A week on from Australia’s oldest stage race, Anthony Tan’s still bothered by a recurring theme.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but during a bike race, journalists don't get to see a whole lot of action.

I've
often joked with Mike Tomalaris that one of the ironies of being a
field reporter at the Tour de France is that we'd see more from our
lounge rooms than actually being there. Not that I'm complaining;
France in July is a wonderful place to be.

At the recent Herald
Sun Tour, the media van I was in, confidently driven by David McKenzie
(a Belgian ex-pro, Franky Van Haesebroucke, once told me you need to
have been a rider to be a good driver – read: slightly crazy – in the
peloton) sat about three or four hundred metres ahead of the bunch. If
a break went and got more than a minute up the road, we could duck in
behind the team cars of the riders in the break, and watch the action
from there.

Because of Dave Macca's commentary duties – each
day, he would call the last 30 kilometres of the stage from race radio
for the fans – us hacks would miss the last 45 minutes or so of racing.
Sort of the most important bit, really.

Obviously, you see the
finish, but the final 20-30km is often where the sprinters' teams
really get their act together; or the winning move is instigated, where
the weak or injured are shelled, and the men separated from the boys.
Interview key riders and sport directors, combine with the usual
return-to-base chit-chat with the journos, and presto, you've got a
pretty good idea of what went down. Enough to file a 500-1000 word
daily race report.

Before I embarked on writing more in-depth
articles for the publications I work for, however, I wanted to see more
of the Sun Tour for myself. And after looking back through more than
three hours of race footage I hadn't previously seen, I realised I
hadn't missed much: in fact, it only emphasised just how dominant
Garmin-Slipstream were – dominant to the point of boring.

Due
to work commitments in Europe, I only began covering the Sun Tour in
2007, when the organisers secured two top-flight teams in Unibet and
Astana. It was a close fight that year, with Matt Wilson and Steve
Morabito, first and second overall, separated by just three seconds in
the end. The event was also made interesting, for it was Stuart
O'Grady's first race back since his near life-ending crash at that
year's Tour de France.

The following year, 2008, a
back-to-his-best O'Grady decided to bring his heady CSC – now Saxo Bank
– squad down under, and as McKenzie rightly said, Stuey and his cohorts
ran rings around the rest of the field. So much so, his closest
competitor came from within his coterie, the Dane Lars Bak, who would
have won if it wasn't for O'Grady's remarkable time trial performance
in the Yarra Valley the penultimate day.

Garmin-Slipstream's
presence – and ultimately, performance – this year provided a strong
parallel: first, second and fourth overall, four out of six stages, the
mountains classification, and – perhaps the most glaring indicator –
the teams classification by an almost embarrassing seven-and-a-half
minute margin to the next-best team, Fly V Australia.

Now, I
don't want to take anything away from Fly V's dogged persistence, who
appeared to be the only team not to be intimidated by the outfit who
boasted this year's fourth place-getter at the Tour and a rising star
in Chris Sutton. To sprinter Jonathan Cantwell, who won the preface and
final stage, and was 20 seconds off Bradley Wiggins overall time, I
take my hat off to you and your team, including sport director Henk
Vogels.

Yet the question I'm left asking myself, is this: is it
a race when a team is so good, so strong, so prevailing, the biggest
decision the manager has to make is who in the team will win, rather than how
they will win? Earlier that week, Garmin-Slipstream sport director Matt
White told journalists they knew they were going to win the Sun Tour
before it began. How do you like them apples!


It's great to have teams of Garmin and Saxo Bank's stature come to
contest races like the Sun Tour, events where they have no obligation
to compete, unlike those on the ProTour calendar.

But as the
saying goes, it takes two to tango, and in a sport where race radios
are doing their insidious best to spoil the element of surprise, let's
not create further predictability by bringing along a team that's head
and shoulders above the rest. To me, that doesn't foster good bike
racing.