Change Is Good

   

Armstrong's coach, it should be noted, is no physiologist. He bases the new program on the sheer experience of working with one extraordinarily devoted athlete for a decade, and luckily for the Tour champ, science appears to back up his coach. "Carmichael shows a remarkable understanding of physiology and how training affects Lance's body," says Jim Martin, an assistant professor in the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina and an expert in muscle mechanics. Martin adds that part of Armstrong's new aerobic efficiency could be attributed to a change in the composition of his muscle fiber. In a number of studies on laboratory animals, he notes, muscles that are repeatedly stimulated eventually become more efficient by converting fast-twitch fibers to slow-twitch fibers. (All things being equal, the more slow-twitch muscle fibers you have, the more power you can produce at the same oxygen consumption.) "There's no evidence to show you can do this with training," Martin admits. "But if human muscle remodels itself the way animal muscle does, then Lance's sub-threshold work may be converting his leg muscles into more efficient powerhouses."

By happy coincidence, this program has psychological benefits as well. "Most people who train just go out the door and start blasting away as hard as they can, but they can only go a little harder than lactate threshold," Martin says. "They can't go much harder than that for very long, and they won't go below that because they don't feel like they're doing anything. But lactate threshold represents what you can already do—so it's not much of a training stimulus."

It's a situation that Carmichael encounters all the time with new athletes he coaches, who feel at first like they aren't working hard enough. His star pupil, of course, got over that long ago and has kept his attention on the finish line of the Tour ever since.

We've learned by now not to take anything for granted when it comes to Armstrong, but this we know for sure: To him, the Tour is more than just a 2,000-mile race around the French countryside. "There is no reason to attempt such a feat of idiocy, other than the fact that some people, which is to say some people like me, have a need to search the depths of their stamina for self-definition," Armstrong writes in his forthcoming memoir. "But for reasons of my own, I think it may be the most gallant athletic endeavor in the world. To me, of course, it's about living."

Garrett Lai, who has been riding and racing road bikes in Southern California since he was 11, is the senior editor of Bicycling magazine.

PONY UP FOR THE ULTIMATE EGO TRIP
If you're still searching for that perfect centerpiece to your Lance Armstrong shrine, consider this sacred icon: Trek (800-313-8735, www.trekbikes.com) is now offering a replica of Mr. Maillot Jaune's race bike. Dubbed the Lance Armstrong Signature Edition, it's a $4,500 facsimile of the rig he rode in the 1999 Tour (except in the time trials), complete with his reproduced John Hancock emblazoned on the top tube. Built around Trek's gossamer 2.4-pound carbon-fiber frame and matching carbon-fiber fork, it features a full complement of Shimano's top-shelf Dura-Ace components as well as a snazzy pair of Rolf Vector Pro wheels. All that vibration-damping carbon fiber makes it feel as if you're piloting a hovercraft over cracks and scars in the pavement.

Trek's producing only 1,999 of these souvenirs. Should you miss out, you'll be happy to note that for $1,800 less you can snag the Trek 5200—the very same frame furnished with lower-tier components. (The parts are perfectly good, but they raise the weight of the bike by all of one pound; it's a feathery 19 pounds versus a ridiculous18.) And who knows, if you were to donate the difference in cash to the Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer research (800-496-4402), you might just have a shot of getting the champ to sign your bike himself. —ERIC HAGERMAN

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