What's Cool In Road Cycling

Race Analysis: A Porte In The Tempest

Paris-Nice finished on Sunday with the records showing yet another Team SKY victory with their ‘substitute’ leader prooving that there’s more in the SKY quiver than just the Froome and Wiggo show. In the wake of this result Lee Rodgers analyzes the British supersquad and gets to the bottom of the reason why SKY just keep on winning whereas other ‘supersquads’ have failed before them.

Contributed by Lee Rodgers.

It’s Paris-Nice. Your two team leaders are out. One’s in Italy, quietly staking his claim in that unassuming and slightly anorexic manner of his to be the favorite for this year’s Tour de France.

The other? Probably off swigging vodka tonics and getting a dodgy haircut by a heart-shaped pool somewhere, crooning to The Jam records in a velvet romper suit and warbling something along the lines of ‘That’s right, Fernando! Call me Lord Wiggo, you know it’s gonna happen soon! I’ll sing it again – That’s, ah Entertainment! Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-laaaah!’

Either that, or he’s training his arse off in Mallorca and gonna sweep in to win the Giro and confirm to even the most miserly of his doubters that the lad from Kilburn can definitely ride a bike a bit.

Well, a lot.

The former is more fun to imagine, the latter more likely. Which is a shame. I’ve always thought cycling needed an Elvis. Wiggins, like The King, likes his velour and his sideburns, not to mention his beer and I’m sure he could adapt his diet from lettuce and erm, lettuce to deep-dried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

SKY’s big two leaders discussing their favorite lettuce types at last year’s Tour.

Anyway, wherever he is, at Paris-Nice David Brailsford didn’t miss either the ModFather nor Froome (who’s gonna create a good nickname for Froomey? El BroomHandle? The FroomeStick?), for he had a rider to lead the team who showed he could win too – a rider that I read earlier defined as a ‘substitute’ for the much more celebrated duo.

That’s quite an insult in my book. Richie Porte’s just confirmed that he has the talent, the legs, the cool and the mental fortitude to step up to the plate and knock some extremely good bike riders out of the ball park. And they’re calling him a substitute?

That’s one heck of a guy to have to come off the bench. And don’t forget there’s another guy on the roster too that may have stuttered a little but still has the skills to become a dominant force in the sport, Edvald Boasson Hagen.

So should we be annoyed with Team Sky? Isn’t it kind of unfair for them to have so many good riders? To answer this we have to look at a little bit of context.

First of all, let’s not forget the feted ‘super team’ that was supposed to be Leopard-Trek-Nissan-I Forget Who Else. Here was a team with not one, but two Schlecks (wow doesn’t THAT look like a great deal now?), a Swiss dude called Spartacus, a young and pretty damn decent prospect in Jakob Fugslang and some other solid riders.

But what happened to them? Mismanagement, unattainable expectations, too many egos, and then the arrival of the elephant in the room that was LA. Not to mention Brylcreem Boy, aka Johan ‘Who? Me?’ Bruyneel.

Secondly, remember all the talk of Froome being pissed at losing the 2011 Vuelta because the team had bet on Wiggo to win, only to see him falter, leaving Froome with too much time to make up on Cobo?

Or the hulabaloo that was kicked up when Froome accelerated in the mountains more than once, putting the race leader in the red?

Oops. You’ve just dropped your team leader Chris.

‘Froome must be so angry!’ some railed. ‘He’ll be off in December!’ others baa-baaed. (Actually I might have bleated that line too, oops!)

Come January and he’s still there. As is Boasson Hagen. As is Porte. Some wondered if Porte needed to change teams at the end of 2013 to get outright team leader status, and yet he’s already talking of being with the squad through 2014.

The secret to all this, even though it’s not that hard to see if you look a little closely, is Dave Brailsford.

The SKY mastermind, Dave Brailsford.

Yes, he’s a polarizing figure. Some can’t equate his anti-doping stance with the hiring of Geert Leinders, a perceived lack of transparency of the results of in-house testing and let’s face it, we’re now kind of hard-wired to be suspicious of good results. Especially lots of them.

I’m not going to go on about Sky’s training methods, you can read about that elsewhere. What I want to highlight is the way that Brailsford manages his riders.

He’s obviously something of a genius in that department. And he’s not just managing riders – he realized a long time ago that he’s managing personalities and, thus, their attendant expectations. Cyclists work together in a team, but not really. If you’ve ever been in a team of any kind, you know what I mean. It’s very seldom that you’ll meet a truly selfless, self-effacing and generous rider. Most of us can play the team-player game from time to time, but really, deep down, we want to be number one.

Or very close.

Racing cyclists are always looking for angles, short cuts to better teams, higher status within a team, better treatment and an improved salary. It’s in our nature. We’re hunters, predators and scavengers all rolled into one. It’s just the way it is.

So unless Brailsford is slipping some Rohypnol into his boys’ muesli of a morning, he must be doing something else to keep these highly intuitive, highly skilled and highly ambitious riders together.

To Froome I think he said something like this:

‘Look, Brad will win the Tour this year. Yes you are climbing better than him, we know the numbers. But the course is built for him. He’s older. It’s his time. He’ll have to win from Paris-Nice too, to get him used to the media and the pressure. You’re gonna be the uber-domestique. And yes we dropped the ball at the Vuelta, but it won’t happen again.

‘What I can do for you is to build you into the absolute best version of Christopher Froome on a bike that you will ever achieve, and you can’t do that with anyone else because well, I know my shit. And you will go to the 2013 Tour de France in a condition that will, if you are better at your best than others near their best, bring you Yellow.’

Remember, this guy who shot from relative obscurity just a season and a half ago is only 27. He’s got a good six to seven more years at this level.

Win one Tour and whose to say he won’t win two, or three?

You get the picture.

To Richie Porte, I think it was a similar chat, but Brailsford knows that Froome is his guy for the Tour. Can Porte win a Grand Tour?


Right? Well didn’t we say the same about Wiggins?

And wasn’t Froome, even though he won Oman (after all ‘It’s only Oman’ – I beg to differ, go ride it and come back and say that), he’s kinda mentally fragile, it’s a flash in the pan!

Froome won in Oman ahead of a couple of half decent bike riders…

Tirreno-Adriatico, anyone? ‘Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice… wait, that’s three times! Ah dammit!’

Porte just became the first Aussie to win Paris-Nice. That is a cracking achievement. He could go on to win the Vuelta, possibly, at a push, the Giro, maybe next year, if he has a Froome backing him up, in lieu of the Aussie’s work at this year’s Tour. See how it works?

The Managing of Expectations 101, by D. Brailsford.

Yes, you will have to take a back seat, but I will deliver you to wins in races you dreamt about as a kid. Races, the names of which are talked about in hushed tones by the cognoscenti. You’ll enter the upper echelons of the sport, become part of the firmament. Your name, in those books.

Or, you’ll go join Team X or Y and maybe get lucky and possibly win the Eneco Tour and move from team to team every two years. Your call bud.

So I think it’s time to just step back from the wire fence, release the grip and let the blood return to the knuckles, give the jaw a break and just stop being so damn annoyed at Team Sky and their dude with the domed head.

They’ve managed to instill a sense of loyalty to a bunch of men who belong to a sport that encourages individualism and backstabbing and in a day and age when sports stars follow the dollar before all else, and they have justified that by improving their riders, some from good to very good, others from very good to outright brilliant.

Maybe now it’s clearer why Cav had to go. He was not a rough diamond. He was already cosmic. He had to go to Sky, had to see what it was like, but in the end all realized the fit was not right.

Brailsford has other ambitions, even beyond what he has already achieved.

As for Porte, well, chapeau, fella. Whilst the other toiled and heaved like straining ships on a tumultuous sea, you stayed the course and stayed calm.

And you won Paris-Nice.

A Porte in the tempest indeed.

Lee Rodgers leads a double life as a pro racer on the UCI race circuit with the CCN Racing Team, competing in the UCI Asia Tour as well as some European events and the likes of the Tour of Qatar and Oman, rubbing shoulders with the best the WorldTour has to offer, whilst keeping up a day job as a cycling journalist. The highlight of his cycling career so far was winning the Singapore National Champs – road race and ITT – as well as claiming the Green Jersey at the 2.1 Tour de Taiwan in 2012, and naturally, writing for PEZ. His writing appears in several magazines and websites and you can catch up with him regularly on his blog, www.crankpunk.com.

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