Lee’s Lowdown: Lombardia Miscalculations!
Lowdown: On Saturday in Il Lombardia, Diego Rosa made a big mistake on the run in to the finish and lost out to Esteban Chaves by the width of his front tire. The Italian’s boss at Astana, Giuseppe Martinelli, was less than pleased, he was ‘apoplectic’ at the result. Lee Rodgers has been in a similar situation, one that you want to kick yourself for afterwards, here is Lee’s Lowdown on ‘miscalculations’.
I remember the last kilometer like it was yesterday, etched deep into my memory, reminding me like a bad tattoo every time it flashes before my eyes that I was ten kinds of stupid on that day. It was Stage 5 of the grandly named Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhon’s Cup, a.k.a as the UCI 2.2 Tour of Thailand, 2011. On a lazy day for the peloton I got away in a three man break with 30km to go and was feeling pretty strong as we raced towards the last kilometer.
I’d naively got myself stuck at the front of the break on the long straight that led to the finish line. We’d last seen notice of the time gap a few kilometers back and it was coming down fast, we knew that much. Although I was 39, at that time my experience in those situations was almost non-existent, as I’d only been racing two years after an eighteen year break from the sport.
On top of that, I knew I had no sprint so I figured I’d have to go long. But suddenly all my plan-making went out the window when, with 800m to go Dias Omirzakov, who now rides in the ProTour with Astana, shouted “Go! Go! They are coming, we have to go!”
And so, immediately in a state of near-panic, go I did, without even looking back. Problem was, I couldn’t go fast enough. It was only when I did look back – once I’d crossed the line in third place, having ridden like an idiot, that I saw that there was nothing behind us but that strip of baking tarmac and a shimmering haze.
One of the curses of bike racing is that many of us, if not all, remember our defeats even more keenly than our successes. In a sense that is a good thing, at least if you are still racing, in that we learn more from our failures than our successes in all walks of life, not just sport. In this way, a defeat makes you sharper, wiser, and more prepared if a similar situation arises again.
Something akin to this happened to Astana’s Diego Rosa at Il Lombardia on Sunday, when the Italian defied team orders, much to the chagrin of his manager, and put in two doomed attacks inside the last 1,600 meters.
Astana’s sports director, Giuseppe Martinelli (Pantani’s old sidekick), was apoplectic by the end.
“I’ve only been this upset a few times in my life,” he blustered, almost choking on the feathers emerging from his mouth. “If Rosa had listened to me, he would’ve won. You can’t throw away an occasion in that way. You can’t lose like that. I mean, you can lose, but not by miscalculating.”
If you’ve ever been up at the business end of a bike race though, you will know perfectly well that making the right decision is just about the hardest thing to do in this sport. All those months and years of training might have paid off and you may find yourself up there with 5km to go, your dream of victory so tantalizingly close, but unless you make the right decisions, it all means squat.
There are so many variables when you are in that situation that staying calm and not panicking to overthinking is almost impossible. You have the fatigue to deal with, the conditions of the road and weather, the other riders and finally – your greatest challenge – the battle in your head between instinct and rationale. It’s true to say I think that most victories come from a balanced mixture of both rationale and instinct, but there are a select group of riders who took to winning when they were young that they seem more like cold-blooded killers without a trace of emotion than anything else.
The most well known in recent times is Alejandro Valverde, a rider who with a tarnished reputation but who seriously knows when to pull the trigger. Valverde, rather incredibly, took 50 consecutive victories between the ages of 11 and 13 years old. He once said “If you don’t feel good, have an attack and see what happens, but if you feel good, then you do nothing until the very end.”
That advice might well have been heeded by Rosa on Sunday. Although he did not lose by much, had he perhaps dived to the corner just a few seconds later he may well have won outright, but then he’d also have had to not attacked with 1.6 to go. These are the ‘miscalculations’, that Martinelli was talking about.
“Diego should’ve not moved like he did. I told him,” Martinelli said. “In the last curve, he should have been in second position regardless of who was in front. It was clear the other two would help each other, it happened in the Giro d’Italia already this year. And instead, he went through first. A close second place in a monument is nothing to laugh at, but this makes me feel truly sick.”
Martinelli is correct of course, but anyone who never did master the art of making the right decision and has let a race slip away from them because of a mistimed move or taking the wrong line will know full well that Rosa will not be forgetting this edition of Il Lombardia any time soon.
Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.
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