Teamwork: Crucial to the Tour

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Thor Hushovd learned a lot from the top-ten sprint finishes he recorded during the 2003 Tour de France; he learned so much that this year he’s finished in the top three positions during the first two road stages, and taken the yellow jersey for his efforts. Things are going his way, not even breaking a frame and sprinting on his spare bike could slow him down today. With the yellow jersey of the Tour de France on his back tonight, Thor is the first Norwegian to ever lead the biggest bike race in the world.

Hushovd isn’t the only one who’s pleased this evening. So far, the 2004 Tour de France is going just the way the US Postal Service hoped it would as well. Lance and his teammates have had no trouble staying near the front of the race and out of trouble, and the main battles going on are between the sprinters and their teams.

While none of the major contenders for the yellow jersey have had any significant problems so far, Roberto Heras had to call upon his team twice this afternoon to pace him back into the peloton. The Liberty Seguros team leader had to stop by the side of the road due to mechanical problems, and then had to get back up to speed to get back in the race. When the peloton is eating up pavement at 30 mph, stopping for just 15 seconds puts you well off the back.

As would happen for any team leader, Heras’ team director informed the team of the situation by way of the radio earpiece each rider wears. The team would then slow down and drop off the back of the peloton themselves, to wait for their leader. Once Heras got his problems sorted out and was back up to speed, his team’s job was to get him back to the peloton as fast as possible. Without teammates, Heras would probably get back to the field, but it would take him at least twice as long and a lot more energy.

Making contact with the back of the peloton doesn’t mean the job is done, either. It’s important for team leaders like Heras, Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Iban Mayo, and Jan Ullrich to ride in the less dangerous first third of the peloton. For Liberty Seguros today, the job wasn’t over until Roberto Heras was again riding in the vicinity of Armstrong and the other favorites.

Small mechanical problems and short chases to rejoin the peloton are not major concerns for riders at this level, but they do cause members of the team to dig into their energy reserves. With more than two weeks of hard racing left to go, digging into your reserves now may come back to haunt you later on. Only time will tell.