– By Chris Carmichael –
The riders in the top ten positions in the overall standings are not necessarily united in their sole pursuit of the yellow jersey. They also have to adjust their tactics in consideration of each other.
Take the action between Lance Armstrong and Bradley Wiggins today. Both men would have preferred to be in the yellow jersey group ahead of them, but once they found themselves chasing the group of Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, and Andreas Kloden, their strategies shifted.
Since Armstrong, Kloden, and Contador are all Astana riders, Lance wasn’t going to help Wiggins chase. It’s in the team’s best interest for the Garmin rider to lose time on Contador and Kloden. That put Armstrong into an interesting tactical position, one with pros and cons. On the positive side, Lance just had to match Wiggins’ pace – or the pace set by Christian Vande Velde when he was in the group to help his team leader. On the negative side, it meant that even if Lance could have gone faster, he needed to stay put in order to fulfill his responsibilities for the team.
I know some people want to see Lance put the team’s ambitions aside and ride solely for himself, but he has a ton of respect for his teammates, and after more than 15 years as professional cyclist he understands exactly how important it is – for everyone’s sake – to be the consummate teammate.
Lance had to wait to launch a move in support of his own ambitions in the 2009 Tour de France until the racing situation evolved to the point where his actions would not jeopardize the chances that Contador would retain the yellow jersey and Kloden would move up in the overall standings. Once Contador launched an attack about two kilometers from the summit of the Colombiere – which, in retrospect, may not have been a great decision because it only served to dispatch Kloden from the lead group – it made sense for Armstrong to launch an attack and get away from Bradley Wiggins.
What was unknown at the time was how much ground Kloden would lose before he reached the summit of the Colombiere, and also how much time he might lose on the way down the descent to the finish. The worst-case scenario would have been that Wiggins caught up to Kloden, and Armstrong, Wiggins, and Kloden came to the finish line together. I guess there would be one even-worse-case scenario, that Wiggins dropped Armstrong, went past Kloden, and put time into both of them before the finish.
Since Wiggins and his Garmin teammates had been setting the fastest tempo they could maintain on the Colombiere, the British rider had burned a tremendous amount of energy by the time Armstrong attacked. He was not able to follow and Armstrong set off in pursuit of Kloden. The fact that he caught Kloden on the descent and helped to keep the pace high in the closing three kilometers was a sign that he made the right tactical decision. Lance’s move to cross the gap not only minimized his own losses to the Schlecks, but it helped to minimize Kloden’s losses as well. It also helped to maximize their gains over Bradley Wiggins.
As a result, Armstrong moved from 9 seconds in front of Wiggins to 62 seconds ahead of the Garmin rider, and he has just 30 seconds to make up in order to overtake Frank Schleck and move into third place overall. Further ahead, he has 1:29 to make up on Andy Shleck. Just as important, Kloden is still ahead of Wiggins and within shooting distance to overtake Frank Schleck as well.
Depending on how tomorrow’s time trial goes, Armstrong has a good chance of moving past Frank Schleck and taking back a significant chunk of his 1:29 deficit to Andy Schleck. At just 40 kilometers, the time trial is probably too short for Armstrong to completely overtake the best-placed man from Saxo Bank. By the end of Stage 18, however, it’s possible that Astana will have three riders in the top five positions in the overall standings, with only the climb to Mont Ventoux as the remaining challenge in the race.
Thor Hushovd went a long way in shutting up one, Mr. Mark Cavendish today.
Outside of the race for the overall standings, the most impressive ride of the day has to go to Thor Hushovd. It was fantastic to see a sprinter to go out on the hardest mountain stage of the entire Tour de France, and to stay off the front over three very hard climbs, in order to take maximum points in both of the stage’s intermediate sprints. Hushovd knows there is a good chance he will be beaten to the line by Columbia-HTC’s Mark Cavendish on the Champs Elysees, so he went on the offensive today to build as big a lead as possible over Cavendish in the green jersey points competition. He expended a lot of energy today, but gained enough points that he can afford to finish behind Cavendish (but not by much) on the final stage and still win the green jersey.
• Chris Carmichael has been Lance Armstrong’s coach for 20 years and is the founder of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). Chris’s newest book, “The Time Crunched Cyclist: Fit, Fast, and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week” has just been released and signed copies are available at www.trainright.com. There you can also get 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. You should also follow Chris on Twitter.
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