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