You would think that after three weeks of racing, everyone in the Tour de France peloton would just go home and sleep for a few days. In reality, the cycling season is still in full swing and almost everyone will race again this year, some of them as soon as next week.
For some riders, including Robbie McEwen, Thor Hushovd, Michael Boogerd, Cadel Evans, and even Floyd Landis, Oscar Pereiro and Andreas Kloden, there are lucrative post-Tour criteriums that pay a lot of money just to have Tour de France stars toe the start line. These events are not very long and are sometimes more of exhibition events, with the Tour star "heavily favored" to win. And if McEwen, Damiano Cunego, or Mickael Rasmussen, participate in any of these criteriums, they'll most likely be wearing the green, white, or polka dot jersey they wore on the Champs Elysees today. Landis is unlikely to do any of the criteriums because of his impending hip surgery.
The Tour de France can have interesting effects on different riders within teams. For stronger and more experienced riders, men like Axel Merckx (Phonak) and Jens Voigt (CSC), the Tour de France can actually act like a giant training block. There's nothing that compares to the speed and power demands of the Tour de France, and if your body can adapt to that level of stress, the Tour can be your ticket to great late-season results. After just a little bit of rest, some riders will can carry the speed and power from the Tour into one-day events and short stage races in August and September and have tremendous success.
Not everyone successfully adapts to the stress of the Tour de France, and many of the riders who crossed the finish line today were utterly exhausted. Some will have the luxury of being allowed to take a few weeks off from racing, but many more will not. There's a hierarchy within the sport of professional cycling, and athletes rarely have the final say as to where and when they race. The riders who win races are given more time between events and more flexibility with their schedules. The further down the ladder you are, the harder your life will be. You may have just finished the Tour de France, but if team management says you have to go to a three-day stage race next weekend, it's your job to show up and race.
Many Tour de France teams contain younger riders, like David Zabriskie (CSC), Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner), and Thomas Lövkvist (Francaise Des Jeux) who are there to support their team leaders and gain the experience and endurance that may make them team leaders and potential yellow jersey winners in the years to come. It's unwise for coaches and team directors to push these riders into post-Tour races too quickly. They need more recovery time to recuperate from the immense stress the race placed on their body.
Many of the younger riders will take several weeks away from competition or enter races that are not very difficult just to keep their legs turning over. Some will then start training again in September and quickly bring their fitness back up in time to compete in the World Championships in October. Others will do some minor late-season races and start the process of building on their fitness gains from this year in order to ride even better next season.
Team directors, soigneurs, mechanics, bus drivers, and journalists don't get much of a break at all. In fact, I'll guarantee you that right now, not eight hours after the Tour de France ended, there are team vehicles carrying exhausted mechanics and soigneurs directly from the Tour de France to their next race. The same is true for television commentators, photographers, and reporters.
For coaches and team directors, the process of preparing athletes and teams for competition never ends. When Lance Armstrong was racing, we started tweaking the long-range for the following year within weeks after the end of the Tour de France. Oscar Pereiro, Andreas Kloden, Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans, and Denis Menchov will all begin the process of improving on their 2006 Tour de France finishes within weeks as well. As for Floyd Landis, everything depends on his hip surgery. I'm confident that if there's a way for him to recover and return to the top of professional cycling, he and the team of doctors, physical therapists, coaches, friends, and family around him will find it.
And so, another Tour de France enters the history books, and for the 11th time in 20 years, the Star Spangled Banner was played on the Champs Elysees as an American rider stood on top of the podium in yellow. Floyd Landis won an exciting and hard-fought race, and his extraordinary 81-mile (130-kilometer) breakaway on Stage 17 is a day we'll be talking about for years to come.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Outside Online for their excellent coverage of the 2006 Tour de France. I've enjoyed writing updates and sharing them with all of you and I've appreciated your feedback. I hope you enjoyed the Tour de France this year and will follow the race again in 2007 and beyond.
Looking for the ultimate Tour de France experience? Sign up for Chris Carmichael's daily Tour de France Newsletter and Do the Tour Stay at Home Do the Tour Stay at Home. audio workouts, presented by AMD. Download free audio workouts straight to your computer or iPod, then set up your stationary trainer and get a great Tour de France-focused workout while watching the race live on television.