Milan-San Remo

How good is Quickstep that you can have two race favorites -- Tom Boonen and Paolo Bettini -- and manage to win the race with a rider (Pozzato) you sent to cover a break? The season has barely started and Boonen has three wins, Bettini has two wins, and now Pozzato has a win. Poor Petacchi had to know he was outgunned on this one. Bettini may have been recovering from a crash, but he seemed to be riding pretty well and Boonen was never hard to spot riding far up in the pack. Milram did its best to bring back the break, but all they did was give Pozzato the opportunity to launch himself with 300m to the finish. (VeloNews Milan-San Remo summary)

Pozzato's victory raises the question of whether or not Pozzato punked the other riders in the breakaway. Personally, I say no. Pozzato was sent into the break to mark the other riders, doing no work and disrupting them as necessary so that Boonen's chances at victory would be preserved. If you look at this photo, you can see that he at least has the disruption part down pat. The crucial bit of Pozzato's victory, for me, was that he didn't attack until the breakaway had failed. If the breakaway had survived by itself and then Pozzato attacked, then I might cry out that it was a punking. But Pozzato timed his jump perfectly at the moment of the breakaway was being caught and sprinted to a victory that was an excellent strategic setup by the Quickstep team.

The notion of punking is obviously subjective, so here are some case studies from my point of view.

Paxti Vila getting the stage 3 Paris-Nice victory over Floyd Landis: If the rider you beat gets to don the overall leader's jersey at the end of the stage, then I usually wouldn't think to call it a punking. Weening sat on Kloden's wheel for the final kilometer of a Tour de France stage, but Kloden was gaining valuable seconds in the overall and Weening also did plenty of work before that final km. What qualified Paxti Vila's victory as a punking in my book was this post-victory quote: "I now have hopes for final victory, but it will be hard to knock off Floyd." Paxti Vila ended the day only nine seconds down on Landis in the overall. Even if he wasn't a realistic threat to Landis -- he wasn't -- I don't think you should pretend to be an overall contender and do no work for it.

Hincapie's Stage 15 Tour de France win: Although I was happy to see Hincapie win, I wish it were slightly more noble than this victory. Hincapie jumped on a break as a strategic move to help out Armstrong. The strategy of placing teammates ahead on the course is a great one -- if Armstrong needed another rider by his side all Hincapie would have to do is sit up and wait. It also means that other teams have to work to pull the breakaway back. Hincapie never did any work in the break, which eventually became just him and Pereiro, and a well-rested Hincapie easily beat Pereiro to the line. Pereiro was understandably upset. When you have a strong team leader like Armstrong, then you have the privilege of lazily sitting in a break. The punking question for me is, once it became clear that Armstrong wouldn't need Hincapie, should Hincapie should have started doing work in the break? I think he should have, but I also think that those occassional wins are part of the bonus in working for such a strong leader. I'd call this a well-earned punking.

related articles: Pro Tour 2006
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