The pedaling done, the posturing begins: Who must ride, and why?
ASPEN, Colorado (VN) — It practically took an algorithm to work out the new race leader in Colorado, with Tejay van Garderen and Christian Vande Velde so evenly matched the yellow jersey now belongs to Vande Velde simply on Wednesday’s stage placing.
But in a Colorado race that’s been chaos to manage, who actually wants the responsibility of riding the front? Both Garmin-Sharp and BMC Racing have tapped their resources, but for entirely different reasons.
Garmin has attacked in earnest at every chance, as evidenced by Tom Danielson’s epic stage win in Aspen, when the American held off a peloton entirely driven by BMC.
Now that Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) is in yellow — thanks to a UCI formula that awarded him yellow over van Garderen (BMC Racing) due to finish placing on the stage — will BMC get a break?
Don’t bet on it.
“Of course it’s their job to control the race,” said Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters. “Listen, they have the odds-on race favorite with Tejay, who demonstrated he was the strongest rider in the race (in Crested Butte). And they have the strongest team in the race with an almost Olympic medalist, a Tour de France champion. I mean, we can go on.”
“They absolutely have full obligation in the race. You think about it. Why would RadioShack chase? (Chris) Horner’s not going to beat Tejay in the time trial. The only way that Horner can win or (Matthew) Busche can win is basically if BMC just falls apart. Everyone’s just playing the cards they’re dealt.”
As Danielson rode away (and Vande Velde ultimately rode into yellow) it was abundantly clear that BMC would have to burn all its matches on a punishing day into Aspen. RadioShack wouldn’t help, and Omega Pharma-Quick Step didn’t have any reason to chase, either.
“We got no help today. Let’s call it what it is. I’m not complaining. We got no help today,” said BMC assistant sport director Mike Sayers. “I’m not going to call out any names, but if you have more than three riders in a group and you can win a stage … you can’t win it if you don’t bring the guy off the front back. You can’t win it if you don’t get there together. …
“They didn’t win the stage. They got nothing. Teams had all those riders in the front and didn’t do anything. We did our job to the bitter end, and it is what it is.”
The battle for the general classification question now becomes one of attrition. BMC has lit its candles. How much wax is left after chasing all day Wednesday? There were times it was down to van Garderen on the front, frantically descending Independence Pass in hopes of catching Danielson. Garmin-Sharp’s attacks don’t come free, either.
“I was surprised on day one. I wasn’t surprised today,” RadioShack’s Chris Horner said of Garmin’s tactics. “They’ve been aggressive all week, and it’s working out for them. It’s paying dividends.
“Same as us, they don’t have the strongest guy here. BMC has the first and second strongest guys here. So Garmin is doing the same thing we’re doing — they’re gambling everything on Plan B, because Plan A isn’t there.”
Horner’s RadioShack squad has thus far ducked the crossfire between BMC and Garmin, drawing ire for its lack of work, but Horner explained that his guys weren’t worrying about anyone but themselves.
“I don’t care who wins the stage, and I don’t care who’s in the yellow jersey if it’s not a RadioShack rider. We’re here to win the overall or win stages,” said Horner.
“Right now we don’t have the strongest guy. So the only way for us to win is to keep a bunch of us on GC and hope for some kind of messed-up tactics where we can jump away and put one of our riders in the leader’s jersey. But we’re not here to put anyone else in the leader’s jersey.”
There’s a feeling that RadioShack is lurking in slipstreams and waiting for the race to fall apart before taking matters into its own hands. The squad has four riders 20 seconds out of the race lead. All are good climbers, notably Horner and Jakob Fuglsang. RadioShack veteran Jens Voigt said the race naturally falls to the teams with the strongest GC men.
“BMC has a solid leader like Tejay, they are trying to keep it controlled, trying to keep it as smooth and controlled as possible, while Garmin is riding some pretty bold tactics from the first day,” he said.
“I’m sure it makes it pretty interesting to watch. They’re really putting it on the line here. There’s no holding back — there’s no hiding, and there’s no tricks. They just go full gas every day.
“For the moment it looks like they’re doing the right thing, trying to keep the race open, trying to race aggressive, make the other teams work, make the other teams tired, while we just sit in the middle and try not to get killed in the fight between BMC and Garmin. We’ll just try to profit from it and hope we still have a good chance in the end.
All along, BMC has been lauded as the strongest team in Colorado. But Garmin’s moves and its abundance of climbers are cause for concern, according to Sayers.
“We’re doing our best,” Sayers said. “We’re doing our best trying to manage them. They’re strong. Really strong. They’re the strongest team in the race. … they’re out there throwing caution to the wind.
“I respect the way they’re racing. But at the same time, I respect the way we’re racing, too. It’s a battle … I hope the fans are enjoying it, because it’s a good battle.”
The battle continues on Thursday, with a stage that begins in Aspen and immediately sends the field up Independence Pass again, en route to an uphill finish in Beaver Creek. This race is anything but over.
“I think you’ve got to worry about everybody, still,” said BMC manager Jim Ochowicz.