28 February 2015
It is easy to play armchair quarterback and pick apart what ETIXX - QUICK STEP (EQS) did or didn't do. However, if you are an aspiring racer it is an opportunity to deconstruct the outcome for your own learning.
Obviously, EQS did everything right to set up the outcome in their favor. The selection was made with around 40km to go. After an inopportune puncture for Vanmarke, the front group of four riders was established: three EQS riders (Boonen, Terpstra, Vandenbergh) and Stannard for SKY. By all accounts, the odds were stacked greatly in EQS's favor. This tactical situation was further enhanced by the fact that Stybar was sitting on the only threatening chase group.
Either out of overconfidence or concern about being caught from behind, all 3 EQS riders took over the pacemaking, letting Stannard sit on, until around 8km to go. Finally, at 8km, Boonen stopped pulling and started saving energy for his big attack at 4.5km to go. At no point between the split and 4.5km to go, did EQS attack Stannard.
So what could they have done differently?
Work over Stannard - The obvious first choice would be to attack/counterattack Stannard starting at 20-25km out. Ideally, EQS would have sprung a rider and forced Stannard into a work situation. Putting a rider up the road would have forced Stannard to concede the top step or take the front. Under normal circumstances, such a strategy would have worked. However, sometimes the isolated rider is just that strong. Even if ultimately unsuccessful, it would have taken some punch out of Stannard's legs for the finish.
Also, I don't think I would have been too concerned about a catch by the Van Avermaet, Vanmarke, Stybar group. Stybar would have arrived fresh and ready to go in the end game.
Save Boonen - Another option would have been to leave the work to Terpstra and Vandenbergh and let Boonen do the same amount of work as Stannard -- none. At least then Boonen would have been as good as possible for the end game.
Usually, the best approach is to try everything, or in this case at least try something. If there was a plan, it seemed to rely on Boonen riding away solo in the last few km. Even with this plan, it seems like it would have been better to soften Stannard up with a few preliminary attacks from Terpstra and Vandenbergh. At the very least, a few attacks would have helped to assess how strong Stannard was. By allowing him to sit on, EQS really didn't know what they were dealing with and couldn't tweak their end game for the greatest possible chance of success.
Surely, there are relevant details that we as viewers don't know. It goes without saying that these details would have been factored into the EQS game plan. Whether EQS got it right or wrong isn't really that important, unless you just need to feed your ego. Rather, for the mindful racer, the important thing is doing a critical analysis of the tactical game with the information you have available.