– By Chris Carmichael –
No one rolls to the start line of the Tour de France saying, “I’m just here to get in some good training.” They do that in smaller stage races like the Tour de Suisse or Dauphine Libere. To have a good Tour, you need to arrive at the start in peak form, even if you’re never going to be in contention to win. But the cycling season is very long these days, and there are important races all the way into October, so it’s important to realize how riding the Tour factors into a cyclist’s goals for the rest of the season.
For the men who stood on the podium on the Champs Elysees this year, the next several weeks are going to be somewhat quiet. They may participate in a few post-Tour criteriums because they’re very lucrative, but you’re not likely to see them in the Classica San Sebastian next week, the Tour of Germany next month, or the Tour of Spain in September. They’ve earned, and need, some time to physically and mentally recuperate after the stress of the past three weeks.
These days, it’s even rare to see a man who stood on the podium in Paris race well, or even race at all, at the World Championships. After recovering from the Tour de France, it’s very difficult for these athletes to find the motivation to return to top form by October. If there’s a case to be made for moving World’s to August, it would be that riders from the Tour de France and riders preparing for the Tour of Spain could be competitive at World Championships in August, even against riders who don’t race either three-week race.
A lot of the riders who finished in the middle of the General Classification at the Tour de France will take a little bit of time away from racing, but return relatively quickly. Christian Vande Velde, for instance, wrote in a recent journal entry that he’s looking forward to a short vacation in Wisconsin before going back to Europe for the Classica San Sebastian. With adequate post-Tour recovery, riders can have some great performances in August and September. Riding 2,200 miles at an average speed of about 24-25 mph gives a rider tremendously deep aerobic fitness, and that can be a big advantage in one-day races and short stage races in the coming months.
One of the most important aspects of Lance Armstrong’s training throughout the seven years he dominated the Tour de France was that we looked at each Tour as part of the preparation for the next. In truth, we started with a three-year plan that started with the 1999 Tour, but it soon became clear that he had both the power and the desire to continue winning past 2001. To make sure each Tour de France enhanced Lance’s chances of winning the following year, he didn’t focus on trying to win races after July (the exception being 2000, where he trained for the Sydney Olympics). Instead, he took an extended recovery period and then returned to training. As a result, his winter performance tests got consistently better as the years went on.
The only real hiccup in Lance’s use of one Tour as preparation for the next occurred between the 2002 and 2003 races. Distractions outside of cycling hurt his preparation and he went into the 2003 Tour with a lower level of fitness than he had in 2002. And it showed. He struggled in 2003 and came very close to losing the race. Among other things, that Tour de France showed us all how important the race itself is as a training tool. If you let the benefits gained during the race slip away in the months afterwards, it’s very difficult to return to the form necessary to win it again the next year.
And therein lies the lesson for the young riders who stood on the podium on the Champs Elysees today. While there’s no shame in choosing to pursue other goals in cycling besides the Tour de France, riders who want to have a series of successful years at the world’s biggest cycling event need to remember that the Tour de France is not just a race; it’s also the first step in the long process of preparing for next year’s event.
I’d like to thank Richard Pestes and everyone at PezCycling News for the opportunity to contribute to their excellent coverage of the 2007 Tour de France. And thank you to all the readers for your great feedback. I hope you enjoyed the Tour de France this year and will continue to support cycling and the next generation of champions.
• Chris Carmichael coached Lance Armstrong throughout his 15-year cycling career. For more information on Carmichael Training Systems’ 9+3 Coaching Offer, the Do the Tour…Stay at Home_ audio workouts with Lance Armstrong, and our free Tour de France Newsletter, visit TrainRight.com.