Week one review

What a fabulous first week! Take a bow ASO. We’ve had confusion and controversy, thrills and spills, cobble calamity, tears and tantrums, rain, heatwaves, picturesque countryside, beautiful châteaux, fervent fans, the favourites are all still in contention and we’ve only just reached the first really lumpy bits.

As anticipated, Spartacus (Saxo Bank) won the 8.9km Prologue course around Rotterdam where, despite the rain, thousands of fans lined the course.  Sadly, both Mathias Frank (BMC) and Manuel Cardoso (Footon Servetto) fell heavily – Tour over for both of them.

Wind didn’t play a part in Stage 1, 223.5km from Rotterdam to Brussels, but the peloton was very skittish. In the run in, the last sharp right turn took out Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank), among others, while two further crashes saw a large number of riders hitting the deck. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) avoided the carnage and was first across the line.  Adam Hansen (HTC-Columbia)  bowed out.

Stage 2’s 201km stage from Brussels to Spa mirrored an Ardennes Classic but rain and diesel-slicked roads saw riders falling like nine pins, particularly on the descent from the Stockeu. Injuries to Michel Delage (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) put an early end to their participation. Meanwhile, Fabulous Fabian, still in yellow, cooled the tempo in the leading bunch to allow the contenders (particularly one Andy Schleck) to get back onto the peloton which then rode together to the neutralised finish. Up front, Sylvain Chavanel, having helped team mate Jerome Pineau to seize the spotty jersey, had pedaled away from the rest of the breakaway bunch for the stage win, snatching yellow from Fab’s broad shoulders. These two have  rescued Quick Step’s dismal season and are now well poised to negotiate contract extensions.

It was anticipated that some of the favourites might come a cropper on the cobbled sections on Stage 3’s 213km from Wanze to Arenburg. It was a truly spectacular stage, hot and dusty, reminiscent of when Stuart O’Grady won Paris-Roubaix in 2007. The first crash of the day took out David Le Lay (Ag2R – La Mondiale) while falls yesterday for Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) left both nursing hairline fractures of the wrist: pretty painful on the pave. Nikki Terpstra (Milram) was a non starter with the flu.

Frank Schleck’s fall (collar bone broken in three places) precipitated splits in the peloton. The smart guys were on Fabian’s wheel and got a tow to the finish. The stage was won by Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team), fitting given that he’d forfeited sprint points the previous day at the behest of one Fabian Cancellara. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) worked with the guys from Sky to bridge up to the group behind Cancellara and minimise the time lost by Alberto Contador (Astana) and Bradley Wiggins Team Sky). Lance (Radioshack) had been in this second group but an untimely puncture saw him surrender time to a number of the other contenders. End result, Cancellara was back in yellow and the World Champion, Cadel Evans (BMC) was now up in third place, 1min and 1 second ahead of Alberto Contador.   

The contenders must have breathed a sigh of relief, the first obstacles had been conquered and they could keep their powder dry for the next few sprinter friendly days. Stage 4’s 153kms from Cambrai to champagne producing Reims, saw Alessandro Petacchi record his 2nd stage win of this Tour. Next up, 187.5km from Epernay to Montargis saw Mark Cavendish win  by a mile. Queue floods of tears as the monkey was now off his back. A bit like buses, stage win no 2 followed on the morrow, on the longest stage, 227.5km from Montargis to Gueugnon. Meanwhile an altercation with a musette saw Amets Txurruka (Euskatel-Euskadi) bid farewell to the peloton. A couple of small girl’s blouses traded blows and bike wheels. The judges awarded a points decision to Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) over Rui Costa (Caisse d’Epargne). Both were fined. 

Let’s just pause and put in context my own endeavours: 550km and 27hours in the saddle. Spartacus, still in yellow, has taken 93minutes longer to complete 1,215km. The conclusion: I’d have missed the cut-off on Stage 1 and joined the non-walking wounded!  Today the boys hit the Jura and a rejuvenated Chavanel, who I feel has usurped Michael Boogerd and Mikel Astarloza to become “The Teeth of the Tour”, recorded his second stage win and again seized yellow. This is going to cost Patrick Lefevre dear.

Cadel Evans has moved into second place  so we could see him in yellow as early as tomorrow. I’m sure it would suit Astana to have BMC working their butts off to defend the yellow jersey.

Piling on the pressure

Left behind.............

Patrick Lefevre, boss of the Quick Step Team, is clearly not a happy bunny. How do we know this? Well, he’s been lambasting the team in the press for their lack of results. Yes, thus far in the cobbled classics and semi-classics, Quick Step have pulled an Omega Pharma Lotto – no wins. To be fair, Lefevre has not mentioned names, thereby giving the press plenty of scope to speculate as to which riders his ire is directed.

Frankly, I’m not sure of the wisdom of this strategy. In my view if you’re annoyed with someone. Talk to them one-on-one and try to get to the bottom of the issue. Be firm, fair and supportive. Cycling’s a team sport and everyone needs to understand what’s expected of them and what they need to do to achieve success for themselves, and the team. Never forget, riders are individuals and need to be treated as such. What motivates one, may have the opposite effect on another. Good managers can indeed turn what we think are sows’ ears into silk purses. But generally, they’re only sows’ ears because former managers haven’t determined how to get the best out of them.

Recognise that management has both responsibility and accountability for the team’s results. Take a holistic approach. Try and identify what isn’t working and why. Keep trying to find those areas where you can make marginal gains, or limit marginal losses. At the same time, don’t forget to reassure both sponsors and supporters that you’re doing everything you can. At the end of the day, all you can ask is that someone gives of their best. If they’ve done that, but still haven’t won, you can’t criticise them, especially not in the press.

Furthermore, when talking to the press put a positive spin on things. Say the team’s focus has shifted to performing throughout the season, not just for a couple of weeks of the year. I appreciate that winning is what counts but draw comfort from the overall results. Boonen’s riding well but he’s been up against a rider on fire at the moment, Fabian Cancellara. Maybe that fire’s been extinguished by his win in Flanders. Even if it has, there are plenty of others vying for a win this Sunday.

Tom’s going to be up against it and heaping further pressure on him may not help you, him or the team. But it might just help his opponents. As Tom himself said, he is the most consistent rider at the moment; with three 2nd places in as many weeks. Well, if things do go in “three’s”, let’s hope he makes it three in a row this Sunday.