• "We will not simply give up our confidence in him," said Lotto Soudal team manager Marc Sergeant. But for how much longer? (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Sometimes, a leader without a win is almost as bad as not having a leader at all - especially at La Grande Boucle, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
13 Jul 2017 - 7:20 PM 

So, BMC Racing has gone from having a contender for the Paris podium to, one day later, experimenting with Danilo Wyss in a sprint finish against Marcel Kittel et al.

I don't know a lot about Wyss. Thankfully, Procyclingstats came to the rescue and told me that in 10 years as a pro, he has exactly one win to his name: the Swiss national road championship in 2015, which he won in a two-up sprint with Sebastien Reichenbach, who also has exactly one win on his palmarès, the Trofeo Matteotti - which he won in a two-up sprint with fellow countryman Johann Tschopp.

Contador has no reason to be off his A game, and will surely not enjoy such support at another Grand Tour, let alone Le Tour.

"We tried to set new objectives after Richie Porte's crash and I gave it a try in the sprint but it was a bit hectic in the last two turns," Wyss said Tuesday in Bergerac, where he ran 17th to a barnstorming Kittel. "I had to brake a little too much especially on the final left hand one.

"I haven't sprinted in a long time so, it was good to try and to get used to it again as well as keeping the motivation high. We are taking the race day by day and setting new goals as a team so, we will see what happens tomorrow."

And so, the next day, with another sprint on the cards, this time in Pau, the same team tried the same thing with the same guy...

"I tried again to sprint. It was a bit hectic with all of the turns but I liked it. It was a bit better for me and I could find my way up the middle. Tenth place, it's okay for me, it's good," said Wyss.

From aiming for a top-three finish in Paris but in the back of their minds dreaming of overall victory to being satisfied with tenth place in a bunch kick. For one of the three biggest budget teams in the peloton, it's a massive fall from grace.

This is not so much to bag BMC Racing but it shows how invested the team was in Porte, and the void he created when he crashed out of the race.

Unlike Quick Step Floors with Kittel and Daniel Martin there was no dual-pronged strategy, or, like Cannondale-Drapac, a multifaceted one; unlike Team Sky, they have no climbers other than their erstwhile leader who could probably win a mountain stage; and while riders like Greg Van Avermaet and Nicholas Roche are on their day great puncheur-baroudeurs, when they did try to go for it as happened on the eighth leg to Station des Rousses, in Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie, they found themselves outclassed by a very classy Frenchman on a Pro Continental team.

After the departures of Peter Sagan (Stage 4) and Rafal Majka (Stage 9), the situation at Bora-Hansgrohe isn't much better, although Maciej Bodnar gave it a right ol' crack Wednesday to Pau and was caught only in the final kilometre.

Same goes for Dimension Data who lost their man Mark Cavendish on the fourth stage. They've since tried using Edvald Boasson Hagen in the fast finishes even though the Norwegian said "I'm not a sprinter" on the day he ran second to Kittel in Nuits-Saint-Georges. EBH came awfully close, a photo finish denying him victory by six lousy millimetres, though the frustration was evident in Pau when this time he finished third to the five-time stage winner, who likened choosing his lines to playing a game of Tetris. It's all fun and games when you're winning.

With Arnaud Démare finishing hors délai on the ninth stage and Thibaut Pinot clearly spent after riding to fourth overall at May's Giro d'Italia, FDJ don't have much of a plan, either. At least the former got a stage win before he departed.

Sometimes, a leader without a win is almost as bad as not having a leader at all.

Boasson Hagen is the isn't one exasperated by Kittel's supremacy this year: Lotto Soudal's ever-consistent André Greipel, Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL–Jumbo), Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain–Merida) have all been casualties of the aforementioned's success - he even made poor Bling weep! - and despite a potential three further opportunities, the situation doesn't look like changing anytime soon. But what can you do?

"I think it is important that we take our responsibility, that we show to André that we have an unwavering will to go for a stage victory," Marc Sergeant, team manager of Lotto Soudal, said in Bergerac after the team appeared to do everything right until the final straight.

"Quick Step won't do everything themselves in the chase if we decide not to cooperate. I understand that there will be questions until we have a stage victory, but I think that André has proven to be a top sprinter on many occasions. And we will not simply give up our confidence in him. We will give everything we have until the last stage in order for the flat stages to end in a bunch sprint, so that we can compete for the stage victory."

Greipel, winless until the Champs-Élysées last year, will be hoping (praying?) for the same. But if not, can an outfit as big and bold as Lotto Soudal really keep the faith in him till next July? Turning 35 this Sunday, I'd suggest not; I can already hear their backroom boffins crunching the stats, searching for a heir apparent...

Speaking of below-par performances, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) are three GC leaders whose Tour to date has been left wanting, though the former has a good excuse in that he rode the Giro and finished second, and the latter has had an ongoing knee injury. Bertie, however, has no reason to be off his A game (other than that he's well past his prime), and will surely not enjoy such support at another Grand Tour, let alone Le Tour.

Still, as Cycling Central editor Phil Gomes so poetically wrote the other day, the Giro-Tour double died with Pantani. If he's to stand any chance of beating Froome in July, he needs to commit 100 per cent; Tour-Vuelta, perhaps, but Giro-Tour, fuhgeddaboudit, Nairo.

Quintana's Tour legs cooked after failed Giro bid
On the first Tour de France rest day, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana reflected on his less than effective performance over the first nine stages.

It's a cruel world, but if you want the big bucks and all that goes along with it, then quite simply, you need to perform when it matters most.