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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tour de France Final TT

Carlos Sastre wins the Tour de France!

Carlos Sastre started with a lead of 1:34 over Cadel Evans, and most thought he'd lose it to the better time-trialling Australian. But Sastre held firm, did the ride of his life, and has won the Tour de France, barring disaster on the road into Paris tomorrow. Of course, anything can still happen, but only bad luck or trouble will deny the Spanish their third consecutive champion!

In the end, Sastre lost only 29 seconds of his 1:34 lead, and therefore maintained a lead of 1:05 over Evans, who rode bravely but simply didn't have the edge to narrow that gap any more today. In third, perhaps the surprise of the Tour, will be Bernard Kohl of Austria, who no one (including us, as you'll see shortly) gave a chance of even holding onto a top 5 position. Denis Menchov will finish in fourth, and will regret those careless time-losses earlier in the Tour.

How it unfolded: A graphical summary

But today is all about Sastre. Here's how the race unfolded, in a summary diagram. It shows the time gaps, first between Sastre and Evans, and then from Evans to Denis Menchov. These were the "Big 3" before the stage, and so take note that we didn't include Bernard Kohl (apologies to Austrian fans, because we're doing him a disservice), but I honestly didn't think he'd ride that good a time-trial. He gets wedged in between Evans and Menchov at the end, finishing in third overall.

A war of attrition

The time-trial was a war of attrition. The three weeks of racing clearly did more damage to people than most had realised. In the build-up to the day, most experts around the Tour, including fellow riders and team managers felt that Evans would have the 1:34 in hand, and take the lead off Sastre. They said it was 60-40 in favour of Evans. But perhaps they didn't factor in the effect of the yellow jersey on its wearer, and the impact of three weeks of racing on Evans.

Certainly, Evans looked very ragged on the bike and didn't seem to have the edge that he needed to make up 2 seconds per kilometer over Sastre. In the end, he lost 2:05 to the time-trial sensation of the Tour de France, Stefan Shumacher, who won both time-trials. That margin is larger than Evans would have expected, given the stakes for him on the day, and it might suggest that the three weeks took a great deal out of him (understandably). He'll also look back on that day on Alp d'Huez and perhaps wonder what might have been had he ignored the CSC tactics and rode steadily to minimize that gap. Only he'll know what went into that particular day...

Bernard Kohl was even ahead of Evans at the first time-check at 18km, and for a brief moment, it seemed that Evans might not even make second. When added to the fact that Denis Menchov started the day very aggressively and had closed up on Evans in those 18km (as shown in the diagram above), a podium place was even in doubt. In the end, both Kohl and Menchov faltered, and Evans took a deserved second for his consistency. But Sastre was never going to be caught, doing the race of his life to finish in 12th overall.

That's about it as a very broad summary of the day. Below follows my "real-time" analysis of the day, for those interested in my random wanderings while watching!

Until tomorrow!

"Real-time" analysis of the final time-trial

Jonathan previewed the big day earlier, and you can read that post below this one. But for this post, I thought it would be entertaining to do some "real time" analysis of the race, as it unfolds. Of course, it's not "real time", in that most of you will read this on Monday, long after the dust has settled on the battle between Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre, but nevertheless, it makes a change from day late analysis!

To recap, Sastre will start the 53km time-trial with a lead of 1:34 over Evans. Evans is easily the better time-triallist, and looks a marginal favourite to win the title with a big ride today. Most experts interviewed felt the odds were in Evans' favour by about 60 to 40.

Personally, I think that three weeks of racing changes the dynamic drastically, and Sastre may well have come through those three weeks with less "damage" than Evans, certainly relative to where they started. That may not be enough, but I think it's more than likely that the margin by which Evans beat Sastre in the first 29.5km trial won't be repeated. If I have to stick my neck out, I'm saying Sastre will lose the day, but win the Tour by 22 seconds. Time will tell...join us progressively as I update this post.

First news - Kohl struggles into the ramp...or should that be falls off the ramp?

The first big excitement of the day is that Bernard Kohl, who is lying fourth going into today, seems to have either fallen off the start ramp or had some technical problems with his bike. He's wearing the polka dot jersey of KOM - two years ago, Michael Rasmussen wore the polka dots when he crashed twice on the final time-trial. Let's hope Kohl hasn't inherited that jinx!

They're all off

All the riders are out - Sastre has just left the ramp. We'll bring you the splits and the "virtual" positions on the road as the information is provided, along with opinion and insight.

Time check 1: Bernard Kohl surprising all

At the first time-check, Bernard Kohl has actually gone through FASTER than Evans. Highly unexpected, but too early to tell whether Kohl is simply riding out of his shoes, or if Evans is having a weak day. Menchov has also beaten Evans to Time Check 1, eroding the 1:05 that he had at the start. It's now at 42 seconds, just after the 18km time-check, so Menchov is moving ever closer to Evans! Perhaps he is the man who will pressure Sastre. If it does continue, and if Evans does manage to close down on Sastre, then it's quite possible that the top four will all be within seconds of one another. Extra-ordinary tightness at the top!

Carlos Sastre has hit the first time-check in 10th overall, and has only lost 8 seconds of his 1:34 to Evans. He's now 1:26 up on Evans, and 2:15 up on Menchov, who seems to be making the big move. Let's not forget Bernard Kohl, who was also riding faster than Evans up to the first time-check

The importance of an optimal pacing strategy

Of course, the big unknown at this stage is how the riders have elected to pace themselves. Science tells us that for exercise lasting just over an hour, even pacing is the way to optimize performance. That means equal power output throughout the 53km, which is not as simple thanks to the rolling nature of the course.

But in reality, it's likely we'll see a range of pacing strategies, particularly given that the race is on a tactical and timing knife-edge. It's not inconceivable then, that Evans has begun conservatively, or that Sastre has gone out incredibly hard (inspired perhaps by the adrenaline of the yellow jersey?).

Only once we hit the next time check will it become clear whether those first splits are down to pacing or who is having a great day and who is struggling.

Time check 2

Kohl has now slowed a little, his 4-second advantage over Evans at 18km has now been reversed, and he is 4 seconds down on Evans. That means that Evans has moved into third in the overall race, because he began only one second behind Kohl at the start.

Menchov, meanwhile, went through 36km slightly closer to Evans - at 18km, he'd made up 16 seconds, at 36km, he's made up 22 seconds. Still lying 43 seconds behind, and gaining more slowly than before. He's also not looking very fluid, though neither is Evans, to be honest. It does seem to be something of a war of attrition on the roads. I suspect that three weeks of cumulative fatigue are doing more to these riders than many experts had thought.

The next man to arrive at 36km is Sastre...he hits the 36km mark only 23 seconds down on Evans. That means that Sastre remains 1:11 ahead of Evans, with only a third of the final time-trial remaining. Barring disaster, or a complete blowout by Sastre in the final 17km, he'll hang onto that yellow jersey. It seems the 40% odds have swung in his favour today!

Finish line

Over the final 17km, Menchov has faltered. He's lost time on those who he was beating previously, and his time gap over Evans on the day has come down. Bernard Kohl will be most relieved about that, because he'll hang onto his podium place, which he certainly deserves after his aggression and courage in the race.

As for Evans, he's failed to close down on Sastre. The GPS analysis of the race have even suggested that Sastre has claimed back some lost time in the last few kilometers. Sastre will definitely hold onto his jersey.

Evans has finished just over 2 minutes behind the stage winner, Shumacher. That's a large margin, a sign that perhaps he wasn't at his best today (that's not really in doubt, I guess).

Sastre is now coming in to finish, having caught his team mate Frank Schleck on the road. An easy day out for Schleck, or a very bad one, but a great day for Sastre, who has ridden easily the best time-trial of his life.

He crosses the line, in 12th place, but only 30 or so seconds slower than Evans. Having started with 1:34, he wins by more than a minute. If it was a surprise that Sastre won, it's even more surprsing to see the margin.

So it will be Sastre, Evans, and Kohl in Paris tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Good call on Sastre. Evans rode only very marginally slower than in the long TT last year but Sastre was the big improver. From 28th on the road in TT1 to 12th in TT2. He certainly had the legs.

Actually, Schumacher's performance was quite amazing, considering he did a heap of work in the alps by himself.

Sastre seems well liked -- even by the Aussies. (Ask Sunderland and O'Grady!) And Cadel had some kind words for him also.

He is a worthy winner.

But . . . get Evans in a team of the quality of CSC (or old Discovery) and you won't see which way he went.