The worst and the best of cycle racing

I finally got around to watching the TiVo’ed coverage of last weekend’s “Amstel Gold”, one of the “Spring Classics” pro bike races. Unusually for them, the weather was beatiful – probably too hot for the tastes of the riders, but it made for good coverage and I’m sure the fans appreciated it. In previous years it’s been wet or snowy or so foggy that the tv coverage was almost non-existant.

As usual on these sorts of races, there wasn’t much happening until the last 30 minutes or so. There was a break-away group up the road and a big peleton, but a couple of the race favourites manged to bridge up to the leaders. That’s what I mean about “the worst”. 2 hours of watching a bunch of guys cycling without any changes in leadership, without teams organizing chases, without anything really interesting happening. Yawn.

With only a few minutes to go, the lead group consisted mostly of guys who had a reasonable expectation or hope of winning, because of previous wins on this or similar races. The only wild factor was that one of these favourites, Davide Rebellin, also had a team mate with him. I expected this would mean that his team mate, Stefan Schumacher, would attempt to launch him on a break-away on the second last or last climb of the day. But instead, their team played a very clever card.

Schumacher attacked alone. The other guys in the bunch wouldn’t counter attack to bring him back because none of them wanted to tire himself out and give the upper hand to one of his rivals. You could see Paulo Bettinni and Michael Boogerd trying to get the others to lead the counter attack. They just couldn’t get it together to cooperate, knowing that Rebellin would sit on any counter attack but wouldn’t contribute to it. So Schumacher sailed on ahead and won by a good margin. Even better, Rebillin used his tactical advantage to grab enough rest that he could outsprint the rest of the group to take second. And that’s the best of bike racing, the team tactics that say it’s better for some second banana in your team to get a clear win than for your team leader to fight it out in a bunch sprint. Every team has its star, but when it comes right down to it, it’s the team that matters.