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Contrary to popular belief, this won't be a cakewalk ...(14 posts)

Contrary to popular belief, this won't be a cakewalk ...NeedSpeed
Jul 10, 2002 8:18 AM
I think contrary to popular belief, this tour is going to be a tough test for Armstrong if for no other reason than other teams will gang up and conspire to defeat him. ONCE has mulitiple mountain threats and so does Kelme. Most of the other teams, except for Rabobank and CSC don't really have climbers who can compete for the Yellow or podium spots. That leaves the rest of the French and Italian teams to fight it out for stage wins in the flats and Telekom to keep Zabel in green.

Here's the problem: the Spaniards will seek to attack and isolate Lance. Now if this isn't the strongest climbing Postal team ever, he's gonna be in trouble. Remember last year how Rubiera and Heras waned and recovered to save Lance's bacon during the final climbs on stages 12 and 14? Now Lance was the strongest, but he didn't have to face multiple attacks from three different teams. Look at the numbers: three mountain supporters for Lance (okay four if you want to count Pena). Kelme has Sevilla and Botero; ONCE has Beloki and Gonzalez de Galleano and Euskatel has an entire team of climbers.

If those three Spanish teams conspire to burn out Postal's support and isolate Lance in the high mountains, he'd have to cover multiple attacks from podium contenders all by his lonesome, unless Heras, Landis and Chechu can hang with him. If Lance is isolated, it's good for ALL the other teams with podium aspirations.

So how can Postal keep Lance in yellow to Paris? I think ironically, they may have to work with Rabobank, CSC and even Telekom. Rabobank and CSC have GC contenders who can climb and time trial and will want to limit any losses in the mountains as well. Plus, Lance has relationships with the Leipheimer, Hamilton and Livingston (though he's not a GC threat). I think Postal would be more likely to work with these teams to limit mountain attacks and then settle things at the final (Stage 19) TT before the sweep into Paris. I say forge an alliance with Telekom now to help set a pace to tire Zabel's rival sprinters and their teams and then count on a bit of mountain support for them to help chase down the Spanish attacks. Damn, this is exciting! What do you guys (and gals) think?
I think people are trying to convince themselves...TJeanloz
Jul 10, 2002 8:32 AM
This is a situation that you always see in sports, the David vs. Goliath being set up, with theorists always coming up with "what it will take" for David to win, and why that scenario will play out. If commentators didn't do it, things would be incredibly boring.

Here's my problem with your theory:

What else is new?

ONCE had Beloki and Gonzalez last year- and Gonzalez had a 54 second lead over Armstrong after the TTT; just 7 seconds this year.

Kelme had Sevilla and Botero last year, and they're currently both more than 2 minutes behind- and will lose more in the two more TTs. They can gain time in the mountains, but not that much time.

Euskatel always brings a stable of climbers, but none are capable of winning the whole thing; their highest placed rider is almost 9 minutes back.

There is no problem here.
Agree, alot of wishful thinking! (nm)Wayne
Jul 10, 2002 8:42 AM
I think people are trying to convince themselves...NeedSpeed
Jul 10, 2002 8:57 AM
I understand what you are saying about last year, but the difference this year is that no one wants to get completely dusted in a laughable TdF. Postal (if you go by their seasonal results) is much stronger this year.

Last year, you had one team (Telekom) putting in all of the mountain work and trying to isolate Lance. Ullrich was the only other rider to finish within 6:00 of Lance. This year is different because you can't tell me that Beloki or Sevilla will be satisfied just to be on the podium. Their teams are going to collectively try to isolate Lance and tire him out, then launch their GC contenders to try to put time into him. Everyone expects Postal to do all the work because they all think this is Lance's tour to lose. I agree that Euskatel doesn't have a GC threat, but they have a whole bunch of climbers who can put Lance's mountain support in serious difficulty.

Last year, the Telekom train drove the mountains and then it was Vinikourov (who isn't here this year) and Livingston who attacked Lance and worked for Ullrich. Now imagine three different teams all doing the same thing. That's a LOT of attacking to cover when you've only got three climbers to protect Lance. Postal is going to need alliances. I guarantee you that the Spaniards will ally themselves to try and isolate Lance from his support riders.

We all know Lance is strong, but remember what happened in Amstel Gold (and I know it's not a GT)? He had to cover multiple attacks by himself and then had no gas left at the end and lost the sprint. Cycling is a team sport and if you think one man can defeat six or seven other climbers, you're kidding yourself. Lance hopefully will still win (in part due to his TT-ing), but it's gonna be closer than you think.
Seriously though,TJeanloz
Jul 10, 2002 9:11 AM
O.K.; let's say your theory does happen. What happens when Beloki, Botero or any of these other guys gets into yellow? Do the other teams say: Whew, at least it's not Armstrong, I can now be satisfied with 5th place, knowing that I let my Spanish rival win the Tour. Of course not, they'll attack the yellow jersey and try to win it themselves.

Armstrong put more than 9 minutes on Beloki last year- and those minutes weren't gained in the TT's either- look at the climbing stages, Beloki didn't win a single one, and routinely lost more than 1:30 to Armstrong.

With Euskatel, you can let their riders go up the road all they want- they're practically out of the race. I don't think you even bother covering that attack.
Your analysis is insightful, but even acceptingscottfree
Jul 10, 2002 9:32 AM
that Lance/Postal will have their hands full covering multiple attacks, the more likely outcome is that Lance wins fewer (or maybe no) mountain stages. Nevertheless, WINNING mountain stages does not a GC winner make. Cumulative time in the mountains does. And I have a hard time figuring an INDIVIDUAL among the challengers you mention who can, over the mountain stages taken as a whole, match up with Lance.

Possibly the danger to Lance is succumbing to his ego and trying to force the issue and WIN mountain stages. If he can ride within himself and avoid a big-time 15-minute blowup, he should win by attrition even if he doesn't take stages.
Your analysis is insightful, but even acceptingt-bill
Jul 10, 2002 10:44 AM
Scottfree is right. He doesn't need to win anything. All these guys would have to beat him soundly at least once and then keep up every day thereafter. The problem they have with Lance is that he can Climb and TT. And since they can't do anything to him on the TT's (except try to injure him) they have to consistently beat him in the mountains.
Here how it COULD work...Wayne
Jul 10, 2002 9:41 AM
not by multiple attacks but by
1)Sending a potentially dangerous man in a break 2,3,4 mountains before the final one (and day after day)

2)Postal is then forced to chase from early on in the stage (and on multiple days) because Armstrong is the favorite and no-one else will take the responsibility, which means not only pulling the bunch on the uphills but also across the valleys thereby burning themselves out.

3)On the penultimate mountain the strongmen must attack and try to isolate Lance from ALL of his domestiques (very hard since he will have Heras).

4)On the valley before the final mountain keep attacking him, forcing him to chase while everyone else sits on.

5)Consequently some of the favorites arrive at the final climb with a couple of minutes advantage (and potentially teammates they have bridged up to) AND Armstrong is tired from the chase.

6) Now out climb him because he's tired (or maybe even bonked)

But if you don't isolate him he just has his domestique do the chasing and if he gets to the final mountain, relatively fresh, then it's mano a mano and he has won that fight pretty much everytime over the last 3 years.

Like I said, can anybody point out a single time when team tactics actually even affected any of the podium spots in a GT? I'd like to believe it can happen but I don't recall a single instant.
Here how it COULD work...NeedSpeed
Jul 10, 2002 10:24 AM
Wayne: I agree with your analysis of how it COULD work. Particularly if you have the second-strongest climbers on Kelme, ONCE and maybe even iBanesto agree to attack early in the mountains, well before the final climb. My point is similar to yours: Postal gets tired from chasing down legitimate threats or someone who gets away and gains so much time that they become a threat. Euskatel usually isn't high up on the GC, so I agree to let them win a stage, but what if Mayo, Etxebarria or Laiseka gets away on a VERY early mountain attack.

Let's say Kelme and ONCE tell Euskatel, "you can have the stage win, we just want to tire Postal and put minutes into Armstrong." So for consecutive mountain stages (especially in the Pyranees), The men in orange attack early and try to stay away. Like you said, no one else is interested, so Postal must chase, thereby softening themselves up for late attacks by Spanish climbers and thereby allowing their GC contenders to put time into Lance. Plus, if Euskatel keeps getting away enough times, they'll start to gain time as well and maybe become enough of a threat to neutralize attacks even earlier in the stage. I think any day of the week, two rival teams would work together to defeat the strongest rival and then fight it out amongst themselves for the overall.

With Amstrong at his best, they have little chance. With Armstrong weakened, BOTH of their chances improve. To use schoolyard analogy, how do you beat up the bully who has been beating up on everyone individually? You gang up on him and attack him collectively. This is what Lance and USPS are facing.
Here how it COULD work...TJeanloz
Jul 10, 2002 11:02 AM
But taking time out of Lance also means taking time out of yourself- if you were to send Euskatel up the road.

Lance isn't going to do the chasing himself, he's going to mark the contenders, and there aren't enough contenders that he can't mark them all.
Won't workmr_spin
Jul 10, 2002 10:48 AM
What you describe has already happened, in 1999 and in 2000.

Remember Lance chasing down Escartin himself in 1999 on the way to Piau-Engaly, then "cracking" on the final climb and losing time to Escartin and Zulle? Lesson learned.

Remember Lance and USPS chasing down Pantani in 2000 on the stage to Morzine, then Lance bonking on the final climb and losing time to Ullrich? Lesson learned.

Watching Lance dominate three tours in a row, it's clear that Lance doesn't make the same mistakes twice.
Probably not...Wayne
Jul 10, 2002 11:20 AM
but there's not really any other "team tactic" to try. That's why it's been attempted before!
I'd like to believe it...Wayne
Jul 10, 2002 8:35 AM
for several different reasons (fantasy teams, i've never been a fan of Armstrong, like to see an exciting race, etc.). But I fear he will put several minutes into the ONCE boys in the first ITT and drop everybody on the first mountain stage and the fight for first will be over. I've yet to see team tactics beat a guy in a GT, theoretically it can be done, but it's very difficult to pull off. Over three weeks the guy with the best legs wins!
I'd like to believe it...schills
Jul 11, 2002 3:28 PM
Agreed. . . . the guy with the best legs wins. The TTT made it a bit more interesting theoretically, because it brought the whole team into the GC calculation. Beyond that, the team is cocoon for a GC contender while in the peleton and a lead-out in other scenarios, but when it comes to the mountains it really is mano a mano. It doesn't help much to draft uphill so all this talk of isolating doesn't mean that much, and if there is someone else with you from another team you use them, whether they want to help or not. What helps ONCE this year is that they have two guys as GC threats as it sits now. After the 1st ITT we'll see. If they go into the mountains that way it could be interesting, but if Lance has the legs, he'll follow the first one that goes and then blow him away like he did with THE LOOK on Ulrich last year. . . IF he has the legs.