Caution: Slippery When Wet

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There are no rain delays in bike racing. This isn’t baseball, golf, or NASCAR. In cycling, you have to be prepared to race in all kinds of weather conditions, and accept all of the associated risks. You also have to be willing to take certain risks, like the ones Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) took today, if you want to win.

Vinokourov didn’t actually win today, that achievement went to a young professional named Lorenzo Bernucci (Fassa Bortolo). But Vino, as he’s known in the peloton, risked crashing on the wet and slippery run-in to the finish line in Nancy because he was looking for any opportunity to close the 1:21 gap between himself and Lance Armstrong in the overall race. And because of his second place finish today, which comes with a 12-second time bonus, and his seven-second gap to the main field, Vino regained 19 seconds he had previously lost to Armstrong.

Lorenzo Bernucci isn’t a man Lance Armstrong is worried about, but Vinokourov is. The rider from Kazakhstan finished third in the 2003 Tour de France, missed the 2004 race due to injury, and is back this year as strong as he’s ever been. What’s more, Vino is an unpredictable rider who owes many of his victories to last-second attacks.

Vinokourov wasn’t looking to move into the yellow jersey today, but he’s thinking days and weeks into the future. Seconds count at the Tour de France, and you never know if the 19 seconds Vino gained today could make a big difference in the race for the yellow jersey or a podium position in Paris. Keep in mind, Vino is not only racing against Lance. Sitting in third place, he is now 19 seconds further ahead than all of the other yellow jersey challengers.

Lance, too, is thinking days and weeks into the future. He didn’t willingly lose time to Vinokourov today, but he also wasn’t willing to risk crashing out of the Tour to save 20 seconds. A smart champion has to choose his battles, and his battlegrounds, carefully. The final two kilometers of a rainy stage are dangerous, and it was smarter to be conservative while crossing slippery crosswalks at 30 mph in a pack led by sprinters.

Lance will choose the time and place to attack, and he’s likely to take back the 19 seconds Vino gained today, plus many more, when he does. For his part, Vino will continue looking for opportunities to attack and move closer to the yellow jersey. He’s here to win, just as Lance is, and they’re both committed to giving every ounce of power and tactical savvy to emerge victorious.

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