By Andrew Hood
What a difference a day made for Discovery Channel. The glum faces following Thursday’s setback in the Pyrenees were replaced with smiles following the victory in Stage 12 by Yaroslav Popovych.
VeloNews caught up with Discovery Channel assistant sports director Sean Yates to get the lowdown on the aftermath of Thursday’s Pyrenean meltdown. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews.com: What happened Thursday? The team couldn’t put its top riders into the front group, how much of a surprise was that?
Sean Yates:We were hoping we’d have two guys in the selection. We were hoping George, Azevedo and Popovych would be there. Savoldelli, we know he’s not in shape of the Giro. Rubiera was sick, so we knew he was out of the running, and the others aren’t climbers. When you look who’s still in the group, you normally expect those guys to still be there. At the start, Popovych said he wasn’t feeling good, like he had a fever. He kinda of came around a bit and was able to hang on to the yellow jersey group. George was dropped when the hammer went down on Portillon with T-Mobile, that was that.
VN: How big of a disappointment was that for George?
SY: Mentally, he was very disappointed after the individual time trial, which was the first real test. He (started) very good, he had a good prologue, he got the yellow jersey, everything looked to be on track. He was skinny, said he never felt better. The time trial, physically there wasn’t any problems. Obviously, it’s very difficult to step into Lance’s shoes. His ambitions were to try to get a good overall in this race, and the foundation of that was to get a good first time trial.
VN: What happens when a rider has troubles like that?
SY: George was bitterly disappointed. (Wednesday) he felt reasonably good, but that wasn’t anything compared to (Thursday). I should image when he realized he wasn’t up for more, he kind of gave up hope. It’s difficult mentally. He lost a lot of time. Once it was obvious he wasn’t going to hang onto the yellow jersey group, it was all over.
VN: How would you characterize the spirit of the team now?
SY: “It’s difficult, to put it politely. We knew coming into the Tour this year, things were going to be different. We knew we didn’t have a guy we had a guy we could count on winning the race. We knew that everyone would be looking to us, which is logical, because we’re the team that’s won the last seven years, and everyone is thinking of what we can do without Lance. There’s a pressure there for everyone involved. It’s impossible to fill his shoes. To have a team ride for seven years for Lance, it’s a bit daunting, (George) wasn’t scared to take the challenge. We know that George can be up there in the classics year after year, if you never try, you never know. Physically he can get up the mountains and he put down a good time trial, when you put two and two together, it adds up to a reasonably good package, but it just didn’t work out for him.
VN: Is it hard to step down after being on top for so long?
SY: It’s good to be brought down to a level of other teams. There are other teams that have suffered through the past seven years to try to justify their existence to get results in the Tour because the Tour is the pinnacle of bike racing. It is a humbling experience to be car No. 11 after being car No. 1, it’s certainly gives you motivation to get back up to car No. 1. It’s good to share the spoils of victory, or the glory, with everyone in the sport.
VN: What now?
SY: We have to look for a stage-win, because obviously the overall is completely out of reach. It would have to be the next best thing, we’ve had the yellow jersey. One of the problems, this team is so used to sticking around Lance, they have a bit of a problem of going into breaks. Whereas you get teams like Ag2r, where their only chance of glory is a stage victory, and they’re jumping around getting into breaks. Obviously, now the time gaps are big enough we have to try to get in there. We got the Alps, the best man wins scenario, then it’s the time trial, it’s not getting easy, if you don’t try, you won’t succeed.