Armstrong Powers Through for One Last Stage Win
Over the past seven years, Lance Armstrong has won 58 percent of the time trials in the Tour de France. He’s competed in 19 (including prologues) and won 11. His record for the final time trial is even better. Lance Armstrong believes it’s important for the yellow jersey to win the final time trial the day before riding into Paris, and today he won that race for the sixth time in seven years.
After riding the course a few weeks prior to the Tour de France, and driving parts of it again yesterday, Lance and Johan decided it was best to start out conservatively for the first five kilometers and then open the throttle. The rationale was based on the fact that the course starts to really go uphill after about five kilometers, and it’s on the climbs that a rider can gain or lose sizable chunks of time.
The plan worked very well. Ivan Basso was leading after everyone had passed through the first time check seven kilometers into the stage, but Lance stuck with his plan. He picked up the pace on the gradual climb before the halfway mark, flew down the descent, and attacked the category three climb. He knew, from talking with teammates who had ridden before him, that the final ten kilometers were tough. The heat and conditions were beating riders into submission on the run into the finish, and racers were losing lots of time between the last time check and the finish line.
By pacing himself, Lance was able to gain 35 seconds on Jan Ullrich during the first 49 kilometers, and then minimize his losses in the final six kilometers to win the stage by 23 seconds. Of course, wearing the yellow jersey gave Lance the advantage of having every rider in front of him on the road. He was receiving time splits on Jan Ullrich all the way through the course, so he knew he was doing enough to win the stage. By contrast, Ullrich was receiving time splits on a man who was about three minutes behind him on the road. This delayed information is harder to use because you quickly run out of time and road to regain lost time.
Ivan Basso, the man who clocked the fastest time at the first checkpoint, faded in the latter half of the event and finished fourth on the stage, but he rode well enough that Ullrich never really threatened his position in second overall. Basso may have started a bit too hard and paid for his effort on the climbs. He also seemed very uncomfortable with the technical descents. Time trial bikes are not nearly as stable as conventional road bikes, and the riders spend far less time on them. It takes a lot of practice and confidence to ride a time trial-specific bike as aggressively as Armstrong and Ullrich can.
Mickael Rasmussen certainly had trouble riding a time trial bike aggressively today. He crashed twice, changed bikes three times, and ended up losing 7:47 to Armstrong. He started the day in third overall, and though it was likely he would lose third overall to Ullrich, no one really expected him to have quite so disastrous a day and plummet all the way to seventh. It’s difficult to recover your composure after crashing, and the added pressure of trying to hold onto a podium position in the Tour de France made matters worse. Rasmussen lost so much time with crashes and bike changes that he may have been better off riding his conventional road bike today.
While the podium positions in Paris have been sorted out today, and barring disaster, Lance Armstrong has secured his seventh Tour de France yellow jersey, the race isn’t quite over for everyone. Alexander Vinokourov rode well today to move up from eighth to sixth overall; and he’s only two seconds behind Levi Leipheimer in fifth place. There’s an intermediate sprint about 75 kilometers into tomorrow’s stage, and another on the second lap of the Champs Elysees. I’m almost certain Vino will attack and try to win one of those sprints because there are six bonus seconds for first, four for second, and two for third. Of course, he’ll have to beat Levi to those sprint lines, and the three men still fighting for the green jersey: Thor Hushovd, Stuart O’Grady, and Robbie McEwen. The race for yellow may be pretty well sewn up, but there’s still plenty of action awaiting us during the final race of Lance’s career and the final stage of the 2005 Tour de France.
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.