The Hour of Power
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Time trials are never easy, and they only get worse as they get longer. At 55 kilometers, winning tomorrow’s Stage 19 individual time trial will require about 61-65 minutes of intense effort. At the other end of the spectrum, some very exhausted riders may be at risk of missing the time cut and being eliminated from the Tour de France just 24 hours before the finish in Paris.
Establishing a good pace is very difficult in long time trials. If you ride the first ten kilometers as fast as possible, there’s a good chance you’ll fatigue in the final twenty kilometers and lose a lot of time. Everyone slows down in the final ten kilometers of a long time trial, and the winner of the event is often the rider who slows the least.
Starting last, Lance Armstrong will have the benefit of hearing time splits on Jan Ullrich and his teammate Jose Azevedo. As they did during the Stage 16 climbing time trial, the U.S. Postal Service team will have Azevedo ride all-out tomorrow to provide information for his team leader. Floyd Landis was told to hold back in the Stage 16 time trial so he could be fresh to help Armstrong the following day, which he did very well. Tomorrow, Landis may be another rider told to go all out to provide information for Armstrong.
With a four-minute lead over second place and an eight-minute lead over Ullrich, Armstrong doesn’t need to win tomorrow but he’ll try to anyway. Armstrong believes the man wearing the yellow jersey should give his best effort to win the final individual time trial as a matter of honor. Back in 2002, Armstrong went into the final time trial 5:06 ahead of second place and still rode hard to win the stage by nearly a minute. The situations were similar in 1999, 2000, and 2001 as well. With the exception of 2003, Lance’s overall lead was secure going into the final time trial, but he gave a complete effort out of respect for the yellow jersey and his undying desire to win whenever possible.
Lance Armstrong is likely to win Stage 19, but he’s going to be pushed by the pace being set by Jan Ullrich. If Ullrich can ride 4.5 seconds per kilometer faster than Ivan Basso, he can overtake the Italian in the overall classification. Doing so would almost certainly move him ahead of T-Mobile teammate Andrée;as Klöden as well, and Ullrich would finish second in the Tour de France for the sixth time in his seven total starts. The only other place he’s ever finished at the Tour is first, in 1997.
Though it is going to be difficult, I believe Ullrich will ride fast enough tomorrow to finish second on the stage and second overall in the 2004 Tour de France. He’s incredibly powerful and he’s capable of flattening the two men in front of him on the leader board like a steamroller.