Q&A with Sport Director Matt White on Tour de France Stage Nine

Sun 7 Jul 2013

Simon Clarke was an animator in an aggressive, action-packed day of racing at the Tour de France. Hopping from group to group until was alone in the lead as he churned his way up the Col de Val Louron Azet, Clarke was caught on the penultimate descent by three chasers.

An elite group of 30 riders swallowed up the front-runners on the slopes of the Hourquette d’Ancizan before Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) went on the attack. Martin outsmarted Fuglsang on the run-in to the line to win the stage. 

After a dominating day in the mountains yesterday, Team Sky faltered today. Chris Froome was isolated far from the finish and forced to fend for himself as Richie Porte tumbled out of overall contention, finishing 17’59 behind Martin.

We invited fans to submit questions to Sport Director Matt White about the exciting stage. His answers to select questions are below.

Q: Was Simon Clarke’s attack planned or was that a decision made on the road?

It was planned. We could afford to be aggressive today because the next climbing stage isn’t until next Saturday. We gave the option to Michael Albasini, Simon Gerrans and Simon Clarke to go on the attack. Albasini was in one of the first early moves but was caught.

Simon didn’t have a great start today. He felt a bit rough in the beginning. He went too deep at the start of the stage, but he really came good a bit later. He rode very, very aggressively. I would say he was one of the fastest guys on the first three climbs. He jumped from one group to another group before getting off the front by himself for awhile.

Q: Is Simon chasing the polka dot jersey?

Pierre Rolland (Europcar) has a very healthy lead in the mountain classification, and it’s a big focus for his team. We’ll see if Simon has other opportunities later on in the Tour to go after mountain points, but I suspect it will be hard for him to go down the road without Rolland. Hard to say for sure. We’ll have to play this one by ear.

Q: Is there a specific rider we assign to look after our sprinters to make sure they make the cutoff on a mountain stage?

Not today. A big chunk of our team was in the same group during almost the entire stage. They weren’t in the last group and were never in danger of missing the time cut.

During the first hour today, it was every man for himself. A lot of riders were scrambling to get in as big as group as possible. It was important to be in contact with a large group up until Peyresourde. The day was too much to manage without a bunch.

Our guys were good. They were comfortable. They were never in danger of losing their group. They rode well to back themselves after what amounted to an emotional and stressful first week of the Tour.

Q: Did you predict today would be raced so aggressively?

I thought it would be aggressive, but I didn’t think it would be this aggressive. Today was probably the most aggressive day of racing I have ever seen at the Tour de France. I can’t remember the last time the yellow jersey was isolated with 100km still to race.

I think a lot of teams made some big mistakes today related to the general classification. Of course, that has nothing to do with us, but I was surprised by what we saw. They had Froome alone, and they never really attacked him. You’d think teams were racing for team class or second place. Froome played it cool and didn’t have too much to answer for in the end.

Q: Tech question – what sort of gear combinations have we been using over the last two days.

This isn’t the best questions for me. I mostly leave the tech stuff to the mechanics. Best guess would be at least a 25 but probably a 28.

Q: After the emotional highs of the first week, how do the boys stay buoyant and competitive?

This Tour is a bit different than usual. The second week is the easiest week of the three, I think. We have a rest day, four flat stages and a time trial next week. It’s mild after the very busy start to our tour in terms of terrain, stress and how we chose to attack week one.

Now it’s Gossy’s [Matt Goss] chance to show his stuff. We’ll fully support him during the second week. Svein [Tuft] has his eye on the time trial. Beyond the sprints, there’s a good chance for the breakaway on the stage that ends in Lyon.

There’s still a lot of racing left, and the guys are very motivated. We’ve had some team goals, and we ticked those boxes. Now there’s a focus on the individual goals. There’s still a lot of fight left in this group. They don’t need us to motivate them. They do that all on their own.

Q: Will we save Cam Meyer’s legs on Tuesday for the time trial on Wednesday?

At the moment, that’s yet to be decided. We’ll see how Cam backs up. Svein is very motivated for the time trial, and there are more opportunities for Cam later in the Tour. Cam may require a bit more recovery than Svein, so it may be that we ask him not to go too deep in the time trial on Wednesday.  

Q: How will the team spend the rest day?

We look to keep the rest day as relaxing as possible. Today we travel by bus for 40km to take a one hour flight to our rest day hotel. The staff contends with a 700km transfer.

Tomorrow it’s: Sleep in. Do a little ride. Lunch. Attend a few functions in the afternoon. Normal treatments in the evening. Dinner. Bed.