18 July, 2009

The Hincapie Near Miss Blame Game

After Stage 14, the world is embroiled over who is to blame for George Hincapie not riding into the Yellow Jersey. Much of the discussion, I can't believe. From what I saw, I think there's plenty of blame all around.

First, George should take some blame here. Five seconds is nothing. There were so many places to get it. To me, it didn't look like Hincapie was riding smart enough to take yellow, but maybe he had bad legs.

Second, his team should take some blame. There was a director in George's ear. What was the guy saying? It sure didn't look like Hincapie was digging deep. Next, Columbia shouldn't have led out the bunch sprint. Like most people/entities, they wanted it all ways. They probably figured they had the jersey and could get Cavendish some points in the green jersey competition. Now, not only do they not have yellow, but they might be out of the green for good, thanks to Cavendish's relegation.

Third, I do think Astana played a part, despite what Armstrong and Bruyneel say. I think Astana has some kind of deal with AG2R. Don't know why they need it, but they certainly could have refused to help at all until Nocentini himself was doing some of the chasing. It's not like the AG2R guys were totally flogged; most made it to the line with the pack. They could have called back team rider Nicholas Roche from the break to help with the chase (side-matter; what was Roche doing attacking near the end? Did his team think they had already lost the jersey). Astana could have waited several more minutes before riding tempo. Considering that Astana probably wants to keep the leaders together until the final climb tomorrow, I don't think Columbia would have hurt Astana tactically. I think they could have given George another five minutes and he'd still lose the jersey tomorrow--the finishing climb is 8.8k at 7.1%, with a climbing lead-in. I don't see him climbing with the leaders in most situations, and especially after being in a break all day.

Third, Garmin-Slipstream. I'm pretty sure that Hincapie, or a partner of his, is a sponsor of the team. Howalesko Partners is a sponsor this year, and was H3O on last year's jersey. Hincapie is one of the H's. I don't think Garmin was riding to deny George. I do think they were either hoping to get Farrar some points or keep their GC riders safe or both.

Fourth, we're discussing a conspiracy at the most important bike race in the world. No one should expect gifts. Would the pack have sat up for Stephane Goubert or Inigo Cuesta, two riders older than Hincapie and with far fewer palmares?

Finally, credit should be given to Johan Bruyneel who takes issue with Garmin coming to the front for a few seconds, when his team spent all day at or near the front. A great, if disingenuous commentary from the Astana DS.

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