doing a fair bit of work anyhow just to keep Floyd safe up towards the front of the main field, but you can’t figure out everybody perfectly. Second, Phonak is in the unusual position (since Lance’s reign began anyway) of having the strongest rider but one of the weaker teams in the Tour, no disrespect. So they do need to save themselves for the Alps, which are going to make or break the GC contenders (to the extent there really are any left besides Cadel and Denis Menchov). CSC, though badly hurt by the loss of Bobby Julich and down to only 6 boys (including a sprinter, no help on high), still has the formidable Jens Voigt to help proven stage winner/humble mountain genius Carlos Sastre, plus support Christian Vande Velde has really been kicking a%$ this Tour and I think will be more helpful than previously thought. And T-Mobile has a hell of a team as always despite being decimated by the pre-tour loss of mountain monsters Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla, and if the faltering prior-podium-sitter Andreas Kloden gets his legs back in time for the Alps, may try to break the field apart for at least a stage, and I wouldn’t want to be Phonak trying to cover either CSC or T-Mobile without something left in the tank. Leipheimer is 7 minutes back and it’ll be tough for him and Gerolsteiner to get it back so Phonak ought not to sweat them too much. In sum, lay off the boys in green, and let Pereiro enjoy his glory before he loses it! Of course, the yellow jersey tends to inspire a team, so there’s certainly the chance I’m wrong and that Landis and Phonak will be crying like babies in Paris. In which case, there’s always the final TT for Landis to take time out of Pereiro so long as he doesn’t totally crack in any given stage in the Alps. Allez!

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