– By Chris Carmichael –
After three brutal stages in the high Alps, today was almost certainly going to be won by a successful breakaway. The main peloton is tired, and rightly so. A breakaway up the road early meant a relatively calm day back in the pack, as there were no major opportunities for the yellow jersey contenders to go on the offensive.
For men like Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans, Bernhard Kohl and Christian Vande Velde, the goal for today was to do as little work as possible. Even though the peloton was cruising along at an average speed of more than 26mph, it is possible to recuperate and get some measure of recovery on a day like today.
The most obvious way to minimize your workload is to stay in the draft. While you have to stay attentive and near the front of the peloton to minimize your risk of getting caught in a crash or falling victim to a surprise attack, there was really no reason for the yellow jersey contenders to put their noses into the wind today. Riding behind a few riders can reduce your power output by about 38-40%, and riding in the belly of the peloton surrounded by riders can reduce power output by nearly 50%.
Interestingly, riding near the front of the peloton is not only a way to reduce your risk of crashing, but it’s also a way to save energy. There are a lot more accelerations and decelerations at the back of the field, and this adds up to a higher number of kilojoules (the measure of work performed) for the stage. In the first third of the field, the pace is steadier so the riders can maintain a more even power output and consistent workload.
Small things also add up when you’re trying to conserve energy, like maintaining your momentum. When the roads undulate over small rolling hills, some riders will purposely back off the wheel ahead of them as they go downhill so they can hold their momentum through the trough and partway up the next roller. In contrast, the hard way to handle rolling hills is to cram yourself right onto the wheel in front of you, decelerate as riders ahead of you slow on the small rise, and then dig in for a few pedal strokes to get back up to speed.
As always, nutrition is also a key to recuperating the day after big mountain stages. Even though the workloads for the yellow jersey contenders were relatively low today, it was important for them to eat frequently. Riders always consume fewer calories than they expend during their hours on the bike, but today was a good day to eat and drink a little more than normal in order to give the body some additional fuel for recovery.
The podium contenders will continue conserving as much energy as possible during tomorrow’s stage as well. With the final 53-kilometer individual time trial coming up on Saturday, and everything from the yellow jersey, the white jersey, and positions on the podium in Paris still up for grabs, the riders’ efforts today and tomorrow will play a big role in the final outcome of the 2008 Tour de France.
• Chris Carmichael coached Lance Armstrong throughout his 15-year cycling career. This year he’s providing commentary on the race for PezCycling News and offering a special Coaching + 12-month PowerTap Payment Plan promotion during July. For more information on Carmichael Training Systems’ coaching, the free Do the Tour…Stay at Home training program, and the free CTS Tour de France Newsletter,