Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The unluckiest team of the Tour?

Still here on Ventoux, wondering when I'll get back to televised sports and musing on the last televised sport I actually saw.

Most British cycling fans will currently be remembering the way that Cadel Evans spent most of the Dauphine Libere’s mountain stages closing small gaps to Bradley Wiggins’ back wheel and thinking to themselves “oh, what might have been?” But before we get too self-pitying about Bradley’s crash ruining Sky’s Tour, maybe we should stop to think about poor old Radioshack. After all, to lose one leader may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose three looks like carelessness.

Of course, losing four GC men and being able to say “It’s alright, we’ve still got Levi Leipheimer.” suggests a worrying lack of focus in the ‘shacks back room anyway. It probably stems from the days when Johann Bruyneel’s teams were built around a grumpy Texan and any rider who looked capable of spoiling Lance’s party would be signed up on fat wages as a super-domestique for Lance. Bruyneel is a man who’s used to fielding a lot of GC contenders at once; it’s just that this is the first time he’s done so without knowing who was really in charge on the road. With most of the squad approaching pensionable age and no sponsor lined up to take over from the departing Radioshack, Bruyneel’s super squad needed to perform. Unfortunately, having four leaders seemed to mean they had four times as many lightning rods for bad luck.

Levi Leipheimer fared best, finishing an hour and three minutes behind Evans after a series of crashes. At least he made it to Paris. Andreas Kloden once again proves to have far less desire than ability and quit on stage 13 after losing time to a sore elbow. Chris Horner and Janez Brajkovic offered rather more manly excuses for quitting: Horner rode to the finish of stage 7 with a concussion before supposedly asking if the race was still on, while Brajkovic also suffered a concussion on stage 5 but didn’t try to continue due to the fact that he’d broken his collarbone as well. There are probably a few Flandrian cycling fans out there who think such lack of gumption is shameful, but the rest of us are just glad that he’s young and will bounce back, which is more than can be said for anyone else in the squad. Finally there was Yaroslav Popovych, the former Tour and Giro top ten finisher whose Google search suggestions progress to ”Yaroslav Popovych Doping” with indecent haste. He failed to start stage 10 after suffering with a fever.

As if all that weren’t enough, Johan Bruyneel himself was pulled over during the race and breathalysed, something only marginally more embarrassing than his moonlight disappearance from this year’s Giro D’Italia when the hotel raids started. After years of triumph, the man has become a magnet for bad press.

With that in mind, the online wailing and gnashing of teeth over Bradley’s crash seems a little less justifiable. Sure, for British fans it’s hugely disappointing, but suggestions that Sky had the worst luck in the race are unfounded. They may have lost their leader, but they have two stage wins, Geraint Thomas has signed on for three more years, and they don’t face the sponsorship uncertainty of Bruyneel’s men. The next time we’re lamenting Sky’s misfortune let’s stop and remember that it could be worse - they could be Radioshack.

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