Another look at “that stage”

I was in a conversation with a friend of mine who is a casual cycling fan. Like many of these conversations, the topic soon turned to Floyd Landis. I outlined to him where the case was and seemed to be heading. The conversation then turned to stage 17. Could a cyclist do that without being “on something?” I responded with my feeling that it was less of a superhuman effort and more of a tactical mistake by the other leading riders in the race. I also supported my opinion with that of Paul Sherwin’s similar comments on VS this past Sunday. I then decided to sit down and watch stage 17 again. I put the extended version of the Tour DVD in the player and watched about 4 hours of Stage 17. I also watched Stage 16 and studied Michael Rassmussen’s similar attempt at a long breakaway.

What I saw was a man attempt a long breakaway. I also saw a peloton decide not to chase. Neither of these things are unique in the Tour de France. Many riders are allowed to break away. Generally if they are no threat to the overall lead, these riders are allowed to leave. Another tactic of recent tour winner Lance Armstrong was to bluff other teams into chasing a rider who, as the break expands, begins to threaten other team’s position on the podium. This tactic worked for Lance because most teams had given up on first place and were riding for second or third. If you think you can still win, this tactic will not work and you end up bluffing your way out of the race.

I don’t know which scenario was playing out in the peloton. I do believe that Floyd’s lead was given to him. While pedal cadence and overall judgement of speed can be deceiving, I believe Michael Rassmussen held a higher speed than Floyd Landis. This is one fact against the superhuman effort. Here are some of the things I saw that led me to believe what I believe.

Floyd accelerated on the first climb of the day the Col des Saises. After an initial attempt, no one followed. The pace of the peloton was conservative given the fact that the riders were spread over the road and the lead group was over 50 riders and included many non climbers such as David Millar. The climb was a category one. Only Caisse d’ Epargne set the tempo and with only two riders.

Floyd gained time as the peloton did not attack on the descent as evidenced by the swelling of the group including another Caisse d’ Epargne rider. Also, a feedzone at the top of the climb slowed the impetus of the peloton.

Floyd’s pace was not high on the second climb of the day the Cat 2 Col des Aravis. This is shown by the fact that the breakaway riders kept pace with Floyd. This included non-climbers such as flat lander Pavel Padrnos and sprinter Stuart O’Grady. Also, Patrice Halgand was allowed to escape up the climb. On the same climb, the peloton was spread wide and contained over 43 riders. Again, only two riders from Caisse d’ Epargne set a reasonable tempo. Floyd only added to his lead on the descent.

On the third climb, the Col de la Colombiere, Patrice Halgand and Patrik Sinkewitz still held onto Floyd’s wheel as he ascended the Category 1 climb. Other than a bike change (no Harley was used), Floyd set his own tempo. As on the other climbs, only Caisse d’ Epargne set tempo. This time, only one rider was on the front. The peloton was still quite large (over 40 riders) and not under serious pressure on a climb of almost 12km and 5.9% grade.

On the initial descent, Floyd gained more time as the peloton swelled again. It is only here where the race began. With Floyd’s lead putting him into the Yellow Jersey, Team CSC joined the chase. Only when Jens Voight went to the front midway up the small (Cat 3) climb of the Cote de Chatillion-sur-Cluses, did you see the traditional string of riders chasing a breakaway rider. For the first time, Floyd’s lead began to shrink.

Finally, on the Col de Joux Plane, Floyd’s lead had dropped almost three minutes under pressure by CSC. Here, riders turned on each other with attacks from Sastre with Frank Schlek, Christoph Moreau, and Damino Cunego. Yellow Jersey Pereiro fell off the pace and rode his own tempo to the top. After a maximum lead over the Yellow Jersey of approximately 9 minutes, Landis led Sastre by 5:02  and 6:52 over Pereiro by the end of the day.

Overall observations against a superhuman effort:

  • The chase was only 25km with 11.7km up the Joux-Plane.
  • During that chase, Floyd lost almost 4 minutes
  • Floyd gained almost half of his lead on descents
  • No virgins were violated by Floyd

Gutsy yes, superhuman, no

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12 Responses to Another look at “that stage”

  1. Biking Bis says:

    Watching four hours of the Tour de France shows true dedication! Your assessment makes a lot of sense. Once you scratch away all the hyperbole of the commentators at the time, I think Stage 17 was essentially a case of a tired peloton that was slow to react and a highly motivated cyclist. As I recall, his Phonak teammates delivered him to the first climb, and it was up to Floyd to maintain after that, which he did.
    Of course, that doesn’t prove or disprove whether Floyd was “on something.” We have to rely on fair, accurate, and properly administered lab tests for that.

  2. Daniel M says:

    Excellent analysis, Jim. I’ve often said that Floyd’s result wasn’t some superhuman effort, but a tale of tactics gone right (Landis’) and tactics gone wrong (everyone else’s). You’ve done a great job of filling in the blanks.

    – Rant

  3. […] Jim over at Endless Cycle does an excellent job laying out the day’s events as they unfolded. If you want to learn a […]

  4. Ed says:

    I think people would be willing to believe that Floyd could turn in a superb day, both in physical performance and tactically, had he not bonked the previous day. There is nobody who wants Floyd to be innocent of the doping charges more than me, but a physical recovery from bonking to within a solid time-trial away from the yellow jersey in 24 hours seems a bit hard to swallow.

    I mean you can analyze Stage 17 all day, but you have to look at it with the perspective of what happened in Stage 16. Personally I believe in his innocence but you can understand the skeptics.

  5. pelotonjim says:

    Yes, one unanswered question is how can someone bonk one day and come back strong the next. All I can say is I’ve see everything back to back. Two good days look at Patrik Sinkewitz. He rode tempo and put the surge on FLoyd on stage 16 then got into the break the following day and was the last man on Floyd’s wheel. One good then bad. This is the most common. One bad then good. In this tour, Oscar Pererio lost 2:49 on L’Alpe then was unbeatable the next day on the fateful Stage 16. Also on Stage 15, Michael Rasmussen lost 2:41 and performed Floyd-like the next day. Juan Manuel Garate lost 35 minutes on stage 16 but was strong in the break on stage 17. All I can say is the stage 16-17 turnaround is fairly common therefore, it is not an indication of either taking or not taking substances.

  6. Marc says:

    A very interesting and contrarian (I like that especially) analysis of the stage. Delighted to have read it. But what makes you so sure no virgins were violated? There were all those commercial breaks–even on French TV, where I watched the stage live, to my amazement. Who knows what happened during them?

    marc

  7. Debby says:

    PJ, you have probably already seen this, but I’ll put in the link:

    http://www.saris.com/athletes/PermaLink,guid,c6e3591a-1445-404b-a16d-bd1962ec8c2c.aspx

    Dr. Lim explains about the peloton failing to chase, and all those water bottles, as the success behind Stage 17.

  8. theresa says:

    PJ, excellent analysis!! No one was watching the other riders, except the yellow jersey! I forgot that stage 16 was Michael Rassmussen’s big day! And as much as I loved S17, and found it the most exciting thing I’ve watched since S17 in 2004 tour; I was fully aware that the peleton, was letting him ride away. It was hot, they were tired; and as much as I love CSC , I couldn’t understand why they didn’t chase earlier! Of course, I don’t think anyone cared to help Oscar!

  9. […] (or poorly) tactics can play out for a team. For a good exposition of the tactics on Stage 17 see Peloton Jim’s article at Endless Cycle. He also offers some additional interpretation of the day’s events […]

  10. D says:

    Thanks for the analysis. It is good to see someone take the time to sit down and really observe and report on how the stage progressed, going beyond a quick overview of what other teams did wrong. It shows the laziness of so many alleged journalists who have hyped the “too-good-to-be-true” version without attempting similar analysis or looking for similar performances.

    It was also good to be reminded of Michael Rasmussen’s beautiful win on stage 16. That was a conflicted day for me as a fan.

  11. pelotonjim says:

    Watching both stages, gave me a better appreciation of what Rassmussen did. He truly flew that day. Floyd chugged like a diesel.

  12. […] to temptation, I will continue to believe he did not. Looking at his performance on Stage 17, I did not see anything suggesting he was unfairly […]

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