Stage 4 – TTT
Not much exciting to report about the Lanterne Rouge. Alan Perez Lezaun still firmly holds onto last place after the TTT. No much of an opportuinity for him to gain enough time to get himself out of the caboose of the race anyway. Lezaun could be of two minds at this moment. He could either be extremely relaxed and have the least amount of pressure of anyone at the TdF, or he could be thinking about what his next career move might be – most certainly outside the world of cycling. If I were him I’d start studying up to go back to Uni.
image poached from cyclingnews.com
If you look at the style of turns that all of the teams were employing, the “paceline” was the weapon of choice. The lead rider would pull a moster turn for 30-60 seconds and then peel off (on the windward side) and slowly drift to the back. For an event such as the TTT, this style of pulling turns is the fastest – especially with 9 guys sharing the load. 30-60 seconds at almost full throttle on the front is just enough time to make these guys feel the pinch but not enough to completely blow their heads off. It also gives the riders behind a good amount of rest to fully recover before hitting the front again at full pace (when I say full pace, I don’t mean “sprint” pace – I mean as hard as can be done for up to a minute).
With today’s technical course a (twists & turns, ups & downs, roudabouts, narrow roads) the strategy of keeping someone on the front for a short amount of time is the fastest (as opposed to “echeloning” or “track turns”). The coordination and possibility for confusion is limited with this style of group riding when on a technical course such as today’s TTT. If the crosswinds had been significant the riders would have temporarily changed to echeloning to cut through those winds like a knife.
Notice that nearly every time a rider was dropped from his team, it was just after he had just completed a massive pull, was drifting off to the back, and there was either a corner or a climb where he could not get back on. His legs would have been screaming at this point and corners and climbs are always where difficult accelerations take place with a fresh rider on the front. Popovych getting dropped by Astana was a perfect example of this. He had just spend a minute at the front until the base of the final climb. He then peeled off and Contador took the reigns. There was no way Popo could get back on at this point. It had nothing to do with him being the weak rider of the bunch and had everything to do with the timing of his pull.
I have to say, that was one of the most exciting TTT’s I’ve ever seen. Glad to see Cancellara hold onto yellow for another day. He knows his time is limited so it’s great to see him retain the jersey for a bit longer.