In a bike race like the Tour de France there are basically three types of stages – flat, mountain and time trial. To win the overall yellow jersey, you need to be good at climbing mountains and time trialling, but to win stages, you have to be good at sprinting on flat stages.
Sprinters will never win the overall Tour de France. Mark Cavendish, for example, has won 30 Tour de France stages knowing that he’ll never win the overall race. Sprinters will win stages looking like they own the world and then climb mountains like they’ve never ridden a bike. It all comes down to physiology; how you’re built – sprinters are muscular and bulky, climbers are thin and willowy. There is almost nothing you can do about it.
On tough mountain stages, sprinters and their domestiques will ignore the main race and establish a ‘gruppetto’, a group which will climb the mountains at their own pace. It makes it slightly easier and reduces the risk of disqualification for being too slow.
Those who expected us to storm League 1 will be disappointed by our start to the season. Those who look at the relative finances of the teams in League 1 are probably less surprised. The division is still establishing its relative physiologies; those who will push for promotion and those who will fight relegation.
Already there seems to be a split – Bolton to MK Dons (in 12th), and Oldham (13th) to Wimbledon. Big teams and smaller teams. Things will change, of course, but the bottom gruppetto contains all four teams that came up last year, plus a number which we have played in recent years, the top half features a lot of teams who have been in the Championship in recent times.
The defeat to Sheffield United was a kick in the teeth but despite the Blades’ bad start to the season, they are still a much larger club than us and, though many Oxford United fans will not admit it, they have a manager who has spent his entire career improving teams year-on-year. It may be dour and graceless, but it is an irrefutable fact. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them comfortably in the top half at the end of the season.
It is similarly irrefutable that we don’t have a steady back-four and that it the root of our current closer. Hopefully Curtis Nelson is getting closer to a return, which will bring us back to more of a steady state. Once that happens, then we can get back to the job at hand which starts with competing, at least within our sub-group, and only then, maybe, beyond. But for now, we need to accept our physiology, not beat ourselves up too much and try to win the right battles.