Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sent Packing in Italy

If anyone currently racing in professional cycling could be accused of “genetic doping” it would probably be Taylor Phinney. The son of two wildly accomplished cyclists he undoubtedly has genetic advantages not available to any less pedigreed “normal” cyclists. His father, Davis “Thor” Phinney, was one of the “hard men” of the 7-Eleven cycling team, and his mother, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, won Olympic medals in cycling and speed skating. There are few members of the peloton that can boast of being the offspring of two cycling legends. I suspect, but have no actual proof yet, that Kristin Armstrong’s eggs are being used in secret former soviet labs to produce future generations of super cyclists.

Taylor Phinney at 2010 Tour of Utah
Photo credit: Adult Onset Atheist

Taylor has displayed the phenotype of a hard man of cycling. In the rainy and cold second-to-last stage of the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico (11th March 2013) the groupeto of sprinters was so disheartened by the acceleration of the climber’s group that all 50 of them quit less than two hours in to the 209km stage. Rain forced some riders off their bikes as the road pitched up to slopes of as much as 30%. The groupeto was mostly sprinters, and there were no more sprint stages in the race, but Taylor was hoping to do well in the final individual time trial so he did not abandon when all the riders around him did.

There is a time cutoff in professional races; usually a percentage of the race winner’s time. The groupeto forms from slower riders who work together to make it to the finish within the time limit. Riders sheltered from the wind in a group can expend only two thirds of the energy of a solo rider. When the groupeto (half the total field!) quit on Taylor he was left to perform an incredible feat of stamina just to make it across the finish within the time cut.

Sometimes the groupeto is unsuccessful in their attempt to make it to the finish within the time cut. Just this week a 93 rider groupeto in the Vuelta a Espana finished over 20 minutes after the time cut in the 118km mountainous stage 15. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) put time into Chris Froome (Team Sky) as he battled to maintain the leader’s jersey; meanwhile the groupeto faded, and then faded some more.

The Vuelta’s time cut off was set at around 31 minutes for the stage that finished in just under three hours (2:54:30). The time cut off for stage 6 of the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico that Peter Sagan won in a little over five and three quarters hours (5:45:17, beating Vincenzo Nibali by two seconds) was set at around 34 minutes.

Taylor Phinney soloed to the finish for over 120km; for close to four hours he pushed himself, without help, through a biting cold rain. He ended up finishing about 3 minutes outside of the time cut off. He would be sent packing, and not get to compete in the following day’s individual time trial.

“It was a big day. It’s surprising what you can do to yourself sometimes.” –Taylor Phinney on being time cut after stage 6 of the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico

So what happened to the group of 93 riders who missed the much more lenient, as a percentage of the total race time, cutoff this week? Well the organizers of the Vuelta just thought it would not be fair to send them all packing so they changed the rules and almost doubled the time cutoff to allow them to stay in.

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