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TdF #8 The break can succeed

July 16, 2014

Every day a group of rider escape the peleton and ride several minutes head. They play cat and mouse with the peleton until, on most days, they are chased down in plenty of time before the finish line. Why do they do this? Sometimes they win.
A small chance of winning is better than none. There are only a few that can win from the peleton. On a flat stage, the top sprinters like Kittel rule. On hilly terrain, the strong men and climbers take over. Out of almost 200 in the peleton you could say that only 10 or 20 might win.

The other reason is that it is good publicity for their team. Cycling is about moving bill boards, they are poster men. So a rider in a break means several hours of good TV coverage and a few mentions in tomorrow’s papers. The peleton likes a small number of riders to break clear of the bunch. If 6 riders are 5 minutes in front, then there is little point in anyone else trying to jump out from the bunch. Only certain riders are allowed to be in a break. If you are too high on GC or considered a threat then you will be chased down. If you are in a GC team, then usually your job is to look after your star rider, not seek glory in a break. If you are unpopular, then you might be chased down by a grumpy patron – see Armstrong and P for a infamous example, the latter had cooperated with the Italian doping police and therefore incurred the wrath of cycling greatest cheat. So when the right riders get ahead, a truce of sorts is called, the break is formed and everything settles down. A few hours later, the peleton speeds up and gobbles up the break… usually.

Occasionally, the peleton does not catch the break. Perhaps they underestimate the course and let the break get too far ahead. Maybe no-one can be bothered chasing them, or no team is strong enough to waste the effort. A series of crashes can hamper the chase or bad weather can chill the legs. So now and then the escapees truly escape.

Today was one of those days. The break was initially two, then three more caught them. None were a threat to the GC. So the peleton was happy to see them go. The course had tough climbs near the end that meant the sprinters had no interest. So rule out several teams who often chase down the break. The peleton eventually sped up when the GC teams took an interest and toughened up the race. But too late and too little, so Kadri, the sole survivor was first across the line.

The break had some great riders including multiple stage winner Chavanel, Terpresa who won Paris Roubaix this year, and young Yates who is being talked up as a prospect for the future. I have two of them in my fantasy team, so I was happy.
The break was allowed lots of time, over 11 minutes shortly before the climbs at end of stage. Kadri only won by 2 minutes, so that shows how quickly the time gap can be brought down. The stage included the hardest climbs so far with two Cat 2 climbs and finishing on a Cat 3. Tinko rode hard and set up Contador to attack, but did he? Or was he happy to just keep the pace going at the end. There was no sign of his trademark fast attack – does he not have the legs or is he waiting for another day?
The Tinko pace was enough to dispatch almost everyone, but Nibali was happy on Contador’s wheel. A few others (Porte, Valverde, van Gardernen) were only a few seconds back. Some others lost much more: Mollema was 38s behind Nibali, Rui Costa 44s, VDB 1:39, Kwiakovsky and Talansky more than 2 minutes, Konig and Zubelida even more.

Mattias Frank is out, succumbing to his crashes. Another of my picks for a podium finish is gone. After 8 stages and no big mountains, the attrition rate is alarming.

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