Discovery Orchestrates Some Relief, for Now
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The yellow jersey is a hard garment to let go of, but sometimes it is best to let someone else carry it for a while. Lance Armstrong handed the yellow jersey to Jens Voigt (CSC) this afternoon after the German spent most of the day riding a few minutes behind the stage-winning breakaway rider, Mickael Michael Rasmussen, and a few minutes ahead of the Discovery Channel-controlled peloton. As a result, Lance will start Tuesday’s stage in his Discovery Channel uniform, and without all the pressure and responsibility of defending the yellow jersey.
Jens Voigt is not a threat to ride into Paris wearing the yellow jersey. He is a great rider who has won all types of races, but he’s not CSC’s strongest rider for the high mountains passes in of the Alps and Pyrenees. The CSC team is riding in support of Ivan Basso’s chances of repeating his podium performance from 2004, and his hopes of challenging Armstrong in the mountains. Voigt will wear yellowit with pride, but the yellow jersey is merely being loaned to him.
Lance Armstrong could take the jersey back as early as Tuesday, as he would rather have it than let it fall into the hands of either Jan Ullrich or Alexandere Vinokourov. Stage 10 is a summit finish atop Courchevel, and you can’t play games with summit finishes. Today, it was relatively easy to gauge the effort necessary to keep Voigt from gaining too much time, while ensuring he gained enough to take the jersey. The Discovery Channel had more than 60 kilometers to adjust their tempo and monitor the time gaps.
Summit finishes are risky because you quickly run out of room to fix mistakes or take advantage of opportunities. On a summit finish, a rider can gain or lose two to five minutes over the course of ten10 kilometers, and sometimes fewer. On the Alp d’Huez climb in 2001, Armstrong attacked Ullrich and gained two minutes in five kilometers. He had to hold that speed for another five kilometers to make to the finish line, but he made it and went on to capture his third yellow Tour de Francejersey. He accomplished similar results on the climbs to Sestriere (1999), Hautacam (2000), and Luz Ardiden (2003).
Lance is aware that the same tactics and power that have served him so well can also be his undoing. He is not the only one who knows how to attack on steep mountain roads, and he and his teammates have to be attentive to every one his rivals. Alexander Vinoukourov can accelerate like he’s getting shot out of cannon, and has used that power to win several mountain-top finishes, including the Mont Ventoux stage of the Dauphine Libere in June. Other men to watch will include Jan Ullrich, Basso, Andreas Kloden, Alejandro Valverde, Ivan Basso, Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis, Roberto Heras, and even Iban Mayo.
While it might be nice to have someone else in the yellow jersey until the race gets to the Pyrenees, Armstrong may have to race for the jersey on Tuesday rather than accept the risk that it might fall into the hands of one of his biggest rivals. Lance and his team know how to defend the yellow jersey, and faced with the decision of having to defend it or take it off a rival’s back, they may decide it’s better to defend. As is often said, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
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.