The Tour de France has ended...and no rider from Team Leopard Trek is wearing le maillot jaune, the yellow jersey, that which is worn by the overall first place rider in the general classification. Of course, second and third place finishes are owned by the Leopard Trek team; what's more, they're brothers -- and that, to my knowledge, has not happened before in the Tour (almost 100 years).
So, what happened?
You may recall, if any of you slogged through my earlier posts on the Tour de France 2011, that Team Leopard Trek stayed safe through the Pyrenees and was looking to make serious inroads in the Alpine stages.
Here's my take on the issues:
(1) Stage 16: this stage was expected to be rather non-eventful. The Schleck brothers (those who finished 2nd and 3rd in the general classification, today) were expected to hold strong. However, the weather played a pivotal role. Why? It rained. The Schleck brothers, for whatever reason, fail to do well in the rain. The result on Stage 16 was that they lost time. Andy Schleck, 2nd place overall in the GC today, lost over one minute to Cadel Evans, the Australian, who would go on to win the tour. Stage 16, then, represents a capital miscalculation in their strategy. Leopard Trek simply did not expect this stage to count for much of anything. Wrong.
(2) Stages 18 and 19 propelled Andy Schleck into first place (yellow jersey) and his brother Frank into second place. We all knew that the Schlecks, superb climbers, were looking forward to the Alps. We knew that strong Alpine performances would push them toward the top in the GC standings.
The danger? The Alpine stages would be followed by Stage 20, an individual time-trial...and the Schlecks are weak time-trial riders. As brilliant as they are in the mountains, a time-trial is a weakness, much to the opposite extreme.
Stage 19 finished with Andy ahead of his brother Frank by 53 seconds and Cadel Evans by 57 seconds. Everyone held their breath for the time-trial on Saturday.
(3) Stage 20 time-trial: Cadel Evans absolutely crushed both Schleck brothers in a real tour-de-force. He finished the day, not only having made up the 57-second deficit versus Andy, but took the overall Tour lead by a remarkable 1minute, 34seconds. He owned the time-trial.
Before a Retrospect Moment, let's pause to consider some rather notable things:
1. Team Leopard Trek finished 2nd in the Team Standings; a remarkable result for a first-year team!
2. Andy and Frank finished 2nd and 3rd overall, again, a remarkable result.
(1) The Pyrenees: personally speaking, I was somewhat shocked that Leopard Trek riders -- namely, Andy or Frank, did not try to win or place at the forefront of at least one of the stages in the Pyrenees. I thought at the time, and still maintain, that such a performance would have been smart, strategically.
(2) Stage 16: the Schlecks, in particular, must prepare better for adverse weather conditions. They cannot afford to lose the kind of time they did on this stage. For example, had Andy finished together with Cadel Evans, the time difference in the time-trial would have been razor thin, instead of resoundingly reassuring on the part of Evans.
(3) Time-Trial: the Schlecks must commit more preparation to time-trials. Although Evans certainly had the ride of his life, the flaws in the Leopard Trek strategy permitted it to occur. Had Andy, in particular, attacked in the Pyrenees and not lost such significant time on Stage 16, the end results would have been different.
(4) In regards to team standings: Leopard Trek had taken over first place in the team standings, and were doing quite well for awhile. What happend? Simply put, they needed more depth and strength in those riders who are "overall" strong riders. They had good flat-land riders (i.e. Fabian Cancellara) and outstanding mountain riders (the Schleck brothers), but they needed better showings from a stalwart main team in order to capture the first place team prize. Whereas they held razor-thin margins for awhile, they finished just over 11 minutes behind the first place team! Even the Schlecks' brilliant performances in the Alps couldn't pull off the team victory.
Mind you, I'm being a bit overly-critical. However, that was the purpose of this study in strategy. For anyone who has taken the time to read what I wrote, I hope that you have been able to follow the strengths and weaknesses in their overall race strategy.
A valliant effort from a first-year team; quite notable, actually.
Bravo, chaps! And now, for 2012...