The other day, I laid out my observations regarding Stage 17 of last year’s tour. I tried to keep it to what I saw verses what I thought. So, here is what I think. The gambit proved to be a perfect storm of failed tactics, gamesmanship gone bad, and one man throwing the proverbial “Hail Mary” pass that paid off.
CSC –I think the plan from CSC that morning was to attack Oscar Pereiro on the last climb of the day, the Joux-Plane. Oscar had shown himself to being very vulnerable in the mountains. Carlos being a great climber and a average timetrialist needed to gain significant time that day. When Floyd jumped early, CSC probably figured it had won the lottery since he had the potential to destroy Caisse-d’Epargne’s support for Pereiro leaving him isolated for an inevitable attack. Floyd would force Caisse-d’Epargne to kill themselves catching him. Floyd would not be a threat anymore, Oscar would be alone, and CSC would be rested for a major assault on the Yellow Jersey.
T-Mobile– T-Mobile probably also felt good that morning. Their man Andreas Kloden sat in a great position. He was 2:29 behind Pereiro and only 39 seconds behind Sastre. This being the last day in the mountains T-Mobile knew that Sastre was down to his last chance at Yellow. He needed to attack Pereiro and put enough time into Kloden to withstand the German’s significant advantage in the final time trial. Therefore, all Kloden needed to do was stay as fresh as possible to stay close to Sastre on the final climb. He probably could lose up to a minute. In order to do that, he needed help from his T-Mobile teammates on the Joux-Plane. When Floyd leapt off the front, T-Mobile also felt that the move was advantageous as the team could stay fresh themselves and counter the inevitable CSC attack.
Caisse-d’Epargne – To me, it looked that Oscar was paying a bit for his effort on the previous day. He and his team put everything on the line for the yellow. With Floyd off the front, they had to make a decision. Go after Floyd and run out of gas before the Joux-Plane or let him go figuring he would blow-up or one of the other teams would help chase eventually. The odds favored the latter strategy so they set a tempo that would protect Oscar and his limited resources for the final attack. Sastre and Kloden posed a greater and more immediate threat to the Spaniard.
Floyd/Phonak– They had absolutely nothing to lose. There was no way to make up enough time on, not just Pereiro, but Sastre, Kloden, and Cadel Evans if he waited until the end of the race. He had to go early or not at all. This could possibly be his last ever professional bike race. So Floyd took a shot that at the very least would be seen as a valiant effort.
The rest of the field – With a high stakes game between the big three teams going on, you just sit and watch. Plus, there was no reason to either help or attack as the publicity-generating cameras were on Floyd.
So what does this prove? Absolutely nothing. It does not prove Floyd was clean. Stage 17 also does not prove Floyd was on something. To me, it just proves that Stage 17 is entirely plausible. At the time, I saw nothing outrageous that led me to believe the stage was too good to be true. I still believe that now.
In my comments section, the question was raised about the turn around between stage 16 and 17. My response is two fold. First of all, Stage 17 did not show me any superhuman effort that could not have been performed by any rider in the peloton. The performance is consistent with an average training ride. Floyd’s power numbers concur. (Thanks Debby).
The second part of my answer is that I’ve seen everything happen between two days in the Tour de France. Good days followed by bad, bad days followed by good, two bad days, two good days. Looking only at the 2006 Tour you can find examples of everything. For 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 I don’t think I need to point that out. 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.
My ultimate conclusion is the 48 hour period that included Stages 16 and 17 are not proof (sorry Mr. Pound) of any wrong doing. Quite a number of people have stated or insuated that stage 17 is proof that Floyd was on something. No clean man could have done what he had done. I disagree. I think the entire 2006 Tour de France should be written up in the Director Sportif’s version of the Harvard Business Review. There are so many examples of ‘how to’ and ‘how not to’ run a team in the world’s biggest bike race. If you believe otherwise, watch Stage 17 again. I’ll even buy the popcorn. What you will see is timing, a little luck, and guts.