Tour de France; its not over

07/07/2014  -  12.55

Professor Andy Lane

After the fabulous start of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire on Saturday, British hopes are somewhat dashed by the withdrawal of our two leading riders, the 2013 winner Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish, the Manx missile, and GB rider of the most stage wins. Interestingly the focus in the press has been on the tactics employed by team Sky and the decision not take former Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins as  back up the lead rider.

I watched this story unfold yesterday and heard today Sir Dave Brailsford's comments on having a detailed pre-prepared Plan B as an approach to trying to win the Tour de France.  I found myself agreeing but for different reasons. It seem to makes sense to suggest Wiggins should have ridden, but before we begin to regret that decision for not including him, we should think about who is there and how they will cope. The notion that the form book will predict the final podium places is questionable. This does not mean will throw away the form book, but we know that sport is anything but predictable. The events of the last few days provide perfect examples of this. If I knew that Germany would beat Brazil 7-1 and that both British riders would withdraw from the tour, I would've gone down to Bet fair and placed a pound on such possibilities happening; my pound will be playing lots more pounds in return.

And so should sky have a plan B as has been suggested? Of course, they already have a plan B and a plan C and plan D. Each day of the tour requires the riders to make decisions on what to do or the team and these decisions are made with team support. One team does not know the day to day tactics of another team, of course, and so if one team launches an attack, then other teams will need to work out how to cope.

A key question is how will Richie Porte cope with being the protected rider?  Firstly Porte will recognise that the nature of the challenge has changed and what this means he is now in the hot seat for decisions. Previously, he reacted to Froome’s call which last year saw he take a time penalty to collect energy gels. Now its Porte will be monitoring his state of fatigue and if he feels tired, needs water or gels, whether he requires protecting from the wind, or helping pacing uphill, this becomes his call.

Research shows that self-control is an effortful process. If Porte finds being the boss challenging then the additional resources that it could use could be responsible for taking the edge off his performance. Success in elite sport is attained by the finest margins and so this difference could be important.

However, in Plan A, the master plan, judging from the success delivered previously, there seems to have always been a plan to ride as fast as possible, a goal to ride as efficiently as possible, and a goal to have enough resources available to compete over the critical aspects of the race. By focusing on the process, and by focusing on delivering as best performance as possible for each moment of the race, we should not rule that they could win the tour. After all, we don't know how well the other teams will perform; we don't know if any of the other riders will crash, will cope with fatigue from mountains, and so on. There are so many possibilities in terms of what can happen and these are outside of the control of our riders. We do know is that sport is exciting it is unpredictable and how the Tour de France unfolds over the next couple of weeks will be really interesting to watch. And as someone preparing for the London 100 ride in August 10th, this is inspiring me to get out and ride also!!!

Andy Lane is Professor of Sport and Learning at the University of Wolverhampton’s Institute of Sport.

Andy is accredited from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) for scientific support and research. He is a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society and has authored more than 100 peer refereed journal articles.