It’s no coincidence that the breakaways in two of the last three Tour de France stages have featured riders from both RadioShack and Caisse d’Epargne.
Without a viable general classification podium contender, both teams are gunning for stage wins as well as the team classification, meaning they are closely marking each other.
Team classification is determined not by the top three riders on general classification from each team, but by the top three riders from each team on each stage.
Following Friday’s stage 12, RadioShack leads Caisse d’Epargne by just 21 seconds. Astana sits third, almost 16 minutes down.
RadioShack general manager Johan Bruyneel told VeloNews that with the team GC so close, RadioShack intends to have a rider in any break that has a Caisse d’Epargne rider in it.
So far, the team has done just that.
On stage 9 Tuesday, Caisse d’Epargne’s Luis Leon Sanchez was the highest-placed rider to make the 11-man breakaway. Radio Shack’s Janez Brajkovic and Chris Horner formed a chase group on the Col de la Colombière, but the group proved unattractive to the peloton and was quickly retrieved.
On Wednesday’s stage 10, RadioShack’s Sergio Paulinho took the stage win from a two-up sprint with Caisse d’Epargne’s Vasil Kiryienka, both from the day’s break.
The breakaway on Thursday’s stage 11, won by HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish, did not feature riders from either team.
On Friday, the day’s 18-man break featured a pair of Caisse d’Epargne riders, Kiryienka and Carlos Barredo, and RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden. Both Kiryienka and Klöden made the final selection on the climb up La Croix Neuve into Mende, but both were swallowed up by a fast-chasing maillot jaune group.
The team classification is generally viewed as a consolation prize of sorts for a team that originally intended on chasing the overall podium. However it still brings a sponsor-pleasing photo opportunity on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, prize money, and bragging rights as the Tour’s strongest team.
Following Lance Armstrong’s stage-8 collapse as a GC favorite, RadioShack’s Chris Horner told VeloNews that the team would focus on stage wins and the team classification. With Paulinho’s win Wednesday, the team has accomplished the first goal, and while more stage wins are a priority, team GC is also important.
“I can only see two objectives that are feasible, and that’s winning the team classification — which normally you’d never hear me talking about that, but at the Tour it’s a big thing — and winning stages,” Horner said. “We have nine really strong riders. I think we have the best team here. Maybe not the best one rider, but the best team here.”