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


2011 Tour de France, stage 8, Rui Da Costa
A motivated Rui Costa took stage 8 of the Tour. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

At a time when several top riders are continuing to race into their late-30s and early-40s, the task for up-and-coming riders to win major events has become much more difficult. So, besides needing the ability and strength to win, a newcomer also has to have a bigger incentive than his older rivals to win a major race.

That sort of incentive was present in the breakthrough wins that came for two little-known Europeans this summer. Costa, the Portuguese rider who came off a five-month drugs-related suspension after testing positive for methylhexanamine (said to be due to food contamination) in April, needed to prove himself. So the incentive to do just that was a big factor in his winning a stage of the Tour de France in July followed by his aggressive victory at the GP de Montréal last month. And with others sure to run afoul of the stringent WADA regulations, the need to prove their “innocence” will again be a strong incentive.

Another incentive in today’s difficult economic climate — when many teams are having a hard time finding new sponsors, merging with other squads or even folding — is the need to score UCI points or win races to secure a better contract. That was the case with Lampre-ISD’s Bole, who came into the WorldTour last year and won a stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné and placed second at the Tour of Poland. But this year, other than winning the 2011 Slovenian national title, Bole had won nothing of significance. So when he saw an opening in a late breakaway group at the Plouay classic he attacked decisively 3km from the finish and held on to win by a few bike lengths ahead of a charging 70-strong peloton.

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