The theory of bike racing

Today's stage five was a difficult affair from a tactical point of view. While on paper it still...

Today's stage five was a difficult affair from a tactical point of view. While on paper it still belonged to the opening week with the usual breakaway looking for glory that gets reeled in the final few kilometres by the sprinters' teams, it practically had no flat parts in it and the final rise was only eight kilometres form the finish.

George Hincapie, the American Champion on the Discovery Channel team, said before the start that "we will try to send someone in an early break, but in the end it will be up to us leaders to finish the job." For him personally going into a break was out of the question, as he was not far behind leader Fabian Cancellara in the overall classification, indicating that "it would be a waste of energy." Nonetheless, with only 43 seconds behind there was always the chance to move in GC with a late attack.

Australian Simon Gerrans on the Ag2r team also expected a break but cautioned that its success would "depend on the composition of the break; who is in it and how many riders there are. If it's only two or three guys then CSC will just ride tempo and control it. But if it's bigger then CSC will send a guy into the break."

While some riders are just happy to make a break and try to win a single stage, the tactics are getting more interesting with all the competitons going.

For example, at the beginning of the day, Cofidis had just one goal in mind, keeping the Polka-dot Jersey "in the house." Stéphane Augé (was leading the competition with nine points and was two points ahead of teammate and compatriot Sylvain Chavanel. The latter could have taken the jersey yesterday, but let Knees go ahead so Augé could enjoy another day in the maillot à pois rouges. Tactics can sometimes mean giving presents that will be later remembered by teammates or even riders on other teams.

The competition for the green jersey also had an interesting constellation. Thor Hushovd had moved up into fifth, only 19 points behind Tom Boonen. While the Norwegian is not particularly build as a climber, he could stand a chance if he could make it over the top with the front group or at least with not too big a gap.

But to make things more complicated, second-placed Erik Zabel is one of the best climbers of the sprinters and was certainly looking to take some points out of his competitors, while Tom Boonen has shown in the Flanders region that uphills don't scare him. But he is better at shorter climbs where his power propels him to the top of the little bergs in no time. His reputation on longer rises, such as the category two Haut-Folin, that came after 135 kilometres, is less stellar.

Then of course there is also the team classification, which is a very prestigious prize to win. The top three riders' time are added up for each stage. With only twenty seconds separating the top five teams, there are always calculations going on who to possibly send into the breaks. The two second difference between Astana in first and CSC in second could be wiped out with a simple first or second place in an intermediate sprint, which credits four or six seconds in time bonuses, respectively.

But both teams, along with Discovery Channel in third and Caisse d'Epargne in fourth, are more interested in the overall, which would open the door for Cofidis, who is not eyeing the overall.

The overall seemed a little less complicated and CSC had to just control the breaks and Thor Hushovd. The only question that remained was if Fabian Cancellara would try for another crazy move at the end to win a stage in yellow before he will have to surrender his jersey this weekend in the Alps.

And in the end all tactics can be thrown out the window if a crash like today happened. Vino's bad luck meant the team had to forget about the team classification (dropping from one to 15 out of twenty teams) and the overall classification has also received a damper.

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