Sastre's Win Still Doesn't Take Cervelo Off the Hook

May 25 2009

I bet that out there, somewhere, are people who think today’s Giro win by Carlos Sastre somehow justifies the ridiculousness of the Cervelo Test Team’s tactical blunder yesterday. From the moment the team car pulled alongside Serge Pauwels, the squad has been trying to explain away what was nothing but team mismanagement, pure and simple.

Things can get confusing in bike races, yes—but in an era of race radios, helicopter coverage, GPS tracking, and TVs built directly into the consoles of team cars, I find it completely inconceivable that the events of Stage 15 were simply caused by bad timing, as the Cervelo Test Team report describes below:

“At that time, Basso had escaped and Carlos asked Serge to wait…In fact, a little earlier Basso had his teammate Stangelj drop back from Serge’s breakaway to help him. Maybe Serge didn’t understand, but we let him know a couple of times that he really had to wait… at the time Serge actually slowed down, the situation had already changed and it was no longer necessary.”

The reason Stangelj dropped back was because Basso was attacking alone. Yes, he did acquire Garzelli almost immediately, but the duo was working against the entire gruppo maglia rosa, which, so long as it stayed together, was like an army of riders—around 17 strong—all working for Sastre, but stronger and better positioned than any of his actual teammates.

It wasn’t like the reigning Tour champ was struggling to hold on, either—at 16:45 CEST, Sastre was the man dropping bodies as he drove the leaders’ group forward after Basso’s move. The only time I can imagine Sastre would have considered asking for help was when DiLuca attacked toward the top of the climb at 16:55 CEST—a move that the Spaniard covered easily less than a minute later.

It’s worth noting that at this point, Pauwels had a full 3:15 on the maglia rosa and was already over the top of the climb, which puts a fairly serious dent in the “we asked him back at the top of the climb when Sastre needed the help” excuse. By the time Pauwels (who may come off OK from this snafu) received his tongue lashing at 17:08 CEST, the gap between Basso and Sastre was 19 seconds. Short of climbing off his bike and slipping off into the woods to take a dump, there was no way Pauwels could have caught Sastre before Sastre caught Basso.

Clearly, this was a case where, if Sastre really had demanded help, a DS has to make a managerial decision and say “no”—and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Johan Bruyneel, in The Road To Paris and countless other features has displayed tremendous talent for calming crazy riders, and is seldom seen screaming out the window of his car. I’m willing to bet he considered ordering Popo back to help Levi at some point today, but in the end, realized the Ukrainian would be better used chasing the stage win.

The case may also have been that Jean-Paul van Poppel, who is as steeped in the world and traditions of cycling as much as anyone, simply lost his temper and decided to punish the perceived insolence of a young rider refusing a command to help the team leader.

Whatever the reason, I’m getting tired of Cervelo leaning on the “small team” crutch in their public statements and media materials. You’ve got the reigning Tour de France champion on the roster and you should have taken three Giro stages in a row. The only way you could possibly be construed as small is by leaning on such ridiculous excuses.

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