Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eagerness to perform sends home the favorites

What do Bradley Wiggins, Janez Brajkovic, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Chris Horner, Alexander Vinokourov and for this matter Christophe Kern have in common? For starters they all were listed as big GC hopes for the Tour de France but what’s more important; they all came to the Tour more ready and eager to perform than ever before!

After last year’s catastrophically Tour-performance Bradley Wiggins seemed to be fitter than ever and very determinate to show all his critics that his 4th place in 2009 wasn’t a coincidence. His overall victory in Dauphiné proved he was back on track and must have boosted his moral sky high. The whole team was build around him and he couldn’t wait to show what he was capable of – unfortunately we never got to see it...

Like Bradley Wiggins, Jurgen Van den Broeck was flying in Dauphiné taking an incredible win on the first mountain stage and 4th overall. It looked so easy for Van den Broeck every time it started to go uphill and suddenly only the a spot on the final podium in Paris seemed to be acceptable for the Omega-Lotto leader and his followers. Like Wiggins he was eager to show what he could do in the big mountains and like Wiggins he ended up leaving the Tour after a crash.

Other riders matching this profile are Team Radioshacks duo-leaders Janez Brajkovic and Chris Horner. Brajkovic build his whole 2011 season around the Tour. Nothing else mattered. His impressive win in Dauphiné last year, where he hold off Alberto Contador making it look like a walk in the park, made Bruynell and co. talk about a final top5 for the young Slovenian, if not the podium. Again a massive pressure being put on the rider and again he crashes out. Same goes for Chris Horner. Doing top10 last year, looking out for Lance Armstrong and the rest of the team, Horner was eager to show his own qualities. The very same qualities that made him win Tour of California with his closet rival being team mate Levi Leipheimer – almost 3 minutes ahead of Tom Danielson as third. Horner said before the Tour that he would make “Top5 for sure – if not more!” – well I am sure he would have been up there, but like the others he ended up in a ambulance.

You probably see where I’m going with all this, but let us just take a few more examples. Alexander Vinokourov. Last Tour de France in his life. Ready to do whatever it takes – on the bike – to fulfill his life-long dream and get at least one day in yellow. On stage 8 it looks like it’s about to happen, but the strong head wind knocks Vinokourov out on the last couple of hundred meters. The very next time – and probably the last change to get yellow – Vinokourov ends up in the forest on a slippery downhill section. Was it because the Garmin riders were riding too fast or was it because Vinokourov was too eager to stay in front and try to get the jersey?

Last example for now is Christophe Kern. The big sensation in Dauphiné. Before a heavy time trialist, but after losing 11 kg in the winter season, suddenly a strong climber and gunning for the GC in the Tour. Kern won a stage in Dauphiné and was, if not the strongest, definitely one of the strongest in the race. Those performances made Christophe Kern rethink his Tour de France ambitions and went from “helping out team mate Charteau in the mountains” to “stage win, polka dot jersey and hopefully a good GC”. Like all the others mentioned here, Kern crashed and abandoned the Tour.

So is all this just bad luck? Could it have happened to anyone? Well, it probably could have. But it didn’t. It didn’t happen to Cadel Evans who nearly nobody counted in for the final podium. It didn’t happen to Ivan Basso who’s Tour-ambitions got knocked down a bit after his crash in May on Etna. It didn’t happen to Frank Schleck, a rider who normally crash as much as Cavendish wisn and it didn’t happen to Tony Martin, another rider who many seemed to forget while picking out favorites. I did in fact happen to Alberto Contador – the biggest favorite of them all – but is he out of the Tour? No Sir, he is not.

This little write-together could have been even longer if I got started on Robert Gesink (finally being the team leader in the Tour, going stronger than ever), Levi Leipheimer (winning Tour de Suisse and finally seemed back to former strength) and Andreas Klöden (Winning Paris-Vasco & 2nd in Paris-Nice) but even though they too are in a lot of pain cause of their crashes, they are still in race, fighting to prove me wrong…

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