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Simple Racing, Super Results

July 28, 2009
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(Photo: Roberto Bettini)

As I set out to write these updates on the AG2R team in the Tour de France I never imagined that I would be writing about the Yellow Jersey. The Tour this year was interesting, yes it had Lance Armstrong in it, and there was the drama between Armstrong and Contador. That so called feud lasted for the better part of two weeks and in between that time Nocentini appeared. AG2R was a team with not a lot of results this year and many thought they would not be able to defend the Yellow Jersey amongst the powerhouse teams. As the days went by, and Nocentini kept yellow, the team gained confidence and they brought their own power to the front of the peloton. Each rider had a different objective and each rider stepped up at different times to do their job in order keep the team in the headlines.

During this time I was able to step up to the riders and talk with them about their day and mostly about the G5 bike. When they saw me they knew they were about to get hit with questions about the bike and not the race. For some of them it was difficult to explain the difference between last years bike and the new G5. They would demonstrate with their hands or repeat the same words two or three times. If there were five different ways to mention that the bike was stiff they would figure out a way to do it. Really, after three weeks of talking with the riders the main benefit they treasured the most was the stiffness of the new G5. The riders didn’t want any of their efforts to go to waste; when they stepped on the pedals they wanted the bike to move forward. According to the riders the newly designed BH accomplished this in the front end, the bottom bracket, and the rear triangle – that pretty much covered the entire bike.

Simplicity can be a rider’s friend and in this case it works because the riders get what they want without realizing all the added benefits. The carbon dropouts, the cut out down tube, the tapered head tube, the BB30 bottom bracket, and replaceable derailleur hanger are items the professionals don’t really notice. As a consumer these are all important features for safety, repair, and ease of use. The Tour riders demand a very stiff bike that would climb well and sprint well. This is a challenge for any bike manufacturer because of the balance to stay laterally rigid while decreasing the weight. The AG2R mechanics pointed out the new tube shapes throughout the G5 allow these contradictory qualities of lightness and stiffness to coexist.

As the G5 was a new introduction to the Tour so was the fact to have a mountain top finish the day before Paris. The organizers wanted a final showdown on the Ventoux and they designed a course that actually delivered that. It may not have been suspenseful to see who would have the lead, Contador had that wrapped up, but there were many that wanted that 3rd spot on the podium. The Ventoux lived up to its reputation with howling winds and enormous crowds. The mountain was packed with fans and many of them had camped there for over five days to make sure they had a good viewing spot. Contador was at ease on the mountain as was Andy Schleck. Each had an objective and it wasn’t to win the stage, I feel this was a mistake. Venotoux is not just any mountain; it carries a prestige that no other mountain has except for Alp’D Huez. Contador and Schleck allowed the break to stay away, for no apparent reason, instead of trying to put one of their names as the victor. This will come back to haunt them. The chance was now and as Lance Armstrong knows it doesn’t return very easily.

Over the three weeks AG2R ranked up there with one of the most successful teams of the Tour. As the riders raced back and forth on the final day in Paris it was easy to reflect back on the results of some of the Tour teams. Rabobank saved themselves with the Ventoux win but for teams such as Milram, Quick Step, and Cofidis they will have some head scratching to do about their lack of results at the Tour de France. On the other hand there is Colombia, Astana, Saxo Bank, AG2R, and Cerv‚lo who rode a race that made a big difference. For some teams there was a lot of buildup coming to the Tour with predictions, troubles, and expectations. For AG2R their simple plan was to ride hard, be present in the race, and simply race. Their results may have surprised many but they won over many fans because of their style of racing. Now AG2R, the team and the sponsor, can’t wait for next year.

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