Armstrong Weathers First Significant Attacks

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Over the past six years, one of Lance Armstrong’s greatest assets has been the collective strength of his team. About half way up the first substantial climb of the 2005 Tour de France, the Discovery Channel team struggled to support their leader, leaving him isolated to fight off the attacks from rival teams all by himself. Lance handled the challenge today, and with many more mountains left to climb, his teammates will regroup tonight and hope for a better day tomorrow.

Teammates are critical for winning the Tour de France. Not only do they keep their leader out of the wind and out of trouble, they are also depended upon to power through the team time trial and provide protection in the mountains. By protection, I mean that a team leader like Lance Armstrong depends on his teammates to stay near him on the mountain passes so they can set the pace, chase down attacks from rival teams, and even give up their bikes or wheels if Lance has a mechanical problem.

Today, Lance found himself in a situation all team leaders try to avoid. He was in a relatively large group of rivals without any of his own teammates present for support. When T-Mobile riders Alexander Vinokourov launched an attack, Lance had to immediately accelerate onto his wheel to neutralize it. That opened the door to more attacks, and Lance had to decide, in a split second, whether to respond or hold back.

You have to choose your big efforts carefully, because you can only commit to a handful in any one race. We often refer to initiating or responding to attacks as “burning matches.”. You only start the race with a handful of matches, and once you burn them, you have nothing left. Lance knows that Vinokourov and his teammate T-Mobile teammate Jan Ullrich are the two most dangerous riders to watch right now, so he wisely chose not to chase Christophe Moreau, Alejandro Valverde, or Andrée;as Klöden Andreas Kloden when they launched separate attacks.

In the end, Lance responded to the attacks he needed to and crossed the finish line with the same finishing time as the rest of his main rivals. Yet, even though nothing much was lost today, the team has to determine what went wrong today and look for ways to improve for tomorrow.

Lance is strong, and the team is strong, but they had a bad day today. Bad days happen at the Tour de France, and as long as this is one bad day that doesn’t spread to two or more, Lance should be fine.