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By Thomas Prehn
One of the most frequent tactical questions I get is “What do you do when one team dominates a race?”
Well, for one thing, you have to try harder and take a few risks.
On stage 14 from Agde to Ax-3-Domaines, the T-Mobile team finally decided to do something about the dominating control of the Discovery Team. Typically, Discovery has followed the same pattern it did back in the Postal days, namely go to the front and set a pace on the climbs that was suitable for them and slowly burn off the riders in the field. When you control the front of pack, you control the pace. You get to decide if you want to go harder or more steady and conservative.
I think T-Mobile must have finally decided that the only way to make a mark on the Tour is not to sit around and let someone else dictate tactics and pace. On the lower slops of the longest climb of the day, the Port de Pailhères, the T-Mobile squad hit the front. Rather than setting the pace like the Discovery Team, I think they figured the best way to shed as many of Armstrong’s team was to set a blistering pace. In just a few kilometers, T-Mobile shattered the field. The team kept the pressure on until all of Armstrong’s Discovery teammates, most of their team and pretty much everyone else was gone. The only exceptions were the top men of the GC at the Tour.
With that approach, T-Mobile created a great situation where teammates Ullrich, Klöden and Vinokourov had Armstrong isolated. Now when the races head into the mountains like this, there is really not a lot that teams or individuals can do. The pitch of the road tends to dictate who stays in the front when the pace heats up.
I was really impressed with the aggressive riding of Vinokourov. He attacked early on the Pailhères climb a couple of times. They were good attacks, too, well-timed to get the most time and distance. Even though each time he was attacked, he was brought back, these moves showed what a great competitor he is. You could say that the moves didn’t accomplish anything since Lance was able to easily answer any of the accelerations by all of his competitors. The key point is that Vinokourov was not letting Lance Armstrong continue to dictate.
Now the only thing that didn’t make any sense was when Vinokourov chased back on to the leaders, that when he attacked again at the start of the final climb, it was his teammate Klöden chasing him down.
Now, Vinokourov may not have been able to stay out there that long anyway, but it didn’t make any sense. For all the great tactics that T-Mobile employed during the day, I don’t see any reason why Klöden and Ullrich should not have made Armstrong do the work. It would have at least given the two other T-Mobiles the opportunity for the counter attack.
Honestly, that was a move one might expect in poorly coordinated amateur teams, but certainly not from one of the top teams at the Tour de France.