If the faceless men of Saxo Bank and Leopard-Trek continue to play silly buggers, the Tour de France will never look so good for a quiet outsider to steal their thunder, writes Anthony Tan.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

If you saw the final hundred kilometres of Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne, for a good chunk of that you would have seen two teams do most of the work to chase down the four-man escape: Saxo Bank-Sungard and Leopard-Trek.

This was despite having twenty-one other teams with the same vested interest. Twenty-one, I said.

So why on earth did they do that?

To me, this was a mini-Tour de France dress rehearsal: the old Saxo Bank (Leopard) against the new Saxo Bank, and both wanted to show who was strongest.

I'm sure the faceless men behind the respective team cars had more than a little to do with it. And again, in the battle of the minds between Bjarne Riis and Brian Nygaard, former Saxo Bank press officer cum Leopard-Trek general manager, I wish 'car-cam' was there to hear them make those calls.

Seemingly unbeknown to them, there was a race going on. Yes, the lead quartet did have a gap of twelve-and-a-half minutes with 90km to go and the chase needed to be on – but for just two teams doing the bulk of the legwork? It just didn't make sense.

Omega Pharma-Lotto, Katusha, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Garmin-Cervélo, Rabobank et al. must have been thinking, 'If that's what you guys want to do we can sit on; no wuckin' furries, fellas!' (Obviously in their own language/dialect, of course...)

So yes, the gap did come down – but unsurprisingly, at the expense of Saxo Bank and Leopard-Trek, who, in their puerile path to see who was strongest, left their respective leaders Alberto Contador and Fränk Schleck with no team-mate to lead them onto the third and final climb up the Mur de Huy.

Okay, Contador, who we still have no idea if he's going to be at the Tour or not, said he's had the sniffles and Fränky-boy believed he left his run too late. Though if they had been given the best possible ride to the lower slopes of the climb and their teams had not expended all their resources earlier on, perhaps they would've done better than they did, with 'El Pistolero' eleventh and Schleck the Elder seventh.

Still, Phil ain't no dill and since Amstel Gold last Sunday he's looked untouchable. A three-peat is well on the cards, the last – and only – rider to do that seven years ago, courtesy Davide Rebellin.

It's why I was surprised to hear Stuart O'Grady tell Andy Hood, my cycling colleague and Spain-based buddy over at VeloNews, that his team-mate Andy Schleck races à la Eddy Merckx.

À la who, Stuey?

"He rides on pure instinct. He's not a detail-oriented type of rider. He goes on gut instinct," O'Grady said.

"It's just raw, unbridled young energy. It's talent. It's Eddy Merckx-style. That's the way Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly raced. It's not calculated. Everyone's hurting, he's hurting, too... Then he just smashes it out."

Er, Stuey, don't you mean Phil, not Andy, is reminiscent of a young Eddy? That's the type of rider you just described. Andy Schleck races like Andy Schleck.

As five-time Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault laments, "Unfortunately Gilbert thinks he isn't made for the Tour, even though he has the right profile".

Standing one-metre-seventy-nine and weighing sixty-seven kilos, coupled with a race instinct, innate aggression and fast finish that has no peer. Drop a couple of kg and you may just be onto something, ol' Badger, ol' pal.

It's just a small matter of convincing Gilbert he could be the next Eddy Merckx.

And come the Tour, if Saxo Bank and Leopard-Trek continue their mind games, neutralising each other out, it plays right into the hands of an outsider, like Cadel Evans or Robert Gesink.