Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cadel Evans Masters the Three Phases Of The Tour de France

When Lance Armstrong was winning all those Tour de France races in a row, he showed time and again how you needed to master the three phases of cycling in order to win. Now, 2011 Tour de France (about-to-be) winner, Cadel Evans is showing again why one needs to master all three phases to win Le Tour.
  • Peloton
  • Mountains
  • Time Trials
Peloton Riding

There are aspects to riding in the peloton that a top racer has to master.  First of all, positioning in the peloton is key to surviving accidents, breakaways, and mechanical difficulties.  A rider's team must be able to shield it top GC (general classification) man from other riders, as well as the weather (wind).  You won't win the Tour de France on a day when the peloton rides together on a (relatively) flat course, but you can lose it.

Don't believe me? Ask Alberto Contador about Stage One of this year's Tour.  Because of poor positioning in the back half of the peloton, a crash in front of him seperated him from the rest of the GC contenders and virtually ended his Tour chances right there.  Armstrong always made sure to have his team in the front part of the peloton, regardless of whether he held the yellow jersey.

Mountain Ability

This is the most important aspect to winning the Tour de France.  You could lose by several seconds on a flatter stage and not worry about your standing, but in one mountain stage you could lose minutes and be finished.  Thomas Voekler of France held the yellow jersey for several days before he finally gave it up in the Alps because he's just not a mountain rider. 

Because of the potentially huge time gaps that occur in the mountain stage finishes, no rider has won in recent memory without being excellent in the mountains.  All of the favorites for this year's race (Contador, Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans) are all superior mountain riders. 

Time Trials

The ability to go at max output for an extended length of time over a closed course with just you and your team car is a skill that very, very few riders have.  The time-trial bike is very different from any other bike that a rider may use, and riding it at top speed is a skill that requires a lot of time in a lab as well as on the ground. Meticulous research of the course also helps a rider come in with the fastest time.

Some of the Tour's most dramatic finishes have occurred at the final Time Trial stage.  In 1989, American Greg Lemond stunned the cycling world by making up 50 seconds in a 25-km time trial in the final stage, winning the Tour that year by eight seconds.

So how did Cadel Evans do on the three phases?  

By sticking with his team and staying near the front of the peloton on the flat courses, Evans avoided the crashes that took a toll on several other GC contenders (helps to have a guy like George Hincapie on your team; he's ridden on eight TdF-winning teams). 

In the mountains, Evans went with Contador's bold breakaway at the end of Stage 16 and was able to gain roughly a minute on Andy Schleck, his main competitor.  That was an incredibly important move for Evans, who would lose time to Schleck in Stage 18.  The minute he gained on 16 prevented him from losing the tour when Schleck won Stage 18 by two minutes over Evans.  By taking advantage of an opportunity on one stage, and not panicking when his chief competitor had a phenomenal day on another, he was able to come out of the final mountain stage just 57 seconds behind Schleck with just the time trial to go.

Evans is considered one of the Tour's best Time Trial specialists and he showed it with a powerful and masterful ride.  He made up the 57 seconds to Schleck in the first half of the course, and finished 50 seconds ahead of him in the final standings at day's end.  

In doing so, Cadel Evans showed yet again that a Tour de France champion must excel in every phase.

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