More than Meets the Eye

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There are a few common aspects to the Tour de France every year. You know the race is going to be reasonably flat for the first week to ten days, that you’ll go through the Alps and Pyrenees, and then you’ll ride toward Paris after that. The region the Tour goes through after the second mountain is one of the variables that can make the Tour de France harder or easier, and in 2005, the final route to Paris is difficult.

Following a clockwise route around France, the Tour passed through the Alps first and then the Pyrenees. After the Pyrenees, there are two primary route choices. You can go north along the coast and then head east toward Paris, or you can head east first and then turn north through the Massif Central region. The Tour organizers chose the latter option this year, and that meant more climbs and more undulating roads in the final week.

Stages that constantly undulate are much more difficult than the race profile suggests. While the big mountains offer dramatic and intimidating sawtooth profiles, days like Stages 17 and 18 look easy in comparison. The trouble with a day full of rolling hills is that there is no place to settle into a good rhythm. You’re constantly accelerating and decelerating, which leads to big fluctuations in power output and also adds complexity to riding in the peloton.

With about 150 riders in the peloton (typically there’s a group out front in a breakaway), there’s an accordion effect while going up and down rolling hills. The front of the group reaches the bottom of a rise and begins to slow down as they ride uphill. The back of the pack is still coming down the hill and is picking up extra speed because of the draft. The back squeezes in on the front and riders in the middle and rear of the field have to coast or hit the brakes.

As the front of the group reaches the top of the rise, they start to speed up while the middle and back of the pack are still climbing. This forces the riders in the back to accelerate hard to prevent a split in the field. Since they already slowed down and now have to accelerate, the power output for these efforts can get pretty high. Even though the efforts might only last 30 seconds, frequent changes in power output lead to fatigue more quickly than maintaining a high but steady power output. The best way to avoid this fatigue is to stay near the front and minimize the need for hard accelerations on rolling hills.

On Stage 18, saving energy was particularly important because there was a steep climb right at the end of the stage. Men in the top ten overall were salivating over that climb because it was so steep they reasoned they could launch powerful attacks and try to catch their rivals flatfooted. When the attacks came from the yellow jersey group, it was Mickael Rasmussen who found himself in the most trouble. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) has been searching for ways to make up time on Rasmussen in order to overtake the Dane for the third position on the podium in Paris. Today, he moved 37 seconds closer to Rasmussen, and now sits 2:12 behind in fourth overall. Ullrich, who is one of the best individual time trialists in the world, stands a reasonably good chance of overtaking Rasmussen for third place during Saturday’s final time trial.

The slightly surprising member of the final Armstrong group was Cadel Evans, who has had a magnificent few days this week. As a result of making the selection, Evans moved up one place to seventh overall. At the front of the group, Ivan Basso (CSC) tried to move closer to the yellow jersey by leaving Lance Armstrong behind on the final climb, but Armstrong was able to match him pedal stroke for pedal stroke. With just one more road stage before Saturday’s individual time trial, Armstrong is feeling great and looking forward to going for his first stage win of his last Tour de France.

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 Carmichael is Lance Armstrong’s personal coach and Founder of Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS). His latest book,”Chris Carmichael’s Fitness Cookbook”, is available now and you can register for a chance to Win a Ride with the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team at © Copyright 2005, Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.