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


2011 Paris-Roubaix
Perhaps the biggest underdog victory of 2011? Johan Van Summeren was elated and emotional after his Paris-Roubaix win. Photo: Ben Delaney © VeloNews

Racing in the modern era has been criticized for its too-familiar pattern of small breakaways being held on an invisible leash until they are brought to heel in the closing kilometers where the team leaders make their bids for victory. That model has been blamed on race radios in the hands of sports directors who are sometimes compared with control freaks. But that predictable tactic has been broken many times this year for various reasons … and that trend is likely to continue.

For instance, Zaugg won his Lombardy victory partly because his radio wasn’t working, but also because he had scouted the final climb again and again in the week before the race, so he knew the best tactic was to follow and wait until he attacked on the 15-percent pitch near the top. The predictable pattern was also broken at Paris-Roubaix (see “Equal opportunity” below), where the “no-hope” breakaway stayed clear and Vansummeren used his great tactical knowledge to make a perfectly timed move.

The one 2011 classic that featured every tactic imaginable was the Ronde van Vlaanderen (see my April 5 analysis), where defending champ Cancellara, with no teammates to help, was the victim of the Quick Step team’s negative tactics and a strong chase by BMC Racing, which led to the opening taken by Saxo Bank’s Nuyens. That interrelated team battle is something we’re bound to see more of in the future — especially with the coalescing of powerful teams, Leopard joining forces with RadioShack and Quick Step with Omega Pharma; the strengthening of BMC; and the formation of GreenEdge Cycling.

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