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The beauty of tactics – Putting it all on the line

Tuesday and Wednesday at the Tour de France brought two early breakaways with two riders and remarkably different results. On Tuesday’s 160-kilometer stage from Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat to Guéret, Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) and Filippo Simeoni (Domina Vacanze got away at the 6 kilometer mark and quickly built up a lead that at one point was 10 minutes with just 60 kilometers to go. But the peloton knows when to start working the escapees are going to be caught. Sometimes no one is willing to work or the peloton – even with radios and GPS devices – misjudges the strength and speed of the

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By Thomas Prehn

Tuesday and Wednesday at the Tour de France brought two early breakaways with two riders and remarkably different results.

On Tuesday’s 160-kilometer stage from Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat to Guéret, Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) and Filippo Simeoni (Domina Vacanze got away at the 6 kilometer mark and quickly built up a lead that at one point was 10 minutes with just 60 kilometers to go.

But the peloton knows when to start working the escapees are going to be caught. Sometimes no one is willing to work or the peloton – even with radios and GPS devices – misjudges the strength and speed of the breakaway and they stay away.

Sadly, on Tuesday, the Spaniard Landaluze and Simeoni of Italy did not make it. After working together in a breakaway for 153 kilometers, both were swallowed up within spitting distance of the finish line. Really, it was literally within spitting distance!.

Landaluze got caught and was passed just 10 meters of the finish line. It was so close that only nine riders out of the hard-charging peloton even got past him.

No, they did not win. Indeed, if there was ever a case of ‘loosing’ the race, this was it. It was not a matter of the charging peloton catching them so much as it was the two riders not completely committing themselves over the last kilometer and foolishly loosing the race.

In the closing kilometers the Spaniard and the Italian worked hard to maintain a slim lead over the peloton. It worked beautifully, too. The two held off their pursuers and selflessly went about the job of staying a step ahead of the sprinters’ teams… all the way up to about the one-kilometer-to-go-mark.

Then greed and the fear got the best of both men. It was greed for a stage win and fear of finishing second that prompted both to stop working together. Each hesitated momentarily instead of pulling through to keep the pace up.

You could see how each wanted to save just a bit of energy to beat the other in the sprint. But instead they were saving for nothing.

It is often said that in order to be a real champion and in order to win the tough ones, you can’t be afraid to put it all on the line. You can’t be afraid to lose. The hesitation in the last kilometer did both of them in. Imagine being in a breakaway for 150 kilometers and getting passed by nine sprinters 10 meters short of the line! DOH!

On Wednesday’s 237km rolling stage 10 from Limoges to Saint-Flour, Richard Virenque showed how it should be done. The stage was the longest of the tour and with the constant rolling hills and nine categorized climbs, this was bound to be a decisive day.

From a lead group of eleven riders, Virenque (Quick Step) and Axel Merckx (Lotto) moved into the lead and pressed even harder on the climbs.

The two were soon away and working to increase their lead. At the base of the category 1 Col du Pas de Peyrol the two had more than 10-and-a-half minutes on the peloton.

Up this climb the Frenchman pressed the pace and did not wait for the Belgium, Merckx. It was a bold move, to stake a claim at going the final 55 kilometers on his own. Virenque committed himself to put it all on the line to take the stage with as much time over the pack as possible. He could have waited the 30 or so seconds for Merckx at the top of the climb, but that would have been a move that lacked commitment and confidence.

Instead, Virenque won in grand style on Bastille Day with more than a five minute lead over the peloton that had absorbed a very weary Merckx.