Armstrong Leaves Mountains with Great Legs

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The day after a rest day is always unpredictable, but for Lance Armstrong it was unpredictably good. He felt really good all day today, saying after the stage that it was one of those days when it feels like there’s no chain on the bike.

Every rider looks forward to days when pushing on the pedals feels effortless,, when you can push as hard as you like without feeling the sting of fatigue. Those days are so powerful, yet rare, that they’re a big part of what keeps us climbing onto our bikes year after year— Lance having such a good sensation on the bike more than two weeks into the Tour de France is a very good sign.

Lance’s comments after today’s stage, and his performance during the race, show that he has adapted to the stress of the first two weeks of racing and is getting stronger as the Tour progresses. This is what I expect to see in the third week of the Tour, and it’s a trait that separates Grand Tour contenders from other riders.

Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Ivan Basso (CSC) are also riders who have shown the ability to improve in the last week of a Grand Tour. Ullrich’s performances today and in the two mountain stages last weekend were better than we saw in the Alps, and that indicates he’ll be strong in the final time trial coming up this Saturday. Basso couldn’t stay with the lead group on the stage to Courchevel in the Alps, but during Stage 15 he rode up the final mountain so fast that Armstrong told me he was glad he already had time in hand and didn’t have to attack him. He said Basso may have been able to get away from him and gain a little bit of time, but it would have required a huge effort.

Any rider who is currently in the top ten in the General Classification fits into the group that gets stronger in the third week of a big stage race. Now, they have to find places to use that strength to move up and possibly get onto the podium.

Cadel Evans used his third-week strength, and heart-felt emotion over the death of fellow-Australian cyclist Amy Gillett, who died in a training accident in Germany on Monday, to fuel an effort that moved him from 11th to seventh on the leader board. About three minutes span the difference between ninth place and fifth place after today’s stage, and a couple of riders are only separated by a handful of seconds.

The competition for podium positions is still hot, and so is the competition for positions in the lower half of the top ten. What’s more, riders are pursuing positions within the top ten this year more aggressively, it seems, than in previous Tours. That’s good news for the Discovery Channel team because it means other teams will be motivated to chase breakaways and set the tempo on the front of the field. As a result, Discovery may have a slightly easier ride over the next few stages, which increases the likelihood that Armstrong will have the great legs he had today for the final individual time trial of his career this Saturday.

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