Just as races can be won with the help of your team-mates, they can also be won without them, writes Anthony Tan.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

Over the past week at the Tour of California and the last fortnight at
the Giro d'Italia, you would have heard TV commentators bang on about
how important the team is when it comes to winning a stage or the
overall classification, and the winners verbalise exactly the same
thing.

"I couldn't have done it without my team. There's no
better drilled unit than ours. I was led out perfectly. We have
something special. We're not just team-mates, we're friends. I was
protected all day. I only had to ride on the front the last 10
kilometres."

You get the idea.

While I acknowledge the
collective role of individuals to an extent, I also believe races can be
won without the need for team-mates, and because of certain team-mates,
races can also be lost.

With regards to the latter, take the
final stage of the Tour of California.

In the final lap, three
riders were away, with Chris Horner (RadioShack) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions)
bridging up to the trio in the last 15km or so. Horner was the
best-placed rider in the move, 1:32 behind race leader Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia),
who was now isolated – with no team-mate in the lead group – and had
only Levi Leipheimer, Yaroslav Popovych (both RadioShack) and David
Zabriskie (Garmin) for company.

At one point, the lead quintet
had 55 seconds on Rogers' group. But as commentator David McKenzie noted
during SBS' television coverage, he was dumbfounded when he saw
Leipheimer and Popovych move to the front – not to stymie the chase in
an effort to grant Horner a last-minute victory (provided he won the
stage, he only needed another 16 seconds), but to secure Leipheimer's
podium place behind Rogers and Zabriskie.

Said a bemused
McKenzie, "For a team with apparently one of the best directors in the
world, the stupidity of Radioshack…"

My sentiments exactly,
Macca. At least Horner got his stage race victory at the Tour of the
Basque Country in April, which notably, he impressively achieved largely
on his own against a veritable Spanish Armada.

Now the Giro.


If you saw the opening days in Holland, you would have to been blind
not to see BMC leader Cadel Evans isolated on the precarious
wind-ravaged roads in the closing stages, forced to bridge gaps on his
own, then on the third stage into Middelberg, drive a chase group to
limit his losses to a group containing Alexandre Vinokourov, who would
don the maglia rosa by the day's end.

Then there was
Stage 11 to L'Aquila, where 56 riders including a bunch of GC contenders
took flight and gained 17 minutes at one point. Conspicuously, not an
Astana, BMC or Liquigas leader was present.

Over the last two
days (Stages 15 and 16), Evans, frustrated though unperturbed, has now
put himself back in contention, largely through his own doing. And with
BMC now four men down, in the final five stages, he will ostensibly have
only himself to rely on.

Conversely – and fortuitously for
Evans – Vinokourov, Sastre and Nibali have faltered, but through their
own weakness rather than their team's.

One man who has benefited
from the strength of his squadra, however, is Ivan Basso.


Early on, Basso's Liquigas team proved they were the strongest when
they won the Stage 4 team time trial. They weren't too good on the
Strade Bianche that followed and missed the big move on Stage 11, but
since then they've made few errors, if any.

Sunday, on the
devilish slopes of Monte Zoncolan, Basso and Nibali were cocooned all
the way to the base of the climb, and out of 222 kilometres, Basso rode
just 7.5km up front en route to victory.

It's been such an
unpredictable and tremendously exciting Giro so far, it's difficult to
say what will happen next.

However come Sunday in Verona, if
Evans does don the final maglia rosa, he can mostly thank himself
rather than his team-mates for what would be a historic Australian
first.

If Cadel wonders if a Grand Tour can really be won on
your own, perhaps he should put a call into Alberto Contador…