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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tour 2009 rolls to an end: A showdown on Ventoux and Contador's glory

Tour 2009: Contador rolls into Paris in yellow, and already next year is looking good

The 2009 Tour de France sprinted its way to an end today, and as was expected from about a week and a half ago, it was Alberto Contador who ended on top of the cycling world, winning his second Tour title. The finish of the race, up and down the Champs Elysees is a great occasion, one you really should try to make if you're a follower of the sport, and it was largely ceremonial for every rider but Mark Cavendish, who put the exclamation mark on an incredible Tour de France by winning his sixth stage. He may not have won the green jersey, but he's without doubt the pre-eminent finisher in the sport.

Mont Ventoux - no leaderboard shake-up, but attack meets defence (and loses)

For the GC, as is normal, no major shake-ups today - that was the job of the Mont Ventoux yesterday. Apologies for no immediate post-race report on that one, in the end, the stage proved relatively insignificant in the big scheme of the race result, but it certainly didn't fail to produce excitement. In hindsight, the podium was determined by Thursday's time-trial, and not the Mont Ventoux, but it wasn't for a lack of trying by the Schlecks, who really have lit up the final week of the Tour with their aggressive racing.

They attacked from about 15km to go on the giant finishing climb, first Frank and then Andy jumping off the front. When Frank went, Lance Armstrong was able to response immediately and shut the move down. Andy's moves were followed only by Albert Contador, but Andy sat up and waited almost every time once Frank was not able to cover the move, and Contador was. The prevalent wind direction seemed to be from the front, and attacking into a headwind was always going to complicate the lives of the Schlecks, since the draft effect would be great enough to allow moves to be followed.

The battle on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux thus ultimately boiled down to two one-on-one battles: that between Contador and Andy Schleck, with Contador very comfortably able to control it (even if he had not, he had in excess of four minutes), and another battle between Frank Schleck and Lance Armstrong for third, with Brad Wiggins an outside shot at pulling a shock on the climb. In that battle, Armstrong was able to cover all the moves, and Wiggins ran out of steam near the summit. In the end, the aggressors simply did not have the form to shake off the defenders, and the result was that the podium was unchanged, the day's only loser being Andreas Kloden, who conceded one position to Frank Schleck.

A tactical game and changes in impetus

It was extra-ordinary to see Schleck and Contador riding off the front of the peloton and then sitting up, Andy looking over his shoulder for brother Frank, before trying again, and again. The ease with which they rode the climb as a tactical race was striking, and at times it resembled a track race in cycling with a stop-start, fast-slow rhythm. That rhythm was made clear by the fact that the leaders on the road, Spain's Juan Manuel Garate (who would go on to win the stage) and Tony Martin, were yo-yoing back and forth, first losing drastic time as a Schleck came, and then building a lead as the elite group lost all impetus once the Schleck attacks had been neutralised.

What it meant for the overall time, I'm not sure. I would have loved to analyse and get an idea of how fast this climb was done compard to those of years gone by (in keeping with what we've been doing all Tour long!). Unfortunately, it was impossible to see distance markers (apparently many were blown away, while others were obscured by crowds), so I don't actually know the time taken by the elite group to summit. I can only surmise it was not that fast, because the Garate-Martin pair began the climb with about 5 minutes lead, and with 15.9km to go, had 3:24. That would normally not be enough, today it was. Also, the record ascent from that 15.9km mark (a village called St Esteve) is held by Marco Pantani at 46 minutes. I can't see Garate doing it within 4 minutes of that, and so I can only assume the climb was relatively slow. Maybe later in the week, this can be looked at.

Contador reigns supreme

Not surprisingly, however, Contador was able to mark every move, and showed only a feint grimace near the summit for his troubles. He was imperious in the mountains, and won this Tour thanks to what amounted to only two big moves - one was the Verbier, where he threw down a brilliant climb to create time-gaps. The second was his individual time-trial performance. Only two performances, plus marking moves and small time-gaps here and there, and he won the Tour by minutes. A stronger challenge might have created more work, but Contador seemed to have the Tour under control, and perhaps the margin of victory was deceptively small.

Andy Schleck looked comfortably the number 2 in this race. His aggression energized the last week, and as he improves, he may yet challenge Contador. However, for now, Contador is on the way to making history - a fourth Grand Tour, second Tour de France, and only 26, if he is managed well and stays out of the murky waters that affect the sport, then who knows what might be achievable? In cycling, though, nothing seems certain...

Looking ahead - a 2010 script is already taking shape

Already, attention has turned to next year. Lance Armstrong's announcement that he'll form a new team, Radioshack, means the lines of combat will look different in 2010. At this stage, there is no guarantee that Radioshack will even ride the Tour, though it is difficult to see how they could be excluded - Armstrong is likely to fill its rosters with some big names.

Contador is likely to move on, now that Alexander Vinokourov (he of the blood mixing in his thighs to cause a positive test) is returning to "his" team. He may end up at a Spanish team. Then the Schlecks have improved each Tour - if they continue to do so, they'll be combative and in contention in 2010.

All in all, it's exciting to look forward already. And most amazing of all, not a doping story to speak of all Tour! However, before the champagne corks pop and fireworks explode in celebration, I will say that I do believe we may yet come back to the 2009 Tour for some retrospective testing. One positive step taken is the commitment to store samples for future use, and so who knows, we might yet be looking back on 2009 before we look ahead to 2010.

Looking ahead

That's pretty much it from Tour de France coverage. ONE MORE post, where I'll look back and attempt to summarize the Tour - highs, lows, success stories, failures, highlights. I'll give Mark Cavendish and Cadel Evans a mention they've probably warranted but have lost in the discussion of climbing, power outputs and pacing strategies! That comes tomorrow.

And then we move onto the plethora of other sports - swimming world champs, athletics on the go, Jamaican sprinters who test positive, you name it! We'll try to cover it!

Join us for the Tour recap soon, and more beyond!



Frans Rutten said...

From the tv screen I timed last 10 (25:25)and 20K (56:37) distance. First part has roughly 752hm (348-1100m)and 2nd part 812hm (1100-1912m). A rough own calculation gave 404W and 334W for at least Alberto Contador. These theoretical calculations don't match the real thing because they don't account for the occasionally strong wind.
The time for the total climb fell well short of Iban Mayo's 2004 DL's Time Trial of 55:51. Probably by 4 to 5 minutes. A lot of riders must have been even slower than Charly Gaul's TT of 62:09 in 1958 with a considerably heavier bike.

Alex Simmons said...

Analysis of pacing up Ventoux (over the years), without accurate second by second power meter data along with a detailed and accurate course elevation profile (like an elevation marker every 10 metres or thereabouts), is a pretty futile exercise given the enourmous variation in wind and particularly because this is a road race, not a TT and race strategy/tactics impact pacing outcomes enourmously.

If one did a TT up the climb and had the above data and good assumptions about a rider's physiological profile (mass, CdA, Crr) it is possible to model the impact of wind on a second by second basis by inspecting the difference between what power a rider did produce versus what would be needed to ride at that speed without wind at that point.

The cumulative effects of variable wind (and any other variables like variable Crr due to different road surface conditions, changing air density, different CdA when in/out of saddle etc etc) can be reasonably estimated but even then there are complicating factors, such that comparison between two rides not done within reasonable time proximity of each other would introduce larger and larger error bars into a comparison analysis.

As an example, wind direction (yaw angle) affects CdA. And it affects different riders differently. Those differences may not be a "zero sum game" in terms of rating performances.

Alexander said...

I stopped 49 Minutes and 54 seconds from the hairpin St. Esteve and 57 Minutes and 59 seconds for whole climb (21.1km).

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Frans and Alex

Thanks for that, both of you.

Alex, you're 100% right - I guess I was kind of hoping that that level of detail would be available! I'd love to know what the power output was when Schleck was accelerating each time and then see how it varied as the pace went up and down! I think that would be a fascinating analysis.

Failing that (which is almost inevitable, I guess), what I do think would be of interest is to look at the overall time, taking the big picture view, which I realise is affected by the tactics and the environmental conditions. so I think Frans' info is about as accurate as it gets for now!

I wasn't surprised it was overall slow, of course, with the race situation as it was, and the wind from the front!

On an aside, I wish this kind of information was part of the "public knowledge" of cycling. I guess that's asking a lot and probably a day-dream, but I'd love to see a day where every rider's performances are available for anyone to look at. The sport lends itself to data analysis, and so I wish the power data were published regularly.


DrTim said...

Great work guys!

Yes, onwards and upwards ... swimming world champs, so many world records already. Sad to see some classic WRs like Thorpe's 400m go ... but I am biased :) With Australia under-performing (or is it over-performing in slower suits?) it feels more like European Champs with America?

Keen to see what you guys make of it all ...

Keep it up!

Dr Tim

Frans Rutten said...

The estimation of Alexander for the 21,1km climb must be pretty accurate. Www.climbbybike.com states the whole climb as 22,7km, but that's including two kilometres of 1,8 and 2,4%. The famous 2004 Dauphiné Libéré Time Trial in which Iban Mayo powered to 55:51 was given with 21,6km.
The analysis of the climb by the Soerensen brothers om www.srm.de was highly informative. Chris Anker in particularly did the 15 min. lead-out for Team Saxo Bank with the Schleck brothers and had the highest 20min value of his Tour with 399W (6,2W/kg). He did the climb in 63:11 (5:42 behind the winner), so with subtracting another 38 sec we get about 58 minutes for Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong. His average power was 360W (5,6W/kg)for covering 1519hm.
An estimated 20 riders were faster than Charly Gaul. Reckoning the heavier bike a few less. But what baffles me is the time from St. Esteve. If Pantani's mark of 46 min. is accurate, then his overall time must have been quite quicker than Iban Mayo's mark of 55:51. But does this surprise us?

Ron George said...

Ross and other,

You might like this biography on Alberto Contador. You won't find this in Western media. Let me know how you like it by commenting on the blog.

Frans Rutten said...

This evening www.cyclismag.com published, I think, the final word on the results of the Mont Ventoux climb. Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador did the whole climb in 58:40 with Lance Armstrong just 3 seconds trailing back. During the successive accelerations of the brothers Schleck the average power was high on 445 Watts* during 15 minutes. Soon afterwards the average power dropped to 385 Watts*
and the average up to the chalet Reynard (1417m) was 415 Watts* for the groupe in 31:06. The climb from Saint Estève (541m) was done in 48:55 (exactly like Pantani and Armstrong in 2000) but about a staggering 3 minutes behind the exploit of Marco Pantani already done in 1994. *=projected 78 kg.