By Hedwig Kröner in Pau
After Classics specialist George Hincapie's unexpected victory over Phonak's Oscar Periero Sunday on the steep slopes of the Pla d'Adet, Phonak team manager John Lelangue reacted furiously to the racing tactics of the American, saying that the 32 year-old winner should have participated more in the breakaway which gave him the opportunity to score "the biggest race" of his life.
"On a sporting level, I think that if Hincapie was aiming for victory, he should have collaborated with the others," Lelangue said after the stage. "If you want to get into a fight, you have to be a warrior. Either you ride and you're able to win, or you don't ride and you leave the win for others."
But there were good reasons for the New Yorker not to work in the break, as his presence initially served another, higher goal. "In the team meeting in the morning, we decided that if a group of about ten riders would leave, I could jump with them and, in case the break didn't get through, be there for Lance on the last two climbs," explained Hincapie. "That's why I didn't work in front. But we ended up getting 18 minutes and once Johan saw that, he said, 'Listen, George - you're probably not going to come back here now, you can do your own race.'"
In the final ascent, believing in his chances against the Spanish climber, Hincapie effectively chose to stay on Oscar Pereiro's wheel to save his strength for the last 100 metres of sprint, rather than collaborating with the Phonak rider to make sure they stayed clear of the chasing Caucchioli and Boogerd. Visibly disappointed after the race, Pereiro was also angry at Hincapie's behaviour. "I worked all day for nothing. With three kilometres to go, I asked him to take turns so that we would stand a chance of winning the stage," Pereiro told L'Equipe. "He told me he would pass but never did. The cars and spectators made so much noise that I couldn't hear the gaps of our chasers through my earset. I lost my morale when Hincapie went past me in the final kilometre. On a sporting level, his victory is correct but it doesn't mean anything on an ethical level - he didn't stick to the rules."
The stage winner, meanwhile, said that his lack of participation was due to the narrow path the frenzied crowd left the struggling riders. "I told Pereiro we needed to work together to go away, but you couldn't even go past him there was so many people, there was no room to go. So I just stayed behind him and in the last k, I knew that I could outsprint him, for sure," he said.
In the end, it seems as though Pereiro was the victim of strategic advantage, intelligent calculation and unfavourable conditions. Unfortunately for him, these 'road chess' parameters are as much part of bicycle racing as the will to succeed and the strength of your legs - making one cheer, and the other sad.
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