Calm Before the Storm

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The Tour de France has something for everyone. There are competitions for the best sprinter, climber, young rider, and of course, overall leader. It’s the sprinters who get most of the glory in the first week, as evidenced by today’s high-speed battle on the streets of Tours. Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) took a big step toward winning his first green sprinters’ jersey with his second stage win in as many days, but tomorrow the focus will shift back to the race for the yellow jersey because Stage 4 is the all-important team time trial.

Before analyzing the next stage, today’s sprint and the green jersey competition deserve some attention. The green jersey is worn by the rider who has earned the most points in intermediate sprints and stage finishes, the latter being worth much more than the former. Over the past few years, the sprint competition has been decided by as little as one point after three weeks of racing. Defending green jersey champ Robbie McEwen’s relegation today from third place to 186th cost him a lot of sprint points, which could come back to haunt him later in the race.

Robbie lost his third place because his efforts to get by fellow Australian Stuart O’Grady impeded O’Grady’s progress to the line. Robbie was boxed in and used his head and helmet as a battering ram in order to move O’Grady to the right and open up a space to move up through. Sprinting is a rough game, and pushing and shoving with shoulders, knees, elbows, and helmets is commonplace; but when you cross the line between being competitive and being dangerous, the judges can relegate you to the back of the pack.

No one is going to be relegated to the back of the pack tomorrow, however, because instead of sprinting, the riders will contest one of the hardest events in road cycling: the team time trial.

In this event, each nine-man team rides as a complete unit, and “complete” is the key word. Riding the 42-mile course as fast as it can, the team’s final time is taken as the fifth rider crosses the finish line. Nine men working together can ride faster than any one man by himself, so the goal is to keep the entire team together in order to share the work of cutting through the wind.

To win, everyone on the team has to ride at his limit, and keeping the pace steady is crucial. In cycling, it isn’t the speed that hurts the most, but the accelerations and decelerations. The fastest teams tomorrow will be riding about 33 mph for more than an hour. The key to success is avoiding changes in speed, so riders will adjust the time they spend leading the team; stronger riders will take longer pulls and smaller riders will take shorter ones.

This is an event Lance’s team has won for the past two years, and they are extremely focused on winning it again this year. Lance and George Hincapie originally trained to be part of the team time trial squad for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics; Lance ended up only riding the road race, and George rode both the road race and team time trial. They developed an affinity for the event that persists to this day. It’s an extremely demanding race, but it’s very unifying to ride together against the clock. The squad that can ride a great team time trial is a team to be feared; they are physically strong, focused on supporting each other, and committed to winning.

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