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Tour Coach: Managing Those Precious Matches
Insight St.8: Today we saw examples of how you should and should not use your limited energy in a bike race. On the positive side, yellow jersey Rinaldo Nocentini held the Tour lead even though he was dropped on the day’s final climb. On the other side of the energy spectrum, pre-Tour favorite Cadel Evans launched an attack on the first mountain climb of the day…


By Chris Carmichael

Evans’ attack was so far out from the finish that there was no way the rest of the peloton was going to let him succeed. Energy is currency at the Tour de France, and today Nocentini managed his cash well and was rewarded in the end, while Evans flushed a wad of cash down the toilet.

I would like to give Cadel Evans credit for going on the offensive instead of just sitting in the pack and hoping to capitalize on the misfortune of others, but there’s a difference between riding aggressively and lashing out in frustration. Evans has finished second in the Tour de France the past two years, and despite being three minutes behind right now, there’s not a single yellow jersey favorite in the race who doubts he’s still a contender for the leader’s jersey. At the time he attacked today, every team with a yellow jersey contender was represented at the front of the peloton, and there was no doubt they’d chase him down. Evans is a great rider, but he doesn’t have the dominating strength to ride away from the entire peloton and stay out in front for more than 150 kilometers.


Cadel Evans attack was impressive, but at the very least, questionable.

Evans’ attack today was a waste of energy. Not only was he caught, but the gap he opened up never got very big and the chase didn’t put any of his rivals into any difficulty. If you’re going to burn energy attacking your rivals, at least impress them with your speed or your strategy. Even if an attack doesn’t work – and remember that most attacks don’t work – your efforts should make your rivals consider you to be more of a threat instead of less of one.

In comparison to Evans’ attack, take a look at Andy Schleck’s acceleration on the Col d’Agnes later in the stage. His attack didn’t drop any of the yellow jersey contenders and you could similarly say it was a waste of energy, but it was a sharp acceleration that showed he was strong, he made his rivals dig a bit to stay with him, and forced a selection that reduced the size of the group considerably. His move signaled that he’s strong and a possible threat to attack on any steep climb coming up in the 2009 Tour de France, but it wasn’t a very long effort and didn’t burn too much energy.

Rinaldo Nocentini was one of the riders who couldn’t keep up with yellow jersey contenders when Andy Schleck accelerated, but he made wise choices and managed to salvage his yellow jersey. Instead of digging deep and riding well above a level that was sustainable for him, Nocentini settled into the fastest rhythm he could maintain on the climb. He had help from his teammates setting pace on the front of the group and he displayed a combination of patience and resilience.


Rinaldo Nocentini: a model of intelligent riding.

After Andy Schleck’s acceleration was neutralized and it became clear that the breakaway would reach the summit of the Col d’Agnes with a lead significant enough to secure the stage win, the riders in the group containing the yellow jersey contenders backed off the throttle. Behind them, Nocentini continued climbing at the level he knew he could maintain, and his pace was fast enough that he – along with a large group of riders – rejoined the contenders’ group before the summit. With about 44 kilometers of descending and flat roads to the finish, he had done enough to protect his six-second lead over Alberto Contador and his eight-second lead over Lance Armstrong.

It takes experience and a good sense of your own abilities and limitations to be able to properly manage your energy in a situation like the one Nocentini found himself in. A younger, less experienced rider would have been more likely to dig deep and try to stay with the Schleck group. But when you go too far into the red zone trying to ride significantly beyond your capabilities, you eventually crack and lose massive chunks of time. By riding within himself and letting the Schleck group accelerate away from him, he kept the time gap small enough that he could get back into the group before the summit.


Evans’ move was aggressive, but he probably would have been better off riding easy in the field.

Today I applaud the efforts of Rinaldo Nocentini, and I at least respect the motivation behind Cadel Evans’ effort. He may have wasted some energy with a poorly-timed and ineffective attack, but he’s thinking along the right lines. He has to go on the offensive, and he even has to try unconventional and daring tactics in order to recoup the three-minute deficit he currently has to Contador and Armstrong. He can’t sit back and wait for one mountain-top finish or hope to take three minutes out of his rivals in the one remaining individual time trial. But he also can’t afford to make choices like he made today.

***
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.


 

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