Lance Armstrong’s Unmistakable Message

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The first stage of the 2005 Tour de France could not have gone any better. Lance Armstrong has always liked to use the opening time trial to send a message to his rivals, and there was no mistaking the message this year. He’s strong, possibly stronger than he’s ever been, and he’s ready to take on all challengers.

I can’t remember the last time anyone caught and passed T-Mobile’s Jan Ullrich in a time trial, and it wouldn’t surprise me if today was the first time it has happened since he turned professional. Knowing how strong Lance has been riding over the past few weeks, I was confident he would beat Ullrich in today’s time trial, but I expected the time gap to be about 30 seconds, not 66. The German looked to be struggling, and his body was rocking on his time trial bike more than normal. It’s possible his performance was hindered because of yesterday’s crash through the rear window of his team car. Though it was reported that he walked away with minor scratches, an impact like that can leave you stiff and sore for a few days.

Absolutely nothing hindered Lance or his former teammate, young Dave Zabriskie from Team CSC. Both men finished more than 50 seconds ahead of the rest of the field, and Zabriskie’s first Tour de France stage win set the record for the fastest-ever non-prologue time trial. Though Lance wanted to win the stage and take the first yellow jersey of the Tour, it works to Discovery Channel’s advantage to have Zabriskie leading the race.

The team that holds the Tour de France yellow jersey has the responsibility of defending the jersey and controlling the race. That means putting riders on the front of the peloton to set the pace, which is exhausting work. At this point in the race, the Discovery Channel’s goal is to keep Lance out of trouble and conserve as much energy as possible. With CSC defending the yellow jersey, that job’s made easier, allowing them to save their energy for the Stage 4 team time trial and the mountain stages in the second and third weeks.

Looking at today’s results and information from pre-Tour competitions, Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) appears to be Lance’s number one challenger for 2005. On the other hand, we’ve only seen 19 kilometers (12 miles) of racing so far, and there are still three more weeks to come. Ullrich, Ivan Basso (CSC), Floyd Landis (Phonak), and Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) have significant time gaps to overcome, and they will be certain to capitalize on any opportunity they see.

The wind will be the biggest challenge for the riders during tomorrow’s second stage. Riding southeast along the French coast, the riders will be buffeted by strong crosswinds, which have the potential to rip the peloton to pieces. It is difficult to draft in crosswinds because the optimal position is not directly behind the rider in front of you, but next to his hip. This leads to a line of riders spread diagonally across the road. Since the roads are narrow, you can only fit about ten to 15 riders into each of these diagonal pacelines, which are referred to as echelons.

When the peloton splits into several echelons, the fastest riders fight for position in the first one. Once the echelons form, they often drift apart as the fastest group up front leaves the slower groups behind. A Tour de France contender can lose any chance of wearing the yellow jersey by getting stuck in the wrong echelon, so expect to see some serious battles for position tomorrow.

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