Tuesday, July 10, 2012

All hail Team Sky. But is Cyclingnews now talking in code? TdF 2012

OK, Wiggins and Froome have set the pace in the mountains and the time trial, indeed they have dominated. But "on another sphere"? It's not a great choice of words, is it? Especially after Wiggins has just so emphatically countered his "anonymous" doubters at a press conference. It's OK on its own, isolated from its context, but anyone who has followed the sport since, say, 2006 or so knows that any reference to other-worldly performances is shorthand for "assisted". Either Cyclingnews is just ignorant of this - possibly - or are grinding an axe of some sort. Oh well. For the record, there is no evidence of untoward activity, just great sport science, hard work and years of planning and training.

Evans's Tour Defence Suffers First Setback | Cyclingnews.com
In spite of his losses in the overall classification, Evans looked to take solace from the fact that he had fared admirably against the pure time triallists, but it won't have escaped his attention that the Sky pair of Wiggins and Chris Froome – first and second on the stage – were on another sphere to the rest of the field.

I.B., The Extra Terrestrial? | Cyclingnews.com
Simoni: "I've never seen anyone dominate [like Basso], never seen any one that strong! He seems like an extra-terrestrial," Simoni said post-stage, his face and words minced with bitterness. Whether the Trentino scalatore was implying Basso was 'assisted' in some way is up for speculation, but Basso wasn't happy when he heard this: "I don't like to be called an extra-terrestrial or a phenomenon," he said.
Yes, Basso later served a suspension for "attempting" to dope.

And whereto from here for Le Tour 2012? Well it's quite a change from last year, where Evans waited until the final TT to take control. You couldn't really wait any longer, in fact. And whilst it looks like a poor tactic for Wiggins and Sky to take yellow so early - week one, after all - it's not bad for team and individual morale, is it? Wiggins has only just won his first stage, after all, and leading Le Tour is something most riders would find hard to knock back. And whilst Team Sky now need to expend additional energy in controlling dangerous attacks and protecting both Wiggins and Froome,  BMC themselves expended a lot of energy in acting as though they were "in yellow" last year. Basically it may be hard but it's doable.

OTOH last year other teams with shorter-term ambitions shared responsibility with BMC for keeping control of breakaways and the like. And whilst the Schlecks (and to some extent Contador) knew they had to take time off Evans in the mountains, Evans himself only had to limit losses and win it back in the last TT. So whilst it looks bad for Evans that already his losses have mounted up, coming about despite his strengths in the TT and prologue, this isn't last year. He must have expected something like this scenario, given recent peformance. So either it really is bad and he has little hope of recovering this amount of time, or he has a plan to address the gap. So which one?

As I said, this isn't 2011, so throw that thought out. But Sky has the box seat here, a big lead with Wiggins and a strong wild card to play in Froome. Most likely Wiggins will be able to match all attacks - and there will be many, as the likes of Nibali and Menchov are just as desperate to win as Evans, and both the RadioShack and Lotto teams have some GC gas in the tank, too. But it may expose weaknesses. It could be that Wiggins gets isolated - unlikely, I know - and loses time on a descent. But he has time up his sleeve, doesn't he. And if he or his team really falters then sending Froome up the road will cure the situation. If they are having trouble defending, why not attack?

It is a long way from from Paris and a tough job to defend from here. But Sky must have thought this through and they must see it as their "Plan A". Equally Evans and Nibali must have expected this scenario, too, so they will be executing their own tactics in the Alps to come. With the Pyrenees in week 3 to consolidate. I expect fireworks and I expect that whoever gets the advantage in week 2 will then have the same problem as Sky has now - how do you defend all the way from here to Paris?

So, fireworks in the Alps, yes, particularly Stage 11 - but with care. Whilst they don't want to leave it too late, they don't want to take control too early, either. But if they do, they'll want it to be a crushing blow that sinks Sky's ship all the way to Paris. Anything less will lead to a win for Sky. And it doesn't need to be a win for Wiggins.