There is no greater sporting spectacle than the Tour de France. This year Mark Cavendish won six stages finishing 131st, whilst fellow Brit Bradley Wiggins won none and finished fourth. It was a great British performance but also illustrates the key to our season.
To finish well in the overall race (General Classification or GC) you need to know when to attack. If you compete in the sprints, as Cavendish does brilliantly, you’ll get a lot of glory but no time benefits because everyone finishes together.
However, it is in the mountains and during time trials where time and the GC is won or lost. This year was no exception; early on Cavendish took stage after stage, while the main contenders remained pretty anonymous choosing to stay out of trouble, away from crashes and not use too much energy.
On the stage 15 to Verbier the true race for the GC, began to emerge. A group of riders hit the final climb of the stage; the elevation and speed began to tell and the also-rans fell away (including Cavendish who smiled knowingly as he let the others ride away). Eventually, the only riders left were the giants of the tour – Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, the Frank and Andy Schleck and Bradley Wiggins. They weren’t mucking around at the back of the field; when others cracked; they were ready to capitalise.
On the penultimate stage to Mont Ventoux, the pretenders and also-rans again fell away leaving the big five to fly up its slopes. Contador was mercurial in his victory, Wiggins immense. These two stages, plus two time trials, decided the whole race. The rest was about being sensible and strategic and not losing focus of the overall goal.
The Tour teaches us a good lesson about our season. Storming into an early lead sets expectations, grubbing around with also-rans brings about doubt and pressure. Early on we should be happy to stay amongst those who will eventually compete for the title. Us, Luton and the re-constructed Cambridge look like the ones to keep an eye on for now, Altrincham would appear to be doing a Cavendish, basking in some short term glory, but they should fall away eventually.
Following a home and away win (two potential demons out of the way) bookending the 1-1 draw at Kettering and we are ‘in-play’. We don’t want to be leading from the front too early even though it’s conceivable we will be before the end of the week. This will bring its own expectations and pressures and we’d do well to remember that conceding the lead this early in the season will do us little harm.
Our Verbier and Ventoux is likely to be between the Cambridge game on 19th December and AFC Wimbledon on the 23rd February. That’s when the title race should be decided (or at least, our role in it). If we can be top in February, the title should be ours. The trick for now is to stay out of trouble; which is precisely what we’ve been doing for the first week. Good work.