By Thomas Prehn
One thing you have to keep in mind about tactics is that they have to change to suit the circumstances. All teams start the day with a general plan, but then everyone has to be ready at a drop of a pedal stroke to change that plan and improvise. This is certainly what happened in today’s stage at the Giro.
I can fully imagine the Fassa Bortolo team meeting this morning before the start of the stage. “This should be an easy day. All we have to do is keep the group together and set up Alessandro for the sprint with 10 kilometers to go. Every one knows their job on the lead out, so let’s get out there and win this sprint!”
Sure, it sounds easy. No major climbs, fairly flat day and a long straight lead out for the sprint. That sprint could predictably come down between the big guns: Petacchi, Robby McEwen and Mario Cipollini.
By now, you know that isn’t exactly the way things worked out for Fassa Bortolo. Coming up to the day’s second climb, the Cat. 3 Poggio di Sugame, Petacchi had a seemingly minor bobble, went down and landed on his tail bone. Suddenly, Fassa’s big hope for a stage win was suddenly at the side of the road and looking like he was in some serious pain.
With its designated sprinter stopped and possibly hurt, the team instantly went into ‘damage control’ mode. One rider stopped to check on Petacchi. The team car then arrived and, with radio communications what they are today, the director quickly let the others know that Petacchi was in pain but his problem was not race-ending.
The rest of the team quickly dropped off the back to tow their sprinter back to the main group. There certainly was a big sigh of relief in the team car when 15km later the entire squad, including Petacchi, was back in the comfort of the pack. But they didn’t relax there. The team quickly moved four of its members to the front of the pack to reel in a small break that had gotten away at the top of the climb and quite probably, to reassert the team’s authority over the field on a day that was obviously going to end in a sprint.
With the break pulled back in just after the Intergiro, the Fassa and Saeco teams set a fairly brisk tempo at the front, reminding any pretenders that they stood little chance of sneaking away for a stage win.
With 10km to go, the Fassa train was setting up and stringing the field out just as planned. Of course, other teams and other riders had their own plans and within two kilometers the lead out train for Petacchi fell apart as the blue and white Fassa jerseys were scattered across the front half of the pack.
If at first you don’t succeed…
It is quite common for even the best executed plans to fall apart like that. The key is not to panic and to stick to the plan if the plan still makes sense. For Fassa Bortolo, it made perfect sense to reorganize, move to the front and put the plan back into action.
Roaring into the final two kilometers, we had a classic train race going between Petacchi’s Fassa Bortolo and Cipollini’s Domina team. As things got faster, the two trains began to intertwine, but Petacchi and his last two guys stayed focused and right on track. With a bit more than half-a-kilometer to go, the final acceleration started and Petacchi came off his final lead-out with a big boost of added speed, accelerating smoothly and easily beating Lotto’s Robbie McEwen to the line. (As an added bonus, the sprint also allowed Petacchi to avoid another crash as Super Mario hit the deck in the last 300 meters.)
On the surface, Petacchi’s plan was carried out to perfection. This was the plan of attack from the start, right? That’s true, but over the course of today’s stage there were hundreds of other tactical games and strategies that all played out over the course of the day. Some worked better than others.
The beauty of stage races is that they present a whole array of races going on within a race and because of that, stage races have a whole separate tactical dynamic. Had today’s been a one-day event, Petacchi’s early troubles might have been the end of the race for him. Because he had to finish the stage to continue, the team worked to bring him back into the pack and, in the process, managed to reorganize and see that their original plan was successful.
Thomas Prehn is a former USPRO champion and author of the recentlyreleased “RacingTactics for Cyclists,” now available through VeloPress. If you have questions about tactics employed during a particularstage at the Giro d’Italia, send a note to WebLetters@InsideInc.comWe will try to answer a selection of questions on a regular basis duringthe Giro d’Italia.