It's hard to say that Floyd Landis and Team Phonak were being "smart" by giving up the yellow jersey Saturday, but they sure didn't make any friends out there once Stage 13 was done.
The yellow jersey is all about honor and taking responsibility of that honor. If you have enough responsibility and desire to take yellow, you have to have the same to defend it. So, when Landis and Phonak didn't do much to close an almost 30-minute gap from the breakaway group, other teams had to interpret that as a lack of respect for the jersey. Phonak looked to these other teams to help them in the peloton. In almost every other race, you can do that. But this is the Tour de France, the biggest race in the world, and if the person in yellow is not willing to sacrifice some of his team to defend it, they can't expect anyone else to.
This race is cutthroat. Once you get on another team's bad side, it's really hard to reverse it. Phonak could be looking for some help over the next stages. If a team has a rider in first, second or third overall, teams look to other teams to help them maintain the pace. Teams can play the card of the overall leader, play the card of who's leading the King of the Mountains race.
Now, Phonak has exhausted all their "help" options in one stage. Teams are likely saying, "If you're not going to try to defend the yellow, why should we help you?" With a minimum amount of effort Saturday, they could have saved the yellow jersey. Remember when the stage was won and Rabobank jumped to the front of the peloton? Why didn't Phonak send up a few riders with them? It was a bad P.R. move. These transitional stages are very long and you want to keep some friends around you so that you don't have to do everything out there. If Team Phonak needs help in any upcoming stages, they likely won't get it.
I can understand why Phonak did what they did and I don't think it's the worst tactical move. They might not believe they have the team to last up front for over a week until Paris. Give it up now, and win it back in the Alps. But if you're going to give up that much time Saturday, why not give up the yellow jersey on Friday and let another team dictate the pace Saturday and not let a dangerous rider back into the hunt to boot?
This Tour has shown that nothing in cycling is guaranteed, and over two days, Phonak has allowed both Yaroslav Popovych and Oscar Pereiro back into this race, two of the last riders you'd want back into the race because they are so strong and dangerous and you can't count on that they will lose a lot of time in the Alps. Not only that, but you're running the risk of giving these riders confidence. Wearing yellow can change the way you and your team rides. Also, with back-to-back days of breakaway wins, riders who want to make up significant amounts of time will only be more confident to take a chance Sunday.
Landis is still my overall favorite and there is a very good chance he'll take back yellow. I just hope that if he doesn't win, Saturday's tactics aren't the reason why.
So, now what?
Landis, Phonak and Sunday
Team Phonak has to make a deal with a team to jointly defend the jersey or make a deal to cooperate from here on out. It will make the stages easier to control. The team's decision to give up the yellow before the Alps could turn out to be a good one, but Sunday's stage will be all about the inner workings of tactics and teams. It's not an easy stage and a mistake or an ego trip could be a real hindrance to the overall classification. If you let another breakaway take 7-8 minutes, things could get real dicey for the favorites.
Landis and the other contenders need to keep their eyes open Sunday. Someone can slip into that breakaway and can be right there to take the yellow away again.
Voigt and Team CSC
I was so excited to watch my teammate and friend Jens Voigt win Saturday's stage. My family and I were yelling for him as we watched from home, my daughter yelling "Go Uncle Jens!" She hugged me at the end of the stage and said, "You can do that too, Daddy!"
Jens called me after he stepped off the podium and he was ecstatic. Jens won because of how smart he is on the bike. It was just Jens being Jens -- he never says die. I don't think there was anyone out on the road Saturday that wasn't happy for Jens. Remember, this is the rider who gave up a stage win in Italy because he believed he didn't contribute enough on the breakaway!
With Jens' stage win, we took over the lead in the overall team classification. After all the challenges our team has been through, for CSC to accomplish this with just six riders is just massive. The team has to be riding high after Saturday, and if I was Bjarne Riis, I would tell everyone that, no matter what, let's keep that team lead. Teamwork is such a big value of CSC. Contender Carlos Sastre will likely be quiet until the Alps, but don't be surprised if you see another CSC rider in a breakaway on Sunday (maybe Frank Schleck?).
Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, will be providing an exclusive diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won last year's Paris-Nice race. For more information on Bobby, check out http://www.bobbyjulich.com.