Exciting Finish Enlivens Transitional Stage

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Chris Horner is making the most of his first appearance in the Tour de France. Some riders use their first Tour experience as a learning process because they are young and hoping to develop into yellow jersey contenders. At 33 years old, Horner’s arrival at the Tour came a little late in his career, but he has valuable experience that the younger men lack. He used his experience well today as he made a series of good choices and came within 400 meters of winning the stage.

Horner was part of the day’s obligatory long breakaway. Since today was a transitional stage between the Alps and the Pyrenees, the yellow jersey contenders had no interest in racing hard. A large part of the peloton probably had no interest in riding hard either, because there are a lot of tired riders in the field. While these circumstances favored the breakaway’s success, they were doomed by the sprinters’ desire for the stage win and valuable green jersey points.

With Davitamon-Lotto driving the pace in the front of the field, the gap fell from nine minutes to just about one minute with 30 kilometers to go. In truth, that meant the chasers closed down the gap too quickly. Catching the breakaway with 25 to 30 kilometers left in the stage is not the best idea because it provides an opportunity for another group of riders to attack and establish a new breakaway group. The sprinters would rather catch the breakaway within the final five kilometers of the race because the high speed and tight city roads make it difficult for new breakaway groups to form at that point.

Just like a cat toying with a doomed mouse, the peloton slowed down a fraction and let the breakaway sit just in front of them for about ten kilometers. Up until about five kilometers to go, the race unfolded in a very predictable fashion. Yet, the final five kilometers are never totally predictable. Sylvain Chavanel bridged the gap from the peloton to the breakaway group, and then rode right by. His hope was that when the peloton reached the remains of the breakaway, there would be a moment of hesitation and he would be able to hold on to the finish line.

Chris Horner was the only rider from the breakaway who had the power left to follow Chavanel, and the two rode off on a do-or-die ride to the finish. With sprinters like Robbie McEwen, Thor Hushovd, and Stuart O’Grady nipping at their heels, the only way they could win the stage was to reach the final kilometer with an eight- to ten-second lead.

Though they did actually reach the last 1,000 meters of the race with an eight-second lead, it looked like they hesitated for just a moment after coming into the final straightaway. They looked at each other to see who was going to open the sprint first, and their moment of tactical jockeying may have cost them both the chance at victory. Had they both stayed on the gas all the way from the last corner to the finish line, they might have held off the charging field. We’ll never really know.

In the end, Freddy Rodriguez gave his teammate, McEwen, a perfect lead out for the stage win, and held on to finish third himself. Freddy’s third place finish helps McEwen in his fight for the green jersey because Freddy displaced points that would have gone to Hushovd, who finished fourth. As a result, McEwen is 22 points behind Hushovd, in third place in the points competition. That’s still a big deficit to close, but as we’ve seen in the Tour, giving up is the only wrong move you can make.

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