Vinokourov Rebounds While Armstrong Conserves

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Containment and conservation were the names of the game today for Lance Armstrong, as he rode within himself and marshaled his teammates to another successful day in the Alps. True, Alexandre Vinokourov won the stage and regained 1:35 (1:15 lead plus 20 bonus seconds), but he still has quite a way to go to erase the entire 6:32 deficit he had at the beginning of Stage 11.

Vinokourov’s ride today was a reminder that one bad day isn’t necessarily a death sentence at the Tour de France. The champion of Kazakhstan was shelled out of the lead group early on yesterday’s final climb to Courchevel, and reached the finish line 5:18 behind Armstrong and stage winner Alejandro Valverde. Yet, given an evening and morning to recuperate, Vino exploded out of the gate, led over two of the biggest climbs in the Tour de France, and won the stage.

While it was a great performance and he gained time over Armstrong and other rivals, Vinokourov used a huge amount of energy today. Yesterday, Armstrong took 5:18 from him over about 12 kilometers, and today it took 140 kilometers off the front of the peloton to gain less than a quarter of that time back.

There is a lot of racing left in the Tour de France, and though tomorrow’s stage does not feature any monstrous climbs, it won’t be an easy day. The final 40 kilometers feature a 12-kilometer climb that’s not much steeper than the Col de la Schlucht climb that Andreas Kloden and Vinokourov attacked on last Saturday. With just 31 kilometers to ride from the summit of the Col du Corobin, a well-timed and well-manned breakaway group could attack and stay ahead to the finish. It’s a finish that seems to suit Vinokourov’s talents very well, but after his performance today, we’ll have to see if he has the legs to unleash an explosive attack at the end of tomorrow’s stage.

For the Discovery Channel team, today was a tough day, but it wasn’t as hard as it could have been. With Vinokourov well off the front, there wasn’t much risk that any of the other contenders would attack or even drive the pace on the Col du Galibier. This enabled the Discovery boys to ride a steady pace and divide the work of matching Vinokourov’s pace among eight men. The work wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it would have been harder if they had been forced to match repeated accelerations throughout the day’s two climbs.

Once the work of climbing was over, they had to keep the throttle open to close the gap to Vinokourov and Santiago Botero. It is often harder to chase down a breakaway on a mountain descent because there is not much difference between the maximum speeds achieved by the men off the front and the chasers. This is especially true through the steep and twisting top section of the descent. Once the roads straighten out toward the base of the climb, the breakaway’s advantage usually starts to fall, as it did today.

The Discovery Channel team worked hard to reduce Vinokourov’s advantage from about three minutes at the summit of the Galibier to just 1:15 at the finish line, but since they knew he wouldn’t be caught unless he crashed, they didn’t kill themselves. Just as you have to consider the energy cost of going off the front in terms of the time you gain, you have to judge how hard to chase based on how much time you can get back. Racing at their absolute limit, the Discovery Channel may have been able to catch Vino on the Galibier or finish closer to him in Briancon, but it would have cost them energy they’d rather keep in reserve for later stages.

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