André Greipel won the Tour de France yesterday with the help of Lotto-Belisol team-mate Greg Henderson, but there were a number of helpers trying to position their sprint captains. It happens every day in the Tour: rider after rider, until the lead-out man takes over to drive his leader to the line.
Some famous lead-out men are Giovanni Lombardi, Ivan Fanini and more recently, Mark Renshaw. Renshaw used to lead Cavendish, but left for Rabobank. Sky's focus is on the GC in the Tour, but Cavendish still has Bernard Eisel and Edvald Boasson Hagen to help.
A good indicator of who did the work is to look at the finishing image. In the background, you'll usually see the successful lead-out man celebrating as if had crossed the line first.
"I'm happy if I've done my job properly and someone wins, it's a huge satisfaction," Robert Hunter told Cycling Weekly. He is assigned to work for Garmin-Sharp's Tyler Farrar, who crashed in the final metres in the last two days.
"You can see it with Lotto's Greg Henderson. He did his job, [André] Greipel wins, and he has his hands in the air, it's a huge satisfaction doing the job correctly and seeing your guy winning."
Hunter explained that his job depends on how many men the team has to dedicate to the sprint. So far, only Lotto-Belisol and Orica-GreenEdge have been dedicating a full train to their men, Greipel and Matt Goss, respectively.
"My job is to lift the pace up by two K an hour. I come from a track background, so I'm good at that, accelerating at high speeds," Henderson told Cycling Weekly. "My only concern is that I don't gap off André. It needs to be a consistent acceleration. When I practice sprinting off of the motorbike, that's what I'm practicing."
After joining Orica, Daryl Impey moved to Girona to be closer to his team-mates. He trains regularly with Brett Lancaster, who used to lead out the sprints for Erik Zabel in team Milram. Orica was impressed with his work in the Giro d'Italia and decided he should also race this Tour.
"I pretty much go as late as possible. Goss will gauge, as well. When the speeds start to drop then he'll go. Ideally, from 150 to 200 metres, is the best place to drop him off," Impey told Cycling Weekly.
"Sprints like the one like yesterday suit him, which was kind of an uphill drag. The flatter finishes are really suited to sprinters like Greipel or Cav, who's really quick off the mark."
"It all depends," added Hunter. "If you got guys looking after you, your lead-out man wants to be going at about 400 metres to 150 meters.
"In this Tour, you try to do as much as you can to keep your guy rested until to the last kilometre because there's no real trains at the moment except for Lotto and GreenEdge."
Hunter and Farrar have crashed in the last stages and have been unable to perfect the lead-out. However, when it all goes well, the lead-out train is a work of art.
Tour de France 2012: Latest news
Liquigas's yellow and green jersey aim at Tour
Brailsford: Sky on the front for Cav and Wiggins
Fourth Tour crash for Farrar
Greipel on a roll at the Tour
Cavendish and Eisel expected to continue after stage four crash
Injury report: Tour stage four
Garmin-Sharp adjust Tour de France plans after injury problems
Sky down to eight after Siutsou crash
Tour de France 2012: Teams, riders, start list
Tour 2012: Who will win?
Tour de France 2012 provisional start list
Tour de France 2012 team list
Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Stage five: Greipel wins again as Cavendish fades
Stage four: Greipel wins stage after Cavendish crashes
Stage three: Sagan runs away with it in Boulogne
Stage two: Cavendish takes 21st Tour stage victory
Stage one: Sagan wins at first attempt
Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins second
Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs
Analysis: How much time could Wiggins gain in Tour's time trials
CW's Tour de France podcasts
Blog: Tour presentation - chasing dreams and autographs
Comment: Cavendish the climber
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Stage five by Graham Watson
Stage four by Graham Watson
Stage three by Graham Watson
Stage two by Andy Jones
Stage two by Graham Watson
Stage one by Graham Watson
Prologue photo gallery by Andy Jones
Prologue photo gallery by Roo Rowler
Prologue photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2012: Team presentation
Sky and Rabobank Tour de France recce
Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage
Stage five live coverage
Stage four live coverage
Stage three live coverage
Cycling Weekly's live text coverage schedule
Tour de France 2012: TV schedule
ITV4 live schedule
British Eurosport live schedule
Tour de France 2012: Related links
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
Brief history of the Tour de France
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
1989: The Greatest Tour de France ever
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