A Slight Change in Plans

Jul 12, 2005
Outside Magazine

Sometimes opportunities present themselves where you least expect them. Lance Armstrong and the Discovery Channel team expected Stage 10 of the Tour de France to be hard, but not decisive. The climb to Courchevel is long but it's not terribly steep, so Lance figured he would arrive at the finish with a small group that contained all of his biggest rivals. However, when that lead group started to splinter, he seized the opportunity and gained more than a minute over his chief rivals.

When I talked to Lance before the stage, he was relaxed and in a good mood. He told me he didn't feel any pressure to attack or prove himself on today's stage, especially because the climb to Courchevel isn't ideally suited for a decisive attack. Racers like Lance look for the steepest pitches of a climb to launch their attacks because that's where they get the biggest impact for their energy expenditure. On a climb like Courchevel, the energy-cost of an attack would be huge, but you wouldn't gain much time on well-prepared rivals.

When riders choose good places to attack, they subconsciously consider how much energy it is going to take to gain seconds on their rivals. If it is going to take a monumental effort to finish just 15 seconds ahead of the competition, it may be smarter to wait and save the energy. Instead, you're looking for a place where that same monumental effort will move you a minute or more ahead.

For Lance, Courchevel was not the place to attack. There are a lot of mountains left in the 2005 Tour de France, and there are mountains that offer better opportunities to attack and take minutes out of people. There were a lot of unknowns as the race crossed the valley between the Col de Roselend and the base of Courchevel. The lead group contained serious threats in riders like Jan Ullrich, Alexandre Vinokourov, Ivan Basso, and Levi Leipheimer. They had promised to attack him mercilessly and claimed they had the legs to do it, so Lance's goals were to keep an eye on them, and contain them.

On the early slopes of the final climb, the big men of the Tour de France had their poker faces on. Everyone looked pretty comfortable, but the fast pace being set by the Discovery Channel team put riders into difficulty very rapidly. The group thinned out in a reasonably predictable manner, but then Vinokourov dropped off the back of the lead group. The man who appeared to be taking over Jan Ullrich's position as Lance Armstrong's biggest threat cracked, and Lance and his teammates kept the throttle open to make sure he didn't come back.

Then Ullrich and Andreas Kloden fell off the back as well. Even later in the climb, without launching an actual attack, Lance left Ivan Basso behind. On a day that started with the possibility of a major assault against Armstrong, he strode to the yellow jersey presentation with the biggest lead he's had over his main rivals so far in this Tour de France. And while there is a lot of racing still to come, and anything can happen, I believe Lance's lead will only continue to grow.

Chris Carmichael is Lance Armstrong's personal coach and founder of Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS). His latest book, Chris Carmichael's Fitness Cookbook , is now available and you can register for a chance to win a ride with the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team at www.trainright.com.

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