Stage 14, Tour de France, July 2000

The mountainous 155-mile stage from Draguignan to Briançon may have been the toughest of the race. Here, after 60 miles, the leaders begin the day's first major climb. Velonews editorial director John Wilcockson unpacks the moment.

Outside

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1. Lance Armstrong, who lives part-time in Nice, France, spent ten days in May pre-riding the difficult Tour stages, including this one that crosses three mountain passes in the French Alps (17,000 total vertical; 13 percent max grade). Armstrong studied road surfaces, turns, and grades, while coach Chris Carmichael helped him sustain power output by keeping a steady 150 bpm heart rate—Armstrong's optimum target for a long ride, but well below his aerobic threshold.

2. Support climbers on the Postal Service team set the early tempo—fast enough to prevent an attack, but not so brisk that they demolish themselves early in the race. Armstrong drafts behind his teammates, saving himself for the finale. Cédric Vasseur is on the far right (the bandaged knee is from a minor fall the day before), leading a helmetless George Hincapie, and Kevin Livingston, who will lead out Armstrong on the final climb.

3. As overall contenders, Festina team riders (in blue and yellow) Angel Casero, Joseba Beloki, and Christophe Moreau race near the front to keep an eye on other contenders and benefit from the Postal team's tempo. Beloki finished third overall, Moreau fourth, and Festina second in the team competition. Meanwhile, Postal placed 8th overall.

4. Jan Ullrich defended his eventual second-place overall finish by riding behind Armstrong, ready to follow his attacks, or to mount a counterattack should the American show a chink in his cycling armor. In this stage, Ullrich faltered on the final climb, but fought back to finish at the same time as Armstrong. "I didn't have the strength to suffer alongside him," Ulrich says. "I prefer to climb at my own pace—which is nothing compared with Armstrong's."

5. Armstrong used his 1999 Tour winning blueprint: a high pedal cadence on climbs ("I wasted four or five years on using the wrong [low cadence] style," he says); seven-hour training rides to build his endurance base; a strict diet to keep his five-foot-eleven frame at 156 pounds; a reduced race schedule; and (as seen here) a key position at the front of the peleton to avoid crashes and flat tires. Armstrong finished the Tour 6:02 ahead of Ullrich.

6. The billowing trees indicate a strong headwind, so the Postal men ride in a low-angle echelon, a staggered or stair-stepped single-file pattern, to keep Armstrong sheltered (they adjust the echelon's shape according to the exact angle of the breeze). A cyclist uses roughly 30 percent less energy when not riding directly into the wind.

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