Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Final Week

Mission accomplished...

Tour Director Christian Prudhomme wanted to create an exciting TOUR right from the start. Through his creativity and vision we have been able to sit back and enjoy daily excitement. The Tour de France is always a special event, but the "new" TDF is an exciting and unpredictable race. What no one was expecting was the multitude of crashes that have taken almost half the overall contenders out of the picture. Still, we can't put the burden of responsibility on the organization for this bad luck. It's the peloton, and when almost every rider there is dreaming of pinning on a number and making a name for himself, the risks are high.

The race has just left the Pyrenees and people are already talking about who is going to win. To be honest, we now know who the best climbers are and this particular talent will once again shape the final GC result. We’ve still got 6 riders in contention, but what people are REALLY talking about is Thomas Voeckler and team Europcar! Voeckler’s faithful lieutenant, Pierre Roland, is a stud and has been successful in past Tour's. But let's take a step back for a second and remember what took place late last fall with the almost total demise of Bbox Bouygues Telecom – which is now Voeckler’s Europcar team.

It’s late fall and BBox is on the verge of folding. Thomas Voeckler has multiple secure and high paying offers to leave but what does he do? He stands by his long time mentor and team director, Jean-René Bernaudeau and does not jump off the sinking ship. True, Voeckler raised the stress level pretty high for everyone by waiting till the bitter end to make his team decision, and he continually pushed back a meeting that was scheduled with Cofidis on the final day of the decision. But just before the deadline strikes which would have sent BBox – and all its riders – into the annals of history, Voelkler commits and the team signs a new contract with Europcar. The team is saved and the rest is history.

Talk about leadership! Wouldn't you ride yourself into the ground for a team leader like that?!! Europcar has created something special and all the money in the world can't buy this type of connection. Is good karma enough to hold on to the yellow jersey? In my heart, I sure hope so. Voeckler has the heart of a lion and who doesn't want an underdog to pull off the miracle. The numbers don't add up, but F#@% the numbers! He has the yellow jersey and he is not about to just give it away. He is riding above his capability and that is what champions do. Living in the moment, crushing it on the bike, and laughing and smiling when he’s done each day. He has nothing to lose.

Anyone could learn from Voeckler. Do you think he is looking at a power meter? I know he doesn't have one, but learn from this! A power meter has very little use in the middle of a stage race when you do whatever is necessary at any given moment. When you look at your powermeter after the fact, more often than not you’ll surprise yourself by blowing away your previous expectations. Live in the moment, execute your plan and see what the competition throws at you. I’ll admit, his ultimate chances are still small – but didn't a 40 year old win the Tour of California this year!?

OK back to the racing analysis…the TDF has not even entered the Alps and we now know who the best climbers are at the moment: Schleck x 2; Basso; Evans; Contador; and...Voeckler. The attrition doesn't lie. Some riders are better placed but these are the guys that are watching each other and making the moves at the critical times. Of course, Pierre Rolland is up there but since he is a domestique I have not included him in the mix. Even the greatest Tour rider of all time, Lance Armstrong called Rolland and Voelker out two days ago on Twitter…"He has 2:06 on Evans. Final TT is 42km. He's French. It's the Tour de France. He won't lose 2:06 in the final time trial assuming he keeps them close on Alpe d'Huez. His teammate Pierre Rolland has been a rock star and has to continue to be. Lastly, the dude knows how to suffer. Will be fun to watch."

There are two, possibly three, stages left in order for the blue chippers to take the yellow away from TV: Stage 17 into Italy on Pinerolo; and then the final big two - Stage 18 summit finish at Serre-Chevaller, and Stage 19 classic on the summit of Alpe-d'Huez. So far it's been cat and mouse with Evans, Basso, Contador and the Schlecks each nullifying each other’s attacks. This has played into the hands of TV as well as Evans. If this continues and Voelkler’s legs continue to surprise him, he will podium in Paris! Contador has a lot to make up and we'll see if Evans can continue his fine form.

At this moment in time, I give the edge to Evans since he really "only" (and do I use this term VERY loosely) needs to hang on and watch the others attack each other. Evans improved leg speed has allowed him to follow the accelerations of the Schleck's and Contador on the climbs, and that has been the main reason he is poised to make history next week. There is a week of exciting racing left and I'll be glued to the TV to see how the race unfolds. Enjoy it!

Coach Walton