The 2011 Anti-V Moment of the Year: Paris Roubaix
While the The V Moment of the Year is the moment during the season when the sport demonstrated the most pure example of spirit of The V, the Anti-V Moment of the Year similarly acknowledges the moment in which all those things that make The V great were ignored. This is more than just cheating or climbing into the broom wagon; this is reserved for under-handed tactics, or wheel-sucking to the win, complaining about dangerous descents, canceling races for bad weather.
The Anti-V is a virus. It starts small, as a nagging doubt perhaps about form or willingness to suffer that day. It replicates and feeds on itself; giving in to doubt is easier when you’ve done it before, and the more you do it, the easier it gets. It manifests itself in an absence of those things we love most about cycling: a combination of guts, class, and panache.
Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that we had even more trouble deciding on the Anti-V moment than we did the V Moment. Bretto made the case for les Fréres Grimpeur, but couldn’t dial in on a specific incident of Anti-V and kept repeating, “Every time they looked around, or when they mounted their TT bikes!” We did the only thing we could do, and had CERN crunch the data for us. They confirmed the Schlecks spent the equivalent of three full weeks rubbernecking and nearly a quarter as much working on their time trialing – too much to mathematically isolate a single moment. Sometimes the best decision in the midst of indecision is simply to make one, and that’s exactly what I did.
At the very instant when Johan Van Summeren was doing a reverse 270 cannon ball into the deep end of the V-Pool to bring us the V Moment of 2011, Jonathan Vaughters was clutching his shoulders as he gingerly waded into the kiddie pool – dragging a handful of race favorites with him.
The race was shaping up beautifully for Garmin-Cervélo. Van Summeren had read the race and left the favorites at the Trouée to join teammate Gabriel Rasch up the road in the day’s breakaway. The plan was to keep Johan in reserve at the front while the Garmin team worked to bring the break back, giving Thor Hushovd an armchair ride to the finish with the considerable advantage of having teammates in the finale. A beautiful plan, and I love it when a plan comes together.
But Garmin’s firepower wasn’t quite enough to bridge up in time, and Faboo wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of riding into Roubaix with Thor getting a leadout from three teammates. In typical style, he took the race into his own hands and left the others to their own devices. Hushovd, Flecha, and Ballan came along for the ride and the four made huge inroads on the gap with Cancellara doing the bulk of the work.
And here the sticky tentacles of the Anti-V set in. Faboo started doubting whether he should really be hauling such a fast finisher as Hushovd up to his teammates and sat up when the gap had gone down to within arm’s reach.
At this point, Garmin’s plan wasn’t as solid as it had been a few dozen kilometers before:
- The plan hinged on domestique Vanmarcke doing the work to bridge up to the breakaway, putting four Garmin riders at the front
- Vanmarcke wasn’t closing the gap quickly enough, and was dropped by Cancellara’s acceleration
- Cancellara was getting the job done, but was unwilling to do the last bit of work to close the break down completely
The plan was in need of some quick-thinking to maintain the upper hand, and everyone knows driving while strategizing is dangerous. So, for safety reasons, Vaughters called in Garmin’s pocket Timid Tactician: His Turtleneck Sweater. New plan:
- Double-dip by telling Fabian that Thor can’t work because he has a teammate up the road, despite the fact that his team had been doing the chasing in the first place
- Tell Fabian to wait for the slow guy behind who couldn’t keep up and wasn’t bridging quickly enough, so he can take over for Fabian, saving Thor
- Instruct Thor to sit back and refuse pulls
Cancellara, Hushovd and Vaughters all had their hand in making this the Anit-V Moment of the year, but Vaughters takes the bulk of the blame not only because his was inflexible and unimaginative thinking, but because he was playing both sides: the rider up front can’t work if he’s got a rider coming up, or the rider coming up can’t work because he’s got a rider up front. Pick one.
But worst of all, there is nothing more Anti-V than two riders within a chance of winning riding along gesturing to each other as they both refuse to take a pull for fear of dragging the other to the win. Certainly, a rider must be sure not to do too much work and place themselves at a disadvantage, but this should never come at the risk of losing the opportunity to win the race in the first place; I’m sure we can all agree it is much more in the spirit of the V to fight and get beaten into second place than to never fight at all and throw your chance away. In this, Cancellara and Hushovd each had a hand in the pie, but Vaughters and his Sweater were were the masterminds behind the stalemate.
We truly love what Vaughters is trying to do with Garmin by making it their mission to race clean, but racing clean is no excuse for uncorking an entire case of Vintage 2011 Anti-V. Vaughters races his team like they are weak with nary a chance to win, when in fact they are one of the strongest teams in the sport. It is time to wrap the bars in white tape, set aside the underdog tactics, and start racing like leaders. And by all means, fire the Sweater.