Team Columbia-HTC surprised some of their rivals by refusing to lead the chase on stage 12. Mark Cavendish missed out on a fifth stage win in this year’s Tour de France but the Columbia management is convinced that the played the right strategy.
Listening to team manager Rolf Aldag and team owner Bob Stapleton, it is clear the team is playing a tactically smart three-week game plan, that is built on Cavendish’s four stage wins, on wisely using the strengths of team mates when it is only really worth it, while also putting their main rival in the points competition – Thor Hushovd – under as much pressure as possible.
Cavendish could have won the sprint in Vittel but instead Columbia opted to save the team and call everybody else’s bluff by not leading the chase. It paid off because Cavendish still won the first intermediate ahead of Hushovd and his rivals were again left empty-handed at the finish.
“I think it’s a fair question to ask why we didn’t try and win again but we decided to make the other teams share the chase and that didn’t happen,” Stapleton told Cycling Weekly.
“We didn’t want to prove something, it was more about sticking to our strategy. Mark is a full contributor to all the decision making. This was collective best thinking in the team.”
“We’ve won four stages and we’ve got the green jersey and the white jersey. If other people want to try and win something, they’ve got to commit and take us on. We didn’t ride hard so that we made sure we’ve got some dry powder. If we burnt up two guys today, maybe we’d lose them for good in the Alps and that would narrow our opportunity. There’s still nine days to race.”
“Personally I think yesterday’s finish gave Mark an extra advantage. Now they (Cervelo) have to take points from him. They’ll have a difficult time because they have to balance working for Sastre and Thor. They said they’d ride for Thor this week but they’re challenged about their resources. He’s the biggest competition here for us but any team with yellow jersey ambitions is going to be challenged if they want to ride for both of them. It’s going to be a tough for call for them.”
Team manager Rolf Aldag followed the stage in the team car with directeur sportif Brian Holm. He revealed the importance of gaining points on Hushovd and taking back the green jersey in Saint-Fargeau.
“We decided that if nobody else chased we wouldn’t do it either because it was going to be difficult to bring back seven guys,” he told Cycling Weekly.
“We were thinking of putting one guy on the front but we knew that Ag2r would stop chasing and not help us win the stage. The only way it was going to finish in a sprint if all the teams chased but they weren’t interested.”
“We took a chance in the intermediate sprint and Mark won it. But the green jersey will probably be decided in Paris and there’s a lot of tough stages to come. Every stage and every sprint will be important.”
“For example the first sprint on the stage to Colmar will be important but you’ve got to judge it right. We’ve got a chance but it might be too difficult for us. The sprint is half way up the first climb and so if you go all out for it, you’ve got to make sure you’re okay on the climb and the rest of the stage. Thor could win it but he’s got to do that every day now and he still might not gain the points.”
“We’ll see what happens on Saturday. We might be able to sprint for the win and the points but it took 80km for the break to form today and at one point there were riders like Evans and Schleck in there. That probably means that Saturday’s stage won’t be easy to control either.”
“It’s important to get it right. Basically you have to take what you can without pushing too hard for it. It’ a very special game but I think we know how to play it best.”
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