– By Chris Carmichael –
The day of a time trial is sometimes more tedious than a day that contains a road race. Most days at the Tour are pretty straight-forward: you get up, eat a good breakfast, relax and get ready for the stage, and then pile onto the bus to go to the start. Time trial days are different because everyone has his own start time, and for the men high up in the overall standings, the stage starts 3-4 hours later than a road stage.
Pre-riding the time trial course is just one of the pre-race activities Lance stepped through before going to the start of today’s stage. Since his start time was late in the day, he had to be careful to eat more often than he would before a road stage that starts in the late morning or early afternoon. Where he may eat one complete pre-race meal before a road stage, followed by a snack or smaller meal closer to the start, on a time trial day riders consume breakfast, go for a short ride like Lance and I went on, then return for lunch. This second complete meal is typically pretty light, because the last thing riders want is to feel full or bloated as they are warming up or competing in a high-intensity effort like a time trial.
After lunch there’s some down time and then you go from the hotel to the team bus near the start of the stage. From the staff’s perspective, this makes time trial days more hectic than normal stages. Every other day, the whole team gets on the bus together to go to the start, but since riders are spread all throughout the classification by this point in the race, some Astana riders had relatively early start times compared to Andreas Kloden, Lance, and obviously Alberto Contador. There’s no reason for the whole team to be at the starting line for the whole day, so there’s a lot of shuttling back and forth between the hotel and the starting area.
Then there’s the warmup. To be ready to go from a dead-stop to maintaining an all-out effort in the span of 30-60 seconds, a rider has to gradually activate each of his energy systems during his warmup. As a result, the warmup protocol for a time trial if often longer than the race itself. Intensity is key, and Lance’s warmup includes periods where he’s focusing on maintaining high cadences at relatively low power outputs to loosen up his hips and back. There are also periods when he’s performing short, high-power efforts to generate a lot of lactate and get his body ready to process lactate rapidly. And there are periods when he’s performing longer, steadier efforts right around his lactate threshold power output. One of the keys to his warmup is moving through different cadence and power ranges to get him ready for the rapid changes in output riders experience when they are out on course.
After all the earlier activities of the day, it’s finally time to stand in the starthouse and roll down the ramp. Today, Lance rode a good time trial, but there’s no denying that other riders were stronger, especially stage winner and emphatic yellow jersey leader Alberto Contador. In the end, he overtook Frank Schleck and moved into third place overall, and he minimized his losses to Garmin’s Bradley Wiggins to retain an 11-second lead over the British time trial specialist.
Can Lance stay in third place or even move up to second? I think he can defend his third place position against challenges from Wiggins, Andreas Kloden, and even Frank Schleck on Saturday’s stage to Mont Ventoux. And although I think it’s unlikely, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for Lance to overtake Andy Schleck before the finish in Paris. Mont Ventoux has been the undoing of many riders, and Andy Schleck has not conceded the 2009 Tour de France yet. If he wants to challenge Contador for the yellow jersey, Andy Schleck has to leave everything out on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, and it’s not unheard of for a rider’s efforts to win to cost him his current position in the race.
• 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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