Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On Mountains And Teammates

Unless you've raced bikes, it's difficult to know just why having a team of riders around a chosen leader is an advantage, especially in the mountains.

On the flats, the pack moves so quickly that there is an obvious advantage due to the wind created by the speed of the riders. Add wind, especially when blowing in your face or side and knowing that teammates can shelter you makes it pretty obvious.

In the mountains, it's less clear and, frankly, far less important. Going up hill you don't create enough wind to have someone else matter much. Someone in front can still help, for sure, but it doesn't need to be a teammate since you generally ride about as hard as you can so you can take anybody's wheel and there isn't much they can do about it. On mountains, you usually see riders from various teams working together in a survival mode.Where teammates can be an advantage is by attacking one rider. This, however, requires that they are strong enough to try. If the pace is low, a team with a numbers advantage will launch guys and force rivals to chase. However, this advantage is easily minimized if one rider is the strongest because he can ride harder which won't allow this strategy.

On descents, it's different. A pack can move quicker, especially if the descent isn't too technical. But on narrow and twisting descents, it's often an advantage to be alone.

Today's stage--still in progress--is a great lesson in pack dynamic. Levi Leipheimer looks to have made an outstanding move. He attacked far from the finish, which is usually suicidal. However, because all the terrain is up and down and the descents are very windy, the pack won't get much of an advantage and if he's got the juice, he could be able to gain a lot of time.

Again, the OLN guys have made a big deal about Phonak lacking guys while T-Mobile has a bunch. Given the terrain, this is exaggerated. If those T-Mobile guys are strong, they should attack and make Landis follow. If they fail to do so, they have no real advantage because Landis can follow any wheel he likes. They are making a big deal about a possible mechanical problem but it's a rouse because the race leader's team car gets to ride at the front of the caravan (it goes by place) behind the leading rider on their squad. This means that the Phonak car is directly behind Floyd. If he had a mechanical he'd have a new bike in seconds--just as quickly as if he had a teammate, plus he'd have the right bike since his car has one, and maybe two, exact spares.

Oh, and Michael Rasmusen is again winning the mountain jersey. Yesterday, he stayed back to work for his teammate. Today, because his teammate doesn't really need him, they've let him ride ahead for points (as he's so far back on GC he'll be let go). It is possible--and likely--that if Menchov feels good on the final climb they will instruct him to slow down and help. If not, Rabobank lets him go for the stage, which is highly prestigeous.

Now I'm back to root for Levi. This is his big chance to get back into the GC picture. If it works, his move showed the type of panache the Tour is all about.

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