The harsh realities of being a domestique on a professional cycling team were hammered home to two of the sport’s rising stars during Stage 11 of the 2012 Tour de France.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome and BMC’s Tejay van Garderen are both the go-to guys for their leaders—Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans respectively—particularly when the going gets tough. They are on hand to provide someone to draft behind, to drop back to get drinks or even sacrifice their race by handing over their bike should disaster strike.
The one thing they can’t do is challenge for a stage win.
As the Tour had its toughest day so far, both young guns had an outstanding day on the tortuous climbs through the Swiss Alps. At no stage did they look in trouble on the climbs and they both sat at the side (or often just in front) of their team leader for the entire stage.
And that’s a pity.
Both riders were obviously having a much better day than their respective leaders, indeed both had to sit up on occasion to wait for their leaders to catch up.
For Van Garderen, he was forced to back off the pace when the aborted breakaway with Evans fell apart and then again when Evans cracked on the final climb of the day. He had to sacrifice a potential stage win and missed the opportunity to increase his lead in the young rider white jersey classification.
For Froome, the frustration was even more evident as he had to be told to back off as Wiggins had become unhitched from the bunch as other riders responded to Froome’s attack.
In a post-stage interview aired on SBS Australia (click here to watch), Froome was asked about the day’s stage and being asked to wait. After giving what was a fairly honest answer about the circumstances, he was asked to compare himself with Wiggins, “On current form, right here and now, which of you is the strongest rider?”
Froome’s answer is a study in damning someone with faint praise. “Bradley is definitely stronger, he is without a doubt the team leader, and er, we’re all here to support him.” While the words were almost toeing the corporate line the attitude made it very clear that he wasn’t a happy camper.
Van Garderen was somewhat more circumspect when he was interviewed post-stage (on the same video as previous),
“I learned what it truly is to sacrifice yourself, I mean, today was a day that you just really have to rally around your leader and, er, stick with him no matter what and that is what I came here to do and that is what I did.”
He went on to acknowledge that he could have finished with a much better result, but accepts the realities of professional cycling and the roles within a team. Besides, he knows that he has a long career ahead of him and is the obvious heir-apparent at BMC.
Professional cycling is a monarchy, not a democracy. It has kings with absolute power and if you’re not happy with that, change teams or quit—if you’re good enough your coronation will come soon enough.
Froome and Van Garderen will definitely be kings one day very soon.