The sack race

By Daniel Friebe, Features editor | Friday, July 17, 2009 8.02pm

Best known during his Tour de France career for winning a mountain time trial on the Mont Ventoux -- and since his retirement for being partial to a late night -- Jean François Bernard is now most familiar to French cycling fans as L’Equipe’s online cycling pundit.

Candid and clinical, “Jef’s” musings are always a good read.

After stage 3 to Montpellier and what is now being referred to as the “Carnage on the Camargue”, they were even better than that. Why? Because Jef dared to spell out what they rest of us were busy dressing up in euphemisms and half-truths. In short, Bernard said that any directeur sportif whose team leader or leaders missed the key split that occurred 31 kilometres from La Grande Motte that afternoon ought to be ashamed of himself.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. About directeur sportifs, I mean, and how many of them are really doing a decent job. Skil Shimano are the minnows of this Tour de France, but it was abundantly clear when I spoke to the team’s DS Rudy Kemne on morning of the team time trial that he’d done his homework before the previous day’s stage. A lot of homework. The result? The Skil riders knew exactly where they had to be when the road doglegged right: the wind picked up and Columbia-HTC opened up the gas.

I don’t need to name and shame the ProTour teams whose success rate this season has been woefully disproportionate to the funds invested: you know who I mean. If you don’t, get youselves onto www.cqranking.com and spot the ProTour teams whose victory tally doesn’t even stretch into double figures. There are a few.

In football (soccer), trigger-happy chairmen who fire their managers at the drop of a Champions League point are one of the scourges of the modern game. We don’t want that in cycling. What the sponsors who shell out millions every year should demand, however, is a level of competence greater than that displayed by a lot of the men driving the team cars at times on this Tour. Either that or they should enforce some level of accountability: in other words, if a team performs as badly as, say Silence-Lotto, Milram or AG2R-La Mondiale did in the first half of this year, the man writing the cheques should look hard not only at the riders but at the individuals directing them.

What has this got to do with today’s snooze-fest between Vittel and Colmar? Not a lot, except that I was short on time in the press-room and decided to retrieve a blog half-written earlier in the Tour. That and the fact the defensive tactics employed by certain riders in the Vosges today were no doubt dictated by their directeur sportifs rather than their legs. The riders have the excuse of racing for their contracts and their livelihoods; we can regret their risk-aversion but also understand it.

The same, unfortunately, can’t be said of certain directeurs sportifs whose best chance of being sacked appears to be a doping scandal, given that they’re still in a job after years of wretched or at best indifferent results.

I can only judge on what I see, and that’s a very small slice of every team manager’s nine to five. My impressions are limited to results. There are other factors to consider, but I'd still suggest that whoever’s employing these guys also starts looking a little closer at the bounty they're bringing home.

Follow Daniel Friebe's Tour Twitter postings at twitter.com/procycling_mag, and give him a listen with our (almost) daily post-race podcasts here.

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