With today's stage over, a tactical analysis of yesterday's stage

Much has been made over the denial of Hincapie's yellow jersey, in part due to Astana setting a high enough tempo to keep the break reachable, and the rest due to AG2R and Garmin vigorously chasing in the final kilometers. In fact, every interview that Versus did this morning focused on this rather than the upcoming explosive stage.

I make less of Astana's efforts -- I do think in Astana's analysis, AG2R was too weak to chase the break down and it wasn't like HTC-Columbia was going to come to the front to set things up for the sprint. I do think that Garmin was a major factor in reeling it in -- Zabriskie and Pate had enough firepower to make up the 5-second difference.

Garmin has offered this reason for the chase: there had been splits in the peloton that cost them GC time in previous stages, so they wanted to ride a hard tempo and keep their guys up front.

Bruyneel stomped all over Garmin's reasoning this morning, instead claiming that the move made no strategic sense whatsoever. While I think Garmin's reasons were bunk (this wasn't a sprint stage, AG2R wasn't going to cause a split in the peloton), I disagree with Bruyneel's analysis: it made plenty of sense.

Sure, HTC-Columbia is a more successful team than Garmin if you count stage wins, but HTC-Columbia has no viable GC contender. Garmin, on the other hand, has two GC guys: Bradley Wiggins and Christian Vandevelde.

So here's my theory as to why it made plenty of strategic sense: if Hincapie had been in yellow, HTC-Columbia would have been forced to defend the yellow jersey today. HTC-Columbia, unlike AG2R, is fresh enough and has the firepower to really put on a show of defense, even if holding the jersey was an unlikely result of the day.

From Garmin's perspective, it's far better off keeping the yellow jersey with AG2R, because AG2R is weak enough that Astana has to keep coming to the front and tiring themselves out. If HTC-Columbia had the jersey, Astana may have been able to keep a couple more cards in the deck for the final assault, rather than spend them keeping any breaks at the proper range.

As it was, Astana really only needed the Contador card to play. Saxo and Garmin set the climb up, but it was Contador who delivered. Nevertheless, Garmin's Bradley Wiggins delivered the GC ride of his life and it's Garmin, not HTC-Columbia, who has the chance at seeing themselves on the podium in Paris.

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Comments (2)

I get that in theory, but don't really buy it. Without GC guys, Columbia has no one that can really defend the yellow. Astana has plenty of folks that can, and it's obvious they were going for GC on today's stage. They've been talking about the mountains since the Tour started.

Regardless of who was in yellow today, Astana was going for the yellow. Garmin was unlikely to get it, especially by the five seconds they took back.

As someone mentioned in twitter yesterday, if Garmin was so concerned about maintaining time, they could have come to the front and pulled when (or before) Ag2R did. But they only pulled in the last 10k, when they weren't going to climb the GC standings, and weren't going to lose in them either.

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Under Armstrong's supposed plan, Hincapie would have had a 2-minute lead in the GC standings -- Garmin clawed back a lot more than 5 seconds. It would have been tough, but not unreasonable, to expect that Hincapie could have defended that today. He lost 4 minutes today, but wasn't fighting for anything. Astana is never particularly obsessed about wearing yellow; Bruyneel just cares about making sure that it's yellow on the last day.

Also, Garmin started pulling much earlier than 10K to go. They started at about 30-40k, it just wasn't shown on TV. I'm not saying that they were going for yellow. I just think they were trying to make it harder for Astana. I think it's a given that Contador is going to win, but I'm sure that Garmin wants to make sure that Kloden and Armstrong aren't taking up podium spots. The only way to do that is to get Astana to burn some more matches.

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