Bad Luck Reduces Discovery to Eight Men

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The Discovery Team was dealt a bit of bad luck early in Stage 12 when Manuel “Triki” Beltran crashed and was later forced to abandon the race. It is the first time since 2001 that the team has lost a single rider to abandonment, and while they are strong enough to defend Lance’s yellow jersey with eight men, they will miss their friend and teammate in the next ten days.

One of the strongest men in the mountains, Beltran will be missed during the two major stages in the Pyrenees this weekend. The team will have to divide the work of pacing Lance among seven riders instead of eight, which makes everyone’s job a little harder, but not by that much. Losing more riders to crashes would make the job a lot more difficult.

Beltran’s crash illustrates how quickly the Tour de France can change, even if your team leader is in great shape. Lance’s six Tour de France victories were secured because he and team director Johan Bruyneel put together the strongest and most dedicated teams over the past six years. The team that arrived to start the 2005 Tour may have been the strongest of Lance’s Tour squads to date. At this point in the race, the men you really don’t want to lose are Jose Azevedo, Yaroslav Popovych, Paolo Salvodelli, and George Hincapie. These men, in addition to Jose Luis Rubiera, will be essential for defending the yellow jersey through the summit finishes on Stages 14 and 15.

Though it’s unfortunate that the team lost Beltran today, the good news is that he doesn’t appear to be seriously injured. According to Bruyneel, Beltran hit his head pretty hard when he crashed about 60 kilometers into Stage 12. He was wearing a helmet, but he blacked out briefly, and tried to return to the race after he regained consciousness. The race doctor took a look at him and determined that, in light of his head injury, it was not safe for him to continue racing. It’s hard enough to race in the pack and careen down mountainsides with a clear head, so it’s understandable that officials didn’t want Beltran competing after taking a hard hit to the head.

Today wasn’t a terribly difficult day for the peloton, even though it could have been. You have to remember, the course isn’t really what makes the race difficult, but rather, it’s the way the riders race over the course that makes it so hard. In the first week, the pace was extremely high, so even stages that looked easy on paper were very tiring. Today, a good breakaway went up the road and the peloton was content to let them have their day.

Tomorrow is likely to be much of the same, except that the sprinters have a good chance of making it to the finish line with the main peloton, so they may send their teams to the front to keep the race together, or chase down a long breakaway before the finish. With Tom Boonen out of the race because of injuries, the green jersey points competition is heating up again, and tomorrow will be a good chance for Thor Hushovd, Stuart O’Grady, and even Robbie McEwen to acquire a lot of points.

With the sprinters’ teams motivated to keep the peloton together, they may take some of the load off the Discovery Channel by coming to the front and helping to set the pace. It would be a welcome break for Lance’s teammates, especially considering the nasty climbs awaiting them in the Pyrenees on Saturday and Sunday.

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