The emphasis on points and its bearing on securing a team’s place in the WorldTour may well be encouraging riders to be more selfish than ever before, writes Anthony Tan.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM


Cadel had no team-mates and still has no team-mates.
When Chris Horner speaks, most people usually listen.

At the
close of the 2007 season, when he left Cadel Evans' side at what was
then Predictor-Lotto, he accurately predicted that if he wasn't replaced
with a similar calibre rider, Evans would find himself isolated at the
following year's Tour de France.

"I guarantee you, if you took me
off the team and you didn't replace a rider like me and you went into
the Tour de France," warned Horner, telling me in December that year,
"there would be times when Cadel was going to be by himself at crucial
moments in the race. And that's the end result."

Horner's
substitute in 2008 was Yaroslav Popovych, a one-time lieutenant of Lance
Armstrong. But the Ukrainian never delivered at Silence-Lotto and on
two key stages that really mattered in that year's Tour – Stage 15 to
Prato Nevoso, won by Simon Gerrans, and Stage 17 to Alpe d'Huez – Team
CSC-Saxo Bank launched two successful ambushes against Evans that cost
him the race. In the final 53-kilometre time trial, the cumulative
effects of being attacked and counter-attacked saw Cadel unable to
reverse his 1:34 deficit to eventual race winner, Carlos Sastre –
something he did so effortlessly this year when up against Andy Schleck,
where he turned a 57-second deficit into an eventual 1:34 race-winning
margin, over just 42.5km.

"It was the first time I've seen in 20
years of watching the Tour de France where the strongest guy in the Tour
didn't win," Horner told Cyclingnews in an interview published
last week. "The first week they didn't do anything, not even sending
Jens [Voigt] up the road, but they arrived at the mountains really
fresh, and tactically they worked over Cadel."

He added: "Cadel
had no team-mates and he still has no team-mates. With the exception of
Tejay [Van Garderen] – and we're not sure how he'll do in the Grand
Tours – they've signed no help. And by signing [Philippe] Gilbert and
Thor [Hushovd], they are effectively taking help away from him. He has
less help now than he ever had in the past, and the guys that they're
paying millions of dollars to come ride during the Tour de France are
going to take one or two riders themselves."

Horner's last words are interesting, because in October, Evans told the Sydney Morning Herald
that at BMC's first pre-season training camp in Como, Italy, he
convened a meeting with Gilbert and Hushovd to discuss their roles and
lay down a game plan for next year's Tour – and it ended very much in
his favour: "I was surprised when they said they wanted to come to my
team and ride with me and for me," said Evans.

My feeling is that
Gilbert and Hushovd will honour what they have said; Gilbert is a close
friend and former team-mate of Evans, and Hushovd, for his sacrifices
next July, will have outright leadership in a race he yearns to win
above everything else: Paris-Roubaix. Remember, it was this year's
edition of the Hell of the North that provided the catalyst for the
Norwegian's move to BMC (okay, a couple of million Euros also had
something to do with it), Hushovd suitably unimpressed circumstances in
the race forced him to relinquish his leadership position to Johan Van
Summeren, who, notwithstanding Thor's little tanty, would ride to
victory.

However, Phil, Thor and Cadel aren't going to get a lot
of time to room with each other before next year's Tour. In fact, it may
only be at Tirreno-Adriatico that all three will get a chance to race
together. Then again it's a similar scenario at other teams, too; for
example, Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish won't race together at all
till La Grande Boucle begins on 30 June in the Belgian city of Liège.

It's
probably something neither Bjarne Riis nor Johan Bruyneel, the
respective managers of Saxo Bank and RadioShack-Nissan-Trek, would let
happen with their leaders and key lieutenants. Particularly Bruyneel,
after what infamously transpired within Astana at the 2009 Tour, when
Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong proved to be each other's greatest
rivals – the only problem being they were supposed to be team-mates…

At
this stage, we still don't know if Contador, whose fate rests with the
Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland (a decision is due
mid-to-late January next year), is going to ride the 2012 Tour.
Regardless, Evans expects perennial first loser, Andy Schleck, to wizen
up under the eyes of his new DS: "I would expect Andy will be a better
rider under the eye of someone with the experience of Bruyneel," he told
the Herald. "He is not just a tactician or team builder but,
from a training and racing aspect, he has a really well-rounded
knowledge and a pretty good outlook and perspective."

Still, the
way I see things, professional cycling, if it doesn't already make an
athlete selfish and single-minded, will make them even more so in the
future.

Why? Because at the end of each season, a team's ranking
determines its eligibility for a UCI ProTeam or Pro Continental licence
(or the renewal of an existing one) – and that ranking is calculated
largely by the riders on their roster for the upcoming season, who each
bring with them those precious UCI points.

Given the itinerant
nature of riders and the teams they ride for – these days, most
contracts last just one or two years – the current system, therefore,
encourages riders to seek individual glory in order to secure their
future, rather than work tirelessly for their leaders and,
paradoxically, should their contracts not be renewed, be faced with
unemployment.

Twitter: @anthony_tan