Tour de France 2009 Stage Live Streaming

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

With another flat stage on tap Wednesday, you can bet there's one thought on the mind of most of the directeurs sportif in the Tour tonight: How do we beat Cavendish?

He's 2-for-2 in the sprint, and neither finish was particularly close. I think one interpretation of Columbia's display on Stage 2 is that their “realistic GC goals” are to win the green jersey, and bunches of stages, like they did at the Tour de Suisse.

You can group successful sprinters on a continuum from “pure speed” to ”pure train.” Robbie McEwen may be the current sprinter who is farthest to the “pure speed” end of things. McEwen has often been successful even without a leadout train, by shadowing the guys who have one, and beating them in the final 250 meters. Alessandro Petacchi, on the other hand, is most successful with a long lead-out train that whittles down the field in the last few kilometers, with Petacchi essentially sprinting from the front for many of his wins.

Here comes Cavendish and he's got bushels of both kick and train. Columbia has powerful and experienced porters in Mick Rogers, George Hincapie, Mark Renshaw and Tony Martin, and they've got coal to spare for a formidable train. Cavendish himself has shown he's got a maximum speed nobody can match, and even when he's had to go to soon, he's had the stamina to make it to the line.

So how to beat the Manx Missile?

Since it appears nobody has a kick to match Cavendish, teams are left with two choices. First, disrupt the team's buildup to the line. We've already seen riders trying to get on board the Columbia train, leading to some pushing and shoving, without success. Competing sprinters can't launch their sprint early, because they would have to outsprint Renshaw AND Cavendish. Ocasionally, on a broad run-in, you'll see competing trains, with swirling, snarling tentacles of riders, splitting and joining as the line comes up. I think Milram tried this on Stage 2, leading from about 4k down to 2k to ride, but then Columbia hit the afterburners, and Milram's train disintegrated. We'll see if anybody else gives this a go.

A second approach is just not to let the stage come to a sprint. Send breaks early, and send them often. When they get caught (heck, before they get caught), send some more. We've already seen that nobody wants to help Columbia bring back escapes, so make them do it all day. If they won't chase, there's no stage win for Cavendish. Unfortunately for the pack, after the TTT, Astana would now probably help out with the chase duties, to maintain their stranglehold on the GC standings.

So what do you think? How can the pros stop the Tour from becoming a Cav-alanche?


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