First published 3rd July 2016.
This year is Fabian Cancellaras last as a pro rider meaning that the position of Patron of the peloton will become available. It is difficult to see who will take over. Chris Froome is too nicey nicey, Quintana comes across as too quiet and none of the riders seem to like Vincenzo Nibali. Maybe there is no need for a Patron anymore. A collective approach may work better these days when trying to address the problems which the riders face. A handful of riders have already shown they’re prepared to speak out on the issues such as rider safety, and have done so very eloquently. Perhaps when Bernard Hinault ended his podium stage act the need for a Patron disappeared with Monsieur Patron himself.
Fabian Cancellara has won 7 stages at the Tour de France but I remember him most for two things. The amazing amount of work he did when driving the peloton along the lower slopes of mountains in service of his CSC team and his antics as Patron during stage 2 for the 2010 tour.
That day the Tour was still to actually reach France as the stage was to finish in Spa, Belgium. With most of the stage gone the breakaway was beginning to fragment leaving Sylvain Chavanel in the lead. At the same time the chasing peloton were descending the Stockeu, 35km to go, in wet and slippery conditions. Suddenly there were a series of crashes. Most of the top riders were involved. The Green Jersey Pettachi, Wiggins, Evans, Contador, Armstrong . Cancellara avoided all the trouble and was still chasing the break at the head of the peloton when he suddenly sat up, hearing on his radio that the Schleck brothers had been involved as well as the other big names. Next, in a brief summary of the rest of the stage, he seemed to command the whole of the peloton to slow down and after discussions with the race director the stage was effectively neutralised and the bunch rolled home with no more action.
I remember being livid at the time. The stage profile had promised some exciting racing but I got a procession. It seemed obvious to me that Cancellara was just using his muscle to allow his team mate Andy Schleck, who was one of the worst effected by the crash, gain enough time to recover and catch up with his rivals. And as a few riders such as Thor Hushovd seemed keen to carry on racing I was annoyed that the rest allowed Spartacus to get away with the slowing down of proceedings.
I was caught up in the moment though. On reflection it was a terrible crash and there was another descent to come off the final climb of the day, the Col du Rosier. Rider safety has to be paramount. Also the slowing down didn’t just benefit Andy Schleck. Bradley Wiggins, one of Schlecks perceived rivals, also would have lost time. But most of all Cancellara actually lost his yellow jersey as Sylvain Chavanel, the sole remnant of the days breakaway, was allowed to continue on and gained enough time to take the overall lead.
In some kind of weird irony, during the next stage as Cancellara turned up the pace at the head of the peloton another crash happened and his team co-leader Frank Schleck went down, breaking his collar bone. The stage which featured cobbled sections had Cancellara finish 6th and he regained the yellow jersey.
July 2017 edit
The lack of a patron and what that means was evident in this years Giro d’Italia. After a crash in the first week which took out a few GC contenders those unaffected by the incident carried on regardless. I thought that was fair enough but what would have happened if Cancellara was there and his teammate went down?
Later on in the race when Tom Dumolin had his ‘situation’ his rivals seemed unsure of what to do. They soft pedalled for a while before resuming their pace and then later started racing. If one of them was ‘patron enough’ to stop the group I believe Dumolin’s situation would have been dire. He was badly exposed (in terms of teammate present) at the bottom of the climb but as it was his rivals wasted precious attacking kilometers trying to decide what to do.