Tour de France: RadioShack-Nissan’s team classification victory was not a reward for the best team
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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tour de France: RadioShack-Nissan’s team classification victory was not a reward for the best team

by Ben Atkins at 11:11 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Opinion
The importance of getting the third rider home can lead to the abandonment of the team’s overall contender

jens voigtIn this year’s Tour de France, Team Sky took the yellow jersey and second place overall, as well as six stage wins. The British team controlled the race through the mountains, set the pace over the toughest stages, and made it impossible for Bradley Wiggins rivals to attack.

So they were the best team at the Tour then?


The best team at the Tour was RadioShack-Nissan; its riders wore yellow numbers, and yelow-ish helmets to prove it, and were presented with the prize on the Paris podium. The fact that - other than Fabian Cancellara’s prologue victory and spell in yellow, and the presence of Jens Voigt and Yaroslav Popovych in some breakaways late in the race - few members of the team were visible for much of the race, and they actually rode to the detriment of their best rider’s individual aspirations, is irrelevant in the way that the classification is decided.

The way that the classification is calculated rarely means that the best team wins the prize, just as the mountains classification is rarely won by the best climber, and the best sprinter rarely takes the green jersey.

The general classification - the fight for the yellow jersey - is calculated by adding up the accumulated time of every rider at the end of each stage, and the rider with the lowest time is declared the leader. The team classification is also calculated in this way, but with the first three riders of each team to cross the line; it doesn’t have to be the same riders every day, or even the highest three riders in the general classification.

So, by getting its third man across the line before everybody else’s third man, a team can do well in the classification without having any other impact on the race.

Team Sky did indeed take an early lead in the team classification, thanks to placing Wiggins, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Chris Froome in the top eleven of the prologue, and - with no time bonuses available - held on to its four second lead over RadioShack-Nissan throughout the bunch finishes of the first week. With Wiggins and Froome finishing as part of the stage winning break to La Planche des Belle Filles on stage seven, and with Richie Porte coming in not far behind, the British team increased its lead to 1’37”, but this was where things began to change.

The next day, on the stage to Porrentruy, Switzerland, Wiggins and Porte once again finished in the group of favourites - just 26 seconds behind lone winner Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat) - but, having worked hard to control the race over the stage’s climbs, Porte and Michael Rogers didn’t finish until 4’58” behind the Frenchman. RadioShack-Nissan had got Tony Gallopin, Haimar Zubeldia, Fränk Schleck and Chris Horner in the lead group and so, despite the stage being dictated by Team Sky, the Luxembourg-registered team took over the lead.

Priorities change as the battle for yellow intensifies

fabian cancellaraWith Team Sky chasing the yellow jersey for Wiggins, the British team made no attempt to try to retake the lead but, sensing that they could not challenge for the overall, RadioShack-Nissan made it their target for the race. Team Sky took back a little time in the following day’s Arc-en-Senans to Besançon time trial but, by making sure that its third rider crossed the line before Team Sky’s, RadioShack-Nissan began to pull away once more.

RadioShack-Nissan’s was now well and truly chasing the team competition, which was where it began to have a detrimental effect on the individual classification of Zubeldia.

Midway through the Tour’s Pyrenéen stages, the Spanish rider had got himself up to fifth overall, while his teammates Andreas Klöden, Horner and Maxime Monfort were in 12th, 13th and 17th respectively. On the stage to the new summit finish of Peyragudes, where the other teams were working to protect their leader, RadioShack-Nissan abandoned Zubeldia to his fate on the Col du Peyresourde, as it became more important for three of his teammates to get to the finish than it was for him.

In the event, while Horner and Klöden managed to finish in front of Porte - the third Team Sky rider - Monfort did not, and actually finished alongside Zubeldia some 3’17” behind stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). The Luxembourg-registered team lost 3’09” to Team Sky on the day, but was still comfortably 14’09” ahead in the classification.

Zubeldia however, slipped from fifth to seventh overall, and now trailed Wiggins by more than ten minutes.

RadioShack-Nissan needed that big cushion as it went into the final Bonneval to Chartres time trial since, with Wiggins, Froome and Porte finishing one, two and five in the stage, it took 8’03” out of it. The team had just enough in hand however and, despite losing a few seconds as the peloton fragmented across the line on the final day, the team ended up 5’46” ahead, to take prize.

Zubeldia, largely thanks to the exhausted near-capitulation of defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), just managed to claw his way back up to sixth in the end.

So how much did this cost or earn RadioShack-Nissan?

Bradley Wiggins took home a prize of €450,000, as the winner of the 2012 Tour de France, and those below him in the general classification won a reducing scale of amounts. Second place Froome won €200,000, third place Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale €100,000, and fourth place Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) €70,000.

Had Zubeldia managed to hold onto fifth place, he would have won €50,000, but this was taken by Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), and the Spanish rider won just €23,000 for sixth; had he not managed to leapfrog Evans on the penultimate day, he would have got just €11,500 for seventh.

Thus, failing to support Zubeldia on that last mountain stage cost him [and with prizes traditionally shared throughout the team, it cost everybody - ed] €27,000, and could have even been €38,500. With Van Den Broeck’s notoriously weak time trial, the Zubeldia could even have targeted the Belgian in fourth place, and taken even more cash.

On the other hand, the first prize in the team classification was €50,000, as well as a bonus of €2,800 for taking the classification each day, which - by ignoring the individual classification - RadioShack-Nissan managed to secure. This too had a sliding scale of prizes, with €30,000 for second, €20,000 for third, €12,000 for fourth, and €8,000 for fifth.

Had the team supported Zubeldia, it may have lost first place to Team Sky, which would have cost it €20,000. In total the team classification netted RadioShack-Nissan €58,400 in total, which is much less than what they would have taken with a Zubeldia fifth and a loss of the team lead; meaning that leaving their top man overall to his own devices made a big difference financially.

It’s not about the money

More important than the money however, was the fact that it earned the team the right to stand on the podium on the Champs-Élysées at the end of the race; a great thing indeed for impressing the sponsors.

Until very recently, the team classification was something that only the Spanish teams really cared about, but was won - almost by default - by the T-Mobile team for three years in a row in the middle noughties. In 2007 it was won by Discovery Channel, thanks to the performances of Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Popovych; in 2008 CSC-Saxo Bank won through Carlos Sastre, and Fränk and Andy Schleck; with the 2009 race dictated by the Astana team of Contador, Lance Armstrong in the first year of his comeback, and Klöden, it was no surprise that they won.

Despite dominating the race for seven years however, with by far the most powerful team in the event, this was the first time Armstrong had ever taken the team classification. At that time, with Armstrong taking the yellow jersey with apparent ease in most years, every other competition - and the overall positions of Armstrong’s teammates - were ignored.

In 2010 Armstrong returned to the race for what turned out to be the last time, at the head of his new RadioShack team, and intended to take an eight victory. Once it became clear that this was not possible however - particularly after one crash-filled stage where he was forced off the road early on, then came down twice later on - the team’s focus switched to the one way of getting the American onto the podium one last time.

The team succeeded and Armstrong was able to say goodbye to the race that made his fortune with his team wearing the black “28” jerseys - which sought to draw attention to the 28 million people living with cancer - that they had been forced to remove during the final stage.

With many more sponsors expecting results these days, the team classification has become more important for those wanting to show a return on their supporters’ investment.

Like the polka-dot jersey however, the classification will not always be won by the best team.


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