We are here proposing an analysis of the final moments of the race which took place in Limburg (southern Netherlands) on September 23 2012. The race is frozen in four diagrams that correspond to events taking place in just barely more than a minute. A legend at the end of the article lists the various symbols.
We suggest complementing diagrams 2-3-4 via the following video clip :
What must be remembered, is the Belgian team’s extraordinary sense of timing. Of course, the chance factor should not be overlooked. What would have happened if, for example, Valverde had passed the turn among the first, if Boasson-Hagen had been directly in Gilbert’s wheel when the Belgian accelerated, if the wind had been blowing in a different direction at the top of the Cauberg? Yet we see, over and over, how strong teams can integrate the unexpected into their plan and win. This is especially true when the riders are racing on their own territory, as the Belgians were doing that day. And we spoke here of two Belgian rockets but a more complete analysis would have examined the role of the other parts, Van Summeren and Devenyns among others having for example spent the better part of the day trying to control the race.
The flip-side to this refined and efficient team strategy is a certain tendency toward predictability, or at least a tendency toward obliterating individual risk-taking. Young rider Romain Bardet who recently joined his first pro team, AG2R – La Mondiale, illustrates this point :
“This is what surprised me this season. The races are stereotyped. Tactics play less of a role than in amateur racing. There are always 15-16 teams riding for a single leader and trying to make everyone arrive in a bunch, either at a final sprint or at the foot of the last difficulty. When riders break away early in the day, we know we have an hour, an hour and a half to relax before the tempo begins to accelerate. In the Classics, we almost always find ourselves in hill races. The best riders are at the front but I think that the race loses some its magnificence.” – Journal l’Équipe, 25/09/2012
The road race at the London Olympics 2012 could well be an example of another type of race, where for various reasons, individuality opposes the well-oiled machines. Which in itself is not better or worse, just different.