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Driving That Train: Beyond the Engine


Le-tour_mediumI'm gonna learn this story template sooner or later.  Anyway, I thought about quoting from REM instead of the Dead, but oh well . . . I've been in a Phish phase, so jam band it is.

The last post was about identifying the real contenders.  If you're interested, this one is an invitation to wrap some pixelated type around the psychological characteristics that go into winning a GT.

There seem to be 3 basic strategic approaches to winning a Grand Tour--which I'll label the Merckx/Hinault, Indurain, and Armstrong methods.  All 3 methods have worked--but part of the task for a director and contender is to figure out what sort of psychological profile they are working with and adapt to that

Method 1:  Merckx/Hinault:  never waste an opportunity to inflict harm on your opponents.  Definitely the highest physiological stress option, but this strategy has the benefit of reducing your opponents to quaking masses of indecision by the latter stages of a race.  Non-GT example:  in the finale of the 1981 Paris-Roubaix, HInault runs into a loose dog going through a turn and crashes.  After the fastest remount I've ever seen, Hinault chases back--this despite the presence of Moser trying to drive the pace.  Within 500m of rejoining the group (with no follow car assistance or anything else).  Hinault is back on the front and his pull drops two riders:  In sum, the psychological profile for this method:  "strategy? My strategy is to pummel you repeatedly, you ok with that?"  Riders for whom it does not work:  Chiapucci, Valverde, Vinokourov.

Method 2: the Indurain method.  I thought about calling this one the Menchov method.  It's sort of the rope-a-dope response to the Merckx/Hinault method.  In other words, it's all about taking punishment and hanging on until your opponent over-reaches.  Of course, as Evans and Leipheimer have learned to their cost, when your opponent over-reaches, you have to shift out of punching-bag mentality long enough to land a blow yourself.

Method 3:  Oh crud, I seem to have turned into a Hegelian, since the Armstrong method is sort of a synthesis of the proceeding two, with the addition of a team strategy.  Instead of waiting out the opposition the Armstrong (and you have to give Bruyneel credit too) approach is to use your team to dictate when and where the signficant attacks will happen--and save your leader's energy for only THOSE places.  After that, you use your team as a bunch of surrogate Hinaults (or picadors, to vary the combat metaphor slightly) to control your opponents--or goad them into making a blunder.  Riis and Sastre notably adopted this method last year--gambling that they could wring victory out of just one stage of the tour.

So, did I come close to suggesting what is becoming the most fascinatiing part of Grand Tour racing: the match of psychological abilities with strategic choices?

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