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Inside Cycling with John Wilcockson: Why 2011 was the year of the underdog


2011 Tour of Lombardy, Oliver Zaugg attacks
Zaugg timed his attack perfectly. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

The recent advances in power-based training methods and computer-aided bike design have greatly leveled the playing field between the team leaders and their back-up riders. This was never better illustrated than at Il Lombardia, where Zaugg of Leopard-Trek took his solo victory in the style of a rider very used to winning — even though he’d never won a race in eight years as a professional. His career had been devoted to others, most notably working for Italian grand tour winners Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali at Liquigas in 2009 and 2010.

In Lombardy, with his team leaders Andy Schleck and Fränk Schleck not starting, the stand-in leader was Jakob Fuglsang. While the Dane made a hard effort to get into what looked like being the winning break with Nibali and two-time defending champion Gilbert, Zaugg remained hidden in the large chase pack. And when Nibali accelerated on the Madonna del Ghisallo climb to leave behind Fuglsang and Gilbert, Zaugg continued his stress-free ride as the Sky, Katusha and Garmin teams pulled the peloton to close a two-minute gap on Nibali just before the new final climb to Villa Vergana.

So when team leaders Fuglsang and Nibali faded (they would finish together seven minutes back), worker-bee Zaugg switched roles. Instead of having to set the uphill pace for Fuglsang or the Schlecks, he followed the pace set by his old boss, Basso, and Garmin’s Peter Stetina and Dan Martin, and then jumped from sixth position for a perfectly timed attack on the steepest part of the climb.

The Swiss veteran said he had doubts about holding his 20-second lead over a chase group headed by Basso, Martin and Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez. His radio wasn’t working so he just pounded the final, mostly downhill 9km into Lecco, where he won by eight seconds. By winning Lombardy, Zaugg showed that the difference in ability between a star and his helpers is no longer the gulf it once was. And when the circumstances are right — as they were on October 15 — we can expect such surprises to become commonplace.

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