I just watched stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico and realized that this stage race might have just been decided by who could descend fast in the rain. I don’t think that Chris Froome was having a good day, but that might have just been his mindset after he got dropped big-time on a wet, twisty descent.
Vincenzo Nibali railed a descent less than 15 km from the finish and rode into the lead. Only to be caught by Peter Sagan, last years team mate and a better descender too. Chris Horner was with Nibali when they started down and I was mildly surprised to see Chris get dropped. That was a big 40 seconds that he lost just not being able to follow a wheel. He would be solidly in 2nd overall if he would have stayed in the front group, maybe close to the lead depending on how he would have finished in the time bonuses at the end.
I’m not sure why there is such a big ability level on descending in Europe. I know the descends are tighter and trickier than here in the US. But, yesteryear, I never remember that the difference on final GC of big races such as this being decided by a few minutes of descending. It seems that many of the GC contenders don’t have it in their repertoire to be able to handle their bikes well enough. Especially in the wet.
Chris Horner, from my experience riding with him, is generally a pretty good bike handler. That is why I was surprised he got dropped from Nibali on such a short descent. But, Chris has had some serious injuries the past couple years and I’m sure that plays a part of the risks he’s willing to take in a race such as this.
I wrote a post a couple years ago about how I thought that descending has been affected dramatically by the use of carbon rims in the peloton. Carbon rims do not generally provide very predictable braking power. Add water to the mix and they pretty much just down right suck. But, all these guys are riding carbon rims, so they all are at the same disadvantage. I do think that that many of these top GC guys need to go out and train on their race wheels, at speed, maybe in the wet, and learn how to limit their losses or better yet, improve their skills.
It’s not like these guys are racing criteriums in the rain here in the US. Maybe all these guys are getting paid too much money and aren’t willing to take risks to win. That would be a real shame. If you start thinking of what you are risking while racing, then you are past the point of riding fearlessly. And that is the only way to truly descend fast. I do know that too many big races are being won or lost on bike handling skills.
This video shows how much faster Vincenzo Nibali can descend than other climbers in the peloton. He makes them look like they are just touring.