BVC-CHAT Ready for the Tour yet?
drjinx at texas.net
drjinx at texas.net
Thu Jul 1 13:04:23 CDT 2004
>From the Austin American Statesman
Blue Train on schedule
U.S. Postal team never gets sidetracked
By John Maher
Thursday, July 1, 2004
He's been the star of U.S. Postal's spring campaign, winning eight races. But
that doesn't mean you'll see Max van Heeswijk catching a ride with Postal's Blue
Train in the Tour de France.
Although van Heeswijk has the sprinting talent to compete for stage wins at
cycling's biggest event, such pursuits could have been a distraction to a team
that doesn't get sidetracked. Van Heeswijk didn't even make the final cut for
Postal's nine-man Tour lineup.
The Blue Train that has helped power Lance Armstrong to five straight Tour de
France victories sticks to one schedule -- Armstrong's.
It has one unbending purpose, and that shows in who is on the team, and who is
not. Postal has everything Armstrong needs to win the Tour, and nothing that
would conflict with that singular goal.
That's the exception, not the rule, at the Tour de France, which begins Saturday
with 21 teams and at least 21 agendas, whether they're trying to grab some stage
wins or merely attempting to steal some TV air time on a wild breakaway.
"That's what makes it so crazy," said Dan Osipow, Postal's corporate
communications manager. "It's like football -- you try to maximize the talent
you have or are able to afford. If you've got a quarterback who can't throw it
10 feet, then you don't pass. If you've got a good running back, you try to get
some offensive linemen for him."
The Fassa Bortolo team featuring Alessandro Petacchi, for example, is built of
lead-out riders capable of setting up Petacchi to make his final run to capture
a sprint stage, traditionally the early stages in the Tour. Once in the
mountains, the team fades away or quits outright, the way Petacchi did on Stage
7 last year.
The opposite is Euskaltel--Euskadi, a team with "climbers, climbers and more
climbers," Osipow said.
"You don't hear from them the first 10 days," he said. "They don't want to be
heard from then."
There are also teams that aren't loaded in either sprinters or climbers and are
looking to be opportunistic to get a stage win. Postal was like that before
Armstrong joined the team.
Osipow said there are a couple of ways to get a stage win. One is to attack as
many days as possible and hope that one attack sticks. The other is to carefully
scout the stages and pick the ones that have the length and terrain suited for
the team. If even stage wins are too big a goal, there's always TV time.
"The team directors know when TV gets hooked on," Osipow said. "Once TV is on,
what's the sense of sitting in the pack at 35th or 40? Teams will get on a
breakaway, getting some exposure. A lot of team go on breaks for that very
reason. Big teams going for the win, though, won't do that."
He says that only about seven riders have a realistic shot of winning the Tour;
a few more might have a shot if everything fell their way and bad luck befell
some of the bigger names.
Recent results suggest this year's real general classification field is even
slimmer than that. Armstrong has won the last five Tours. Rival Jan Ullrich has
never finished worse than second. There's not much room at the top, and so even
some of the best teams hedge their bets, as did Ullrich's team, Telekom.
"They used to have him for the (general classification) and Erik Zabel for the
sprints, but nine guys is not enough to do both," Osipow said.
T-Mobile will have the same strategy this year and was dealt two blows in the
Tour of Switzerland, where both Alexandre Vinokourov and Tobias Steinhauser were
lost to injuries.
The first year that former Armstrong lieutenant Tyler Hamilton tried to win the
Tour riding for CSC, Hamilton had to watch teammate Laurent Jalabert dash off
early many days. Jalabert tried, successfully, to win the King of the Mountains
title rather than help Hamilton on the hard climbs. Even with Jalabert retired
the next year there was some early doubt whether Hamilton was the man for CSC or
whether Carlos Sastre was also in the mix.
When he switched to Phonak for this season, Hamilton said, "Most important was
the fact that Phonak would guarantee to build a team around me for the Tour."
Sometimes unexpected rivalries spring up on the same team, the way they have in
the last two grand tours. In the Tour of Spain last year Isidro Nozal surprised
even his more touted ONCE teammates by grabbing and holding the lead, and they
had to ride for him. But then Nozal withered under the attack of Postal's
Roberto Heras on the next-to-last day, causing frustration on that team.
In the recent Tour of Italy, Saeco's young Damiano Cunego shot to stardom to the
delight of his countrymen, but to the chagrin of teammate and defending champion
Gilberto Simoni. Simoni pedaled away in a huff when Cunego all but cinched that
title. According to an Italian paper, "really stupid" was the printable thing he
called his young teammate.
"If Simoni was agitated on the finish line, then I can understand it," Cunego
said. After winning, he added, "Perhaps we will never ride another stage race
At Postal, there's no doubt about whom everyone works for at the Tour. But the
team isn't just a bunch of faceless domestiques. It's one handpicked to excel in
the mountains and the team time trials, where Postal picked up a crucial edge
last year. There are bigger riders for the flats, like Pavel Pardnos, who'll be
beside Armstrong when there's a crosswind.
"It does help to have George Hincapie and Pavel," Osipow said. "It would be
tough if Lance was the tallest guy on the team."
In the mountains the smaller climbers take over, like Manuel Beltran and the
team's new addition Jose Azevedo.
Having a rider like van Heeswijk around to compete for stage wins doesn't fit
with the strategy.
"That would take too much energy," Osipow said.
And that would get the train off the track. As long as Armstrong stays healthy
Postal always sticks with Plan A.
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