– By Chris Carmichael –
You have to be a little crazy to break away from the peloton more than 140 kilometers from the finish line on a day when the course includes two of the most fabled climbs in Tour history. But one of the four riders in today’s breakaway – Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt – proved in 2006 that being a little bit crazy can sometimes pay off. That year, he and Oscar Pereiro were out front for more than 200 kilometers on Stage 13, an effort that netted Voigt a stage win and put Pereiro into the yellow jersey.
Long range breaks often seem crazy, but once in a while the pay off is huge.
Keep it steady
Getting into the breakaway is not easy, but once you’re there and the group has a lead that is growing, it’s important for everyone to keep the pace as steady as possible. Fluctuations in speed make riders work harder and fatigue faster. All breakaway groups slow down as the race gets longer, and collectively having more energy left in the group can be the difference between staying away and getting caught in the final 10 kilometers of the race.
With two major mountains to climb today, a steady pace on the ascents was crucial to maintaining and building on the breakaway’s lead over the peloton and a nine-man chase group that formed between the pack and the breakaway.
Do your work
Although it’s tempting to skip pulls – either on the climbs or in the valley between them – to conserve energy, it’s a bad idea when there’s still a lot of ground to cover before you get to the finish line. When riders see that someone is just sitting in the draft and not pulling his weight, they are more likely to attack well before the finish, just to get rid of him. Once a rider is off the back, he won’t catch back up, no matter how much energy he had been conserving by skipping pulls. The moral of the story is that it’s worth the effort to do your share of the work, because first you have to make it to the final 20 kilometers of the stage before you can use any saved energy to make a bid for the win.
Eat and drink
It takes more energy to ride 140 kilometers in a small group than it does to ride the same distance in the peloton (even considering the climbs), so it’s important for riders to eat and drink more than normal. Where they might eat 45-60 grams of carbohydrate (a gel and bottle of sports drink) in an hour normally, they will often increase this to 70-80 grams by increasing the frequency of their eating. Some young riders get excited when they get into the big breakaway of the day and forget to eat and drink enough, which is why experienced riders often have an advantage at the end of long breakaways.
Reduce the size of the group
The easiest way to increase your chances of winning is to reduce the number of riders in contention for victory. Today’s breakaway started with four men, but by the final 70 kilometers it was down to just two. Despite sharing the work of pushing through the wind, the difficulty of the Col d’Tourmalet split the group apart. In all honesty, Pellizotti and Fredrigo may have wanted to keep the 4-man group together over the summit of the Tourmalet, just because 70 kilometers is a long way to go with just two riders. But waiting for their dropped companions wasn’t an option, so the two men just put their heads down and went forward as fast as they could.
As the race wore on, Pellizotti started doing a larger share of the work, which may have cost him the stage win in the end. As a rider it’s a difficult judgment to make, however, because even if you end up doing more work than your breakaway partner, your chances of winning the stage are still greater than if you get caught by either a chase group or the whole peloton.
Once they got closer to the finish and the stage win seemed likely, Fredrigo was fortunate that the breakaway was only him and Pellizotti because he only had to worry about outmaneuvering and overpowering one rider instead of three. And when there are only two men in the group, you can often wait longer to start launching attacks, or cooperate all the way into the final kilometer, instead of having to play around with the attack-counterattack game for the final 10 kilometers of the race. That worked to the breakaway’s advantage today because, while the peloton wasn’t breathing down their necks in the final kilometer, they didn’t have a lot of time to play games either.
Coming into the final 500 meters, Pellizotti surged into the lead in order to reach the final corner first. The distance from that corner to the finish line was short, only about 200 meters, so he was betting that being the first one out of the final corner would give him th jump he needed to win the stage. Turns out, there was a strong headwind blowing down that finishing straight and Fredrigo benefited from being able to accelerate in Pellizotti’s draft and come around him for the win.
• Chris Carmichael has been Lance Armstrong’s coach for 20 years and is the founder of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). For more information on CTS’ Create Your Own Comeback program, the free Do the Tour…Stay at Home™ training program, and the free CTS Tour de France Newsletter, visit www.trainright.com. You can also follow Chris on Twitter.